Variant issue 37    back to issue list

Report by Solidarity with the Victims of All Genocides on the meeting – “Re-thinking our policy on Turkey : Did our policy of appeasement and collusion with Genocide Denial lead to more Human Rights abuses?” – that took place in the Grimmond Room, Portcullis House (an annexe to the Houses of Parliament), London, on 8th June 2010:

Sponsored by Nia Griffith, MP for Llanelli,and organised by Solidarity with the Victims of All Genocides (affiliated to the Welsh Centre of International Affairs), Eilian Williams, Sait Çetinoğlu and Desmond Fernandes spoke on themes related to “Re-thinking our policy on Turkey : Did our policy of appeasement and collusion with Genocide Denial lead to more Human Rights abuses?”

Eilian Williams asked the question: In light of the genocide of Armenians that witnessed their mass murder (physical genocide), 'ethnic cleansing/clearing', cultural genocide (forced conversion and forced assimilation) and forced removal from Western Armenia, and in light of the manner in which Britain and other powers – via the Treaty of Lausanne – legitimised the creation of Turkey and gave ongoing support to the new Turkish regime and nation state that was formed through such genocidal 'clearance' and eradication of the Armenian 'Other', should we not more forcefully and honestly recognise and speak today of an 'Occupied Armenia in Turkey?' Should we not recognise and address the extent of the UK's and other states' appeasement policies towards a genocidal Turkish state and ask whether there is a need to formulate "a new policy of helping Turkey rebuild Turkish Armenia?" Whilst speaking of the UK's collusion with Turkey over its Armenian genocide denialism policy and its other policies criminalising and targeting 'Others', he also highlighted the manner in which many 'crypto-Armenians' (descendants of genocide survivors, many of whom were forced to convert) are still discriminated upon by the Turkish state today and subjected to surveillance and ongoing threats and intimidation. They are in need of support that ensures that they can lead lives without fear of targeting and without fear of reprisal and institutional discrimination should they openly acknowledge their Armenian identities and heritage.

For Eilian: “The legitimacy of Turkey's present borders ... seems dependent on the success of the 1915 Genocide of its Armenian and Syriac population, and for the United Nations [now] and other international bodies to continue to ignore this fact is a serious” challenge “to their moral authority. The UN and these other bodies have thus a responsibility to the Islamised Armenians of Turkey (those whose grandparents were forcibly converted during the genocide) to ensure their welfare. The Lausanne Treaty, signed by Britain and some of her allies, has condemned four generations of 'Crypto-Armenians' to the human suffering of Cultural Genocide ... It has been revealed that the Turkish government keeps information on 'Crypto-Armenians' as being of possible danger to the state. The neuralgic attitude of Turkey towards its minorities cannot be better illustrated than here. Those whose only crime is that their grandparents were not massacred in the genocide, are suspected as being of a possible threat to the Turkish State. This speaks volumes about Turkey's guilt and fear of eventual Justice".

Sait Çetinoğlu, author of The Malta Documents and Economic and Cultural Genocide, 1942-1944 (published by Belge Press in Istanbul), and an organising member of the Ankara Freedom of Thought Initiative that hosted the “1915 Within Its Pre-and Post-Historical Periods: Denial and Confrontation” conference in Ankara on 24th April 2010, highlighted the dangers that still exist in Turkey for those that seek to expose the genocidal realities of the past: “What happened” at the conference, he noted, “which we organised in Ankara under the leadership of the Ankara Freedom of Thought initiative and with the support of socialist circles, showed how difficult and dangerous discussing the topic is. Despite the fact that we faced tremendous obstacles, we as socialists of Turkey discussed this question for two days with oppressed [people], socialists and poor people of Turkey, and scholars from Turkey and abroad”.

Sait presented a paper on “The Mechanisms of Terrorising Minorities: The Work Battalions and the Capital Tax [Varlik Vergisi] in Turkey During World War Two”. He detailed the manner in which the tax was designed to intentionally “exterminate the economic and cultural existence … of the non-Muslim minorities, ...[to] loot their properties and living means and, in parallel, to Turkify the economy of the country. This tax”, he clarified, must be assessed as “a continuation of the tradition of the Committee of Union and Progress and has the structure of an ethnic cleansing” mechanism. “The government of that time, ... through this law” that implemented the Capital Tax, achieved in great part its aim of acting “to destroy the minorities economically and culturally in order to promote ethnic homogenisation”. This genocidal initiative, following in the tradition of the Committee of Union and Progress, he noted, followed other terrible actions that had also been used against the targeted 'Other' in Turkey: the anti-Jewish pogroms in Thrace in 1934, the intimidatory campaign “Citizen Speak Turkish” and the mobilisation of work batallions for the 'minorities' during 1941-42.

As he clarified, these political initiatives – as with the 6th-7th September 1955 pogrom against the Greek community living in Turkey - “were aimed to show the 'minorities' that they don't have a place to live in this land” of Turkey. For Sait, an important factor that also needs to be noted is “the fact that the 1915 genocide remained unpunished. If Malta [for his detailed discussion of this matter, see:] could be a Nuremberg in 1920, there could have been neither a Jewish Holocaust nor the Capital Tax. Unfortunately, the fact that the state which implemented the Capital Tax was rewarded and remained unpunished” for these actions “due to real politik, encouraged and promoted the pogrom of 6/7th September 1955. The UK archival documents” which have been recently released indicate, indeed, “that UK consulate officials provoked the 6/7th September events”.

