French bill doesn’t help genocide debate in Turkey

ISTANBUL – In Turkey it is feared that the bill passed today in France making it illegal to deny the Armenian genocide of 1915 will damage the level of debate on the topic in Turkey. The debate had been slowly making progress over the last couple of years. Calling the Armenian genocide ‘genocide’ no longer leads to a conviction by a judge.

Discussion of the Armenian genocide exploded this week in Turkey, but some people believe it is a pity that it was caused by the French law. Lawyer and human rights activist Orhan Kemal Cengiz, who has often written about the events in 1915 and who is not afraid to use the word ‘genocide’, wrote: ‘I am not the only one who brings these subjects to the attention of the Turkish audience. How do you think this French bill affects all those discussions? The answer is simple: It will just kill them.’ (Read the full column here, in English.)

Nationalism

The fear is that nationalists will take over the debate, that the French law will stir up nationalism and hinder an open debate about the genocide. The majority of Armenians in Turkey are fiercely against the French law. Orhan Dink, brother of the murdered Armenian-Turkish journalist Hrant Dink, talked to the media and said the law limits freedom of expression. Dink: ‘This pain should not be left in the hands of people in politics. I call on those who share my pain; they should be against this legislation, be against this human rights violation.’

There is no law in Turkey that explicitly forbids calling the genocide ‘genocide’. Before, the infamous article 301 of the Turkish penal code was used, which forbids ‘insulting Turkishness’. That law was amended in 2008 under pressure from the European Union. Ever since, the prosecutor has been unable to start a 301case on his own, but needs the permission of the Minister of Justice.

Prison

The number of 301 cases decreased significantly, and since then nobody has been prosecuted for using the word ‘genocide’. The last one that was convicted of using it is the son of Hrant Dink, Arat. He was given a suspended one year term in prison in 2007, a few months after the murder of his father.

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