Thursday, February 12, 2009

On Armenian lobbies fighting free speech and politicians not standing for liberty.

Post published as an Op-Ed in the Hürriyet Daily News (Turkey) on Feb. 12th 2009.
In Washington the “mischief of factions” is in full swing in the corridors of power to paraphrase James Madison, the father of the American Constitution. Lobbies are hard at work and not just for bailout money. Electoral promises were made, campaign money raised by the well organized Armenian interest-group. It’s time for reckoning.

American lawmakers would be well-advised to look at recent developments in France for a reality check. The 2001 Law[1] recognizing the event of 1915 as “Genocide” was passed. But the Armenian lobby asked for more, namely the criminalization of the denial of “genocide” [2]. When the bill reached the Senate in 2007, it finally dawned on a wise few that the logical legal consequence was that France would need to arrest and prosecute the entire Turkish nation. Our political establishment backpedaled.

The National Assembly issued a 480-page-Information Report (No 1262 of 18 Nov. 2008). Sobering reading! Contrary to what some intellectuals keep trumpeting, it is not the Armenian community (3) who requires further protection. The Report states the risks posed by the introduction of so-called memory laws: unconstitutionality, abridgement of fundamental freedoms, disguised censorship through the threat of legal action, creation of a precedent for a “thought” crime, restriction of the fundamental principle of freedom of scholarship. Last but not least, these laws due to their communitarian logic could weaken the fabric of our society. It concludes that it is not the role of the Parliament to write history. Eminent law professors have appealed for their annulment[4].

With a growing sense that a Rubicon against individual liberties has been crossed, the silent French majority is now speaking out. In growing numbers citizens are saying that “Liberty for history is Liberty for all” (2008 European historians “Appel de Blois”[5] see “Liberté pour l’Histoire” The practice of state edicted truth is not consistent with our democratic values. As Hayek’s famously commented in The Road to Serfdom, in totalitarian régimes “the disinterested search for truth cannot be allowed… Opinion must be controlled”. With these laws the “end of truth” in the field of history is staring us in the face. The Armenian lobby is increasingly looking like an Orwellian “thought” police intent on misusing the Ministère de la Justice as a Ministry of “their Truth”.

The story of socialist politician and Member of Parliament Dr. Jack Lang is enlightening. During a debate with historians, he admitted candidly that MPs had mostly voted for the 2001 Law “out of electoral concerns”. Hence a senior political figure essentially admits the obvious, namely that a small dedicated minority had imposed its “diktat”[6] on the majority under the guise of the “common will” (28 votes in a National Assembly of 577). His eloquent defense of freedom of expression resulted in him being targeted with a deluge of aggressive and unjustified attacks (letters, blog comments, etc…) which forced him to retract behind a wall of political correctness.

He is only the latest victim of the situation precisely highlighted as a “risk” in the Report. A letter[7] addressed to the former Minister by Alexis Govcivan, a leading figure of the pro-Armenian lobby, is a thinly disguised threat to sue. The free exchange of ideas and dissent within its own ranks cannot be allowed. The very notion that Armenians would apologize for the murders committed by the nationalist terrorist organization Asala (1970s and 80s) is abhorrent. Dr. Armen Gavakian from the Macquarie University, Sydney had to cancel the launch of a campaign inspired by a similar Turkish initiative apologizing to Armenians ( The Turkish intellectuals’ campaign continues to gather signatures despite the pressure.

Almost a century after a dark period for all the peoples of Anatolia, it is time to leave history to the historians, time to look to the future. Turkey and Armenia have engaged in a dialogue started by the brave steps of the two leaders and the visit to Yerevan of President Abdulah Gül last September. History is being written where it matters.

Diplomatic efforts to normalize relations if conclusive may open a new era of trade and prosperity, cultural exchanges between the two nations, free debate between historians. The diaspora’s aggressive law-making and bullying strategy may satisfy the nationalists in their ranks but it is not helping to resolve present problems. Obstructing progress from the prosperous and free United States and Europe is easy…

Exercising judgment and leadership takes courage. When called upon to vote on the resolution, American law-makers should seriously ask themselves whether the founders of their democracy had given them powers to write Armenian and Turkish history. I hope they won’t chose to appease yet another lobby under pretence of justice and remember George Washington’s wise words: "If the freedom of speech is taken away then dumb and silent we may be led, like sheep to the slaughter."

[1] 29 Janvier 2001, Loi relative à la reconnaissance du génocide arménien. Resolution stating that « France publicly recognizes the 1915 Armenian genocide ». 28 voted in favour, 549 deputies abstained.
[2] Proposition de loi (bill) No 1643.
(3) Estimated at 350,000 individuals. Total population 64 millions.
[4] “Appel des Juristes” against memory laws (signed by 56 eminent law professors).
[5] “Appel de Blois”, October 2008. Appeal adopted by European historians during the Conference “Rendez-vous de l’histoire de Blois”, France.
[6] The expression is used in reference to a similar reasoning about the “common will” by Bruno Leoni in Freedom and the Law
[7] Letter dated 28 January 2009, The CCAF (Coordinating Council of Armenian Organizations of France)

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