Sait concluded by confirming that “discrimination and ethnic cleansing policies against non-Turkish subjects in the Ottoman Empire and its successor, the Republic of Turkey”, have been “implemented with the encouragement of the West for the sake of real politik. For this reason, the West and the UK which was the hegemonic power of the period, owe an apology because of these policies against Armenians, Greeks and other people”.

Desmond Fernandes highlighted the nature of "Criminalisation and Freedom of Expression/ Human Rights Concerns in Turkey". A key human rights concern, he noted, relates to the nature of “genocide” of the 'Other'. Not only has it been a concern of the past, it is very much a concern of the present. He detailed the manner in which the renowned genocide scholar and human rights campaigner Tove Skutnabb Kangas has concluded that Kurds still – and not just during past decades in republican Turkey - are being subjected to “genocide”, as defined by at least two articles of the United Nations Genocide Convention. He also identified the following key analysts and representatives concerns that genocide can be discerned in the present time in Turkey as far as the targeting of the Kurdish 'Other' is concerned: Naqishbendi; Nilufer Koc (Vice-President of the Kurdistan National Congress); Gautam Kumar Bandopadhyay; N. Tungshang; Susana Barria and Rohan Dominic Mathews (of Intercultural Resources); Ashok Chowdhury and Mamata Dash (of the National Forum of Forest People and Forest Workers); Amit Bhaduri (Professor of the Council for Social Development); Rabin Chakraborty; Asit Das; Shibayan Raha; James Pochury; Arun Kumar (Professor at Jawaharlal Nehru University, India); Dunu Roy (of the Hazard Centre); Sushant Panigrahy and Ashok Sharma (of the Delhi Forum); Madhuresh Kumar and Rajendra Ravi (of the National Alliance of People's Movements); Bhupinder Singh Rawat; Vimal Bhai; Nadeem Ansari; Shrikanth (of the Human Rights Forum, India); Sunita Rani; Abdullah Ocalan and Kurdistan Democratic Confederation [i.e. KCK] Executive Council members Bozan Tekin and Cemil Bayik.

He also reminded the audience of Vardan Tadevossian's presentation in the House of Commons on 19th January 2010 (that detailed the nature of the ongoing cultural genocide of Armenians in Turkey – which could also be identified as 'genocide' as defined by the UN Genocide Convention) and also noted the genocidal concerns that had been raised by other analysts and scholars concerning the nature of the targeting of 'Pontic Greek/Assyrian/Aramean Others'. Despite such genocidal concerns, Desmond noted that support is still – as we speak – militarily, strategically and in psychological warfare terms, being provided by the US-UK governments and NATO to Turkey, under the guise of support for the so-called 'War on Terror/the Long War' and the need for 'stability of the region'.

Concerted attempts were also being made to criminalise and target/monitor human rights campaigners, lawyers, students, trade unionists, novelists (such as Mehmet Güler, because of the fictional characters of his Kurdish novel "More Difficult Decisions than Death”), journalists, musicians (such as Ferhat Tunc, facing a possible 15 year sentence for comments made at a cultural arts festival), publishers such as Ragip Zarakolu (from Belge Press, Istanbul) and members collectively struggling for basic organising and working/human rights (as detailed by the International Platform Against Isolation and other human rights organisations). The Democratic Society Party (DTP) – which was scandalously closed down by the constitutional court last December, and which has so many of its members criminalised – and now the recently formed 'pro-Kurdish' Peace and Democracy Party (BDP) was also being subjected to scandalous targeting.

Criminalisation and targeting measures, Desmond confirmed, have been occurring under the guise of 'operations against the Kurdistan Democratic Confederation [the KCK] and/or the PKK'. On 26 May 2010, for example, “the police and the gendarmerie carried out 'operations' against the Kurdish umbrella organization KCK in several cities all over Turkey ... Günlük newspaper [reported] that the number of people taken into custody during ... four days amounted to 124. The daily described the” official state “operation in its headline as 'Code name: Hunting Kurds'”(Bianet, 26 May 2010). For Desmond: “Note here, the targeting operation by its very name and title, as reported by Gunluk, appears to be aimed at a collectivity – that of the 'Kurds'. With the Democratic Confederation of Kurdistan (KCK) Executive Committee very recently announcing the end of its unilateral ceasefire due to the lack of any meaningful initiative by the state to end its eliminationist programme, or to engage in any meaningful dialogue with mass-based Kurdish political parties, concerns over the human rights situation”, he concluded, “have only increased”.

At the meeting, it was announced that a major exhibition on Cultural Genocide in Western Armenia will be taking place in Cardiff, Wales, from 24th to 30th September 2010. Concerns were also raised about the court decision which Ragip Zarakolu, proprietor of Belge Press, and Mehmet Güler (the novelist) were facing on 10th June.

Note: On 10th June 2010, whilst the court acquitted Ragip Zarakolu, Mehmet Güler was scandