ISTANBUL—On Dec. 22, the Committee Against Racism and Discrimination of Turkey’s Human Rights Association issued a press release and initiated a signature campaign calling on Turks to unite against genocide denial, not against the French Parliament. Below is the full text of the release. The Turkish version is available on the group’s Web site.
Broad segments of Turkish society seem to be united against the bill penalizing the denial of genocide, which will be discussed on Dec. 22, 2011 in the French Parliament [Editor’s note: The bill has since passed]. The Turkish state’s denial and threats are supported by business and consumer associations and civil society. Turkey’s intelligentsia is also speaking against the bill. The common argument for all these sectors against France is “freedom of expression”; they are arguing that banning the denial of the Armenian Genocide undermines freedom of expression.
We, the Istanbul Branch of the Human Rights Association of Turkey’s Committee Against Racism and Discrimination declare that the denial of a crime against humanity such as genocide has nothing to do with freedom of expression.
The denial of the annihilation of a nation—with its entire social fabric, professions, works of art, and historical heritage—by the state itself, intentionally and in a planned manner, means endorsing the crime and justifying such violence. Therefore, denial of genocide cannot be considered within the boundaries of freedom of speech. It constitutes violence against the grandchildren of genocide survivors in Turkey and elsewhere in the world and against the memory of the genocide victims. The European Court of Human Rights in many cases has ruled that freedom of expression is not applicable to expressions of violence.
The UN General Assembly adopted the Convention for Prevention and Punishment of the Crime of Genocide in December 1948 and the Convention came into force in January 1951. Since that day, Holocaust denial has been punished in many countries with fines and prison sentences.
The punishment of Holocaust denial entails fines and prison sentences of up to 20 years in Austria, fines and up to 1 year imprisonment in Belgium, 6 months to 2 years imprisonment in the Czech Republic, a fine and 5-month prison sentence in Germany, a fine and 1 month to 2 years imprisonment in France, a 3-4-year prison sentence in Italy, and a fine and 1-10-year prison sentence in Lithuania. In other words, punishment for genocide denial is neither new nor specific to France.
On Feb. 1, 2011, the Reis-ul Ulema (Grand Mufti) of Bosnian Muslims, Mustafa Cerić, during a visit to the Auschwitz concentration camp together with a group of 150—comprised of Christian, Muslim, and Jewish delegations—said that those who denied the Holocaust or the genocide of Muslims in Srebrenica should be treated as accomplices in the crime.
One argument progressive intellectuals use against the French bill banning denial is the memory of Hrant Dink, who was opposed to the passage of such laws. We believe it is wrong to base one’s opinion on today’s French bill on the views expressed years ago by Hrant Dink, who was assassinated as a result of collaboration between the state’s special war apparatus and fascist elements. Not only is it absurd to speculate on what Hrant Dink would think today, but it is fundamental to the freedom of thought—something the intellectuals uphold as sacred—that people should have the right to develop their own independent opinions, free of others’ guidance.
In conclusion, we invite the NGOs, the business organizations, such as the Union of Turkish Chambers and Commodity Exchanges and Association of Turkish Industrialists and Businessmen, opinion makers, and intellectuals to stop campaigning against the French Parliament and work for the recognition of the Armenian Genocide, the Assyrian Genocide, and the ethnic cleansing of the Greeks by the state and society.
Human Rights Association, Istanbul Branch
The Committee Against Racism and Discrimination