Perspectives on Sweden’s Failure to Recognize Armenian Genocide

In an open letter to the Swedish MPs, I pointed out some major flaws in the stated argumen’s against Genocide recognition, mentioning that the Foreign Committee members are either poorly informed on the existing data, reports, conventions and resolutions or they simply disregard the broad information which strongly contradicts their assertions.

The UNCHR Whitaker Report from 1985, the resolutions issued by the International Association of Genocide Scholars (IAGS), the UN Genocide Convention, its background and meaning, along with the petition signed by over 60 world leading Holocaust and Genocide scholars (available in 13 languages at http://itwasgenocide.armenica.org) were some of the attachmen’s as evidence for the erroneous and misleading information the report suggested. But, the debate on June 11 proved that the decision had nothing to do with the presented facts.

The more the debate went on, the more it was revealed that no MP could explain, less defend, any of the above mentioned argumen’s, save for maybe the last one. During the debate, Member of Parliament Hans Linde (Left), talking about the argumen’s stated in the document repeatedly asked the members of the alliance parties to explain the argumentation in the report and answer three simple and straight forward questions, namely 1) Who are these researchers disagreeing on the reality of the 1915 genocide? 2) If the 1915 genocide can not be recognized due to the chronology of the 1948 UN Convention, why was the Holocaust is recognized? 3) Why should the fear of extremists inside Turkey dictate the freedom of speech in the Swedish Parliament?

None of the deputies arguing against the resolution could give an answer. This actually might be the only light in the otherwise somewhat embarrassing situation that the MPs were faced with when trying to evade the questions. Mats Sanders (Moderat/Conservatives) had, literally nothing to add but to refer to the report text. Alf Svensson (Christian Democrats), in regard to the "disagreement among researchers", was asked to name only one serious researcher who renounces the 1915 genocide. He defended the proposition by stating that he "believes in the information they receive from the Foreign Services… I believe that this is the truth, and if it is proven otherwise, then I am truly sorry." I am not quite sure if Mr. Svensson really believes in what he stated in that sentence. But then again, who, if not a Christian Democrat would safeguard issues such as moral, human dignity, and stewardship.

Mats Pertoft (Green), one of the co-authors of the motions, pointed out that the 1915 genocide was no different from the climate issue. A couple of years ago, there was a disagreement among researchers about the global warming, but now, even though there are some who still disagree, there is a consensus on the issue among an overwhelming majority of the researchers.

The same applies to the 1915 genocide. Mentioning the petition signed by genocide experts, Pertoft joined Linde in urging the MPs to at least deny recognition on political basis and refrain from abusing the name of science and renouncing facts. A day earlier, I, together with Linde and Pertoft, partook in a debate broadcasted live by the Assyrian Satellite TV Station Suroyo. The TV station had invited several other MPs representing the "no" side, but in vain. No one was willing to participate. Linde’s radio debate on the subject, scheduled for the morning of June 11, was also canceled since the MP defending the Foreign Committee proposition had backed out in last second. Maybe, just maybe, the text of the petition, sent to all members of parliament, made a difference by stating "Today, the data and information about the Genocide of Armenia’s, Assyrians and Pontic Greeks are so extensive that no serious politician can honestly cite insufficient or inconclusive research as an excuse to avoid recognition." This was at least true in the case of those who chose not participate in any of the debates, rather than compromising their honesty by being forced to follow their party line and defend their denial of a genocide.

Two politicians defied their parties. Yilmaz Kerimo (Social Democrat), an ethnic Assyrian was one. The other, Lennart Sacr?deus (Christian Democrat), going against his party line, took the podium defending a recognition of the 1915 genocide and ended his statement by adding: "I know that we will stay here again in one year debating the very same question…Turkey will be hit by bad will for every debate in every parliament where this question is deeply associated with Turkey. I think that we acknowledge and can understand the background for why the issue is locked in Turkey; but the truth will set you free and it applies to Turkey and the legacy after Ataturk." The truth will set you free, but Swedish politicians today displayed that they are neither ready to acknowledge the truth nor willing to set Turkey free from its dark and burdensome past.

The debate lasted over three hours, during which the present audience agreed upon one certainty: no one of those recommending the rejection of a recognition could, based on the alleged argumen’s in the report, explain, less defend their case. It was soon obvious that there simply were no sustainable argumen’s to be given to explain why Sweden cannot recognize the 1915 genocide. The "no" was purely a political decision for maintaining good relations with Turkey, nothing else. But could such a decision actually benefit Turkey? Or Sweden? Or EU? In my opinion, similar decisions and signals are nothing but doing Turkey, and not least oneself, a disservice.

What kind of message do we send to a Turkey in urgent need of reformation and democratization when we tell them that it is actually acceptable to cover up crimes and deny facts and the truth? What kind of a democracy does Sweden and EU nourish in Turkey? Notwithstanding, I cannot imagine a single Armenian who would not welcome, by European measures, a reformed and democratized Turkey as their neighbor. The same would apply to Assyrians, Greeks, Kurds etc. But, the kind of signals which the Swedish Parliament today sent surely cause more damage to the Turkish process of becoming a more open society than the opposite.

Another paradox in Sweden became evident, namely the existence of the Living History Forum, a government agency created in the wake of the International and Intergovernmental Genocide Conference in Stockholm, 2004. On their web site the mission of the agency is described as the following: "The Living History Forum is a government agency which has been commissioned with the task of promoting issues relating to tolerance, democracy and human rights–with the Holocaust as its point of reference.

By spreading knowledge about the darkest sides of human history, we want to influence the future." The Living History Forum lists the 1915 genocide as one of the genocides in the 20th century and educates Swedish society about what really happened in the Ottoman Empire during WWI. It seems highly ironic that the Swedish Government and politicians do not practice what they preach. "By spreading knowledge about the darkest sides of human history, we want to influence the future." Suddenly, Darfur makes total sense. The world which Swedish politicians, or any other politicians for that matter, shape by influencing the future with their denial of genocide is the kind where we do speak of, not a historic, but an ongoing genocide, that in Darfur; and we will most certainly experience yet many more.

The phrase: "history must be left to historians" is often used by the Turkish state and those politicians around the world who do wish to avoid treading Turkish toes by recognizing the 1915 genocide. I did not realize until today how true that phrase is. Actually, I totally agree with the Turkish state on this one: history must be written by historians, not politicians. Today, however, Sweden’s MPs wrote their own new version of the history, a revised alternative suiting their political agenda, denouncing a broad data and consensus put forward by the expert scholars in the field. I hope that Swedish leaders, as well as all political leaders, would, in the future leave the research to researchers and base their decision making on presented facts put forward by scholars.

Sacr?deus’ prophecy will be fulfilled as the 1915 genocide will most certainly be discussed in the Swedish Parliament again and again. As an answer to the last question I got in the TV debate, about how we will continue when the highly expected rejection in the Parliament comes, I replied: "We will go on remembering the genocide of 1915, even after its recognition. We have already started the preparation for April 24, 2009, which, as the last two years, will take place in front of the Swedish Parliament. But, I hope that this time, instead of calling upon the Parliament to recognize the genocide, we will thank the MPs for having recognized it."

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