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CORRECTION TO THIS ARTICLE:
This letter from the MIT Armenian Society incorrectly spelled one of the author’s names. He is Arsen Mamikonyan ’12.

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Freedom of speech is not freedom to commit crimes

What Haldun Anil has voiced in his Feb. 10 article, called “La Révolution Française,” is not original and simply mimics Turkish officials in their continued efforts of genocide denial. The Turkish State has changed its tactics over the years and went through an evolution from complete denial of any wrongdoing to acknowledging that some killings did occur; but discussing those crimes should be left to historians — otherwise liberty everywhere will be in danger (ironically enough, if Turkish historians do dare to talk about Armenian Genocide they get persecuted by Penal Code 306 in Turkish constitution or get assassinated by Turkish nationalists). This is the mainstream Turkish propaganda of today and it seems Haldun Anil is following in these footsteps.

Interestingly enough, the freedom of speech of thousands of jailed and persecuted Turkish journalists, writers, historians, human rights activists, and oppressed minorities (well-documented by “Reporters Without Borders” and “Human Rights Watch”) in his native Turkey doesn’t concern Haldun; his desire for liberty seems to exist only when it comes to someone else condemning the Armenian Genocide and its deniers.

Turkish propaganda’s clumsy efforts of presenting Armenian Genocide as a somewhat controversial topic would have been amusing, if the matter itself wasn’t so tragic — an annihilation of an entire population with overwhelming amount of evidence .

Turkish propaganda’s further efforts of portraying Armenian Genocide as merely a historical debate which should be left to historians is offensive and deliberately misleading. An overwhelming number of genocide scholars and historians have already weighed in[*], affirming and condemning the Armenian Genocide years ago. They have also deducted that denial is the last and final stage of any genocide and Turkey is exercising it with passion — both in Turkey and by pressuring other countries.

Germany had the courage of accepting the undeniable fact of Jewish Holocaust. Meanwhile Turkey has demonstrated not only lack of such courage or remorse, but also in recent years went further and started prosecuting journalists, historians, and social activists (in some cases even jailing or assassinating them) for even mentioning Armenian Genocide in an unparalleled effort on cracking down on freedom of speech in 21st century.

The truth is that Armenian Genocide is neither a topic that historians are debating (this “debate” was concluded in 1943, when the author of the word “genocide” Raphael Lemkin said he invented the word in order to describe unprecedented tragedies that befell Armenians in 1915-1923 and Jews during World War II, so by definition genocide is what happened to Armenians in Ottoman Turkey and Jews in Nazi Germany) nor a controversy outside of Turkey, where there is a law criminalizing even talking about Genocide and Turkish intellectual elite has suffered greatly due to this.

Turkish historian Taner Akcam (now a professor in Clark University), Turkish writer Orhan Pamuk (a winner of Noble Prize for literature), “Agos” newspaper editor Hrant Dink (assassinated by Turkish Nationalists) and many more have fallen victim to the most outrageous freedom of speech violation in Turkey — article 306 in Turkish Penal Code that criminalizes any mention of the Genocide.

When it comes to freedom of speech in France and many other countries who have officially affirmed and condemned Armenian Genocide despite pressure from Turkey [†], it is important to remember that in most democratic countries there are categories excluded from free speech, like “hate speech,” “defamation,” “fighting words,” and “intentional infliction of emotional distress”. Even in the U.S., where freedom of speech is protected by very revered First Amendment of U.S. Constitution, our forefathers excluded those categories from it.

Freedom of speech, thought and expression are cornerstones for any democratic society, however when it is abused in order to spread fascism, racism, discrimination, defamation, and hate, democratic societies step up to provide protection for the victims. That’s exactly what has happened in U.S. and France. That’s exactly what’s missing in Turkey.

By Nerses Zurabyan
and Aren Mamikonyan
MIT Armenian Society

(*)Examples of scholarly and human rights organizations condemning Armenian Genocide include the International Association of Genocide Scholars, Institute on the Holocaust and Genocide in Jerusalem , Institute of Holocaust in Washington D.C, United Nations’ Sub-Commission on Prevention of Discrimination and Protection of Minorities, World Council of Churches, International Center for Transitional Justice and many more.

(†) Examples of countries affirming and condemning Armenian Genocide in Ottoman Turkey include France, Canada, 43 US States, Germany, Sweden, Belgium, Russian Federation, European Union Parliament, Council of Europe, Vatican City, Argentina, Netherlands, Switzerland, Greece, Italy, Poland and many more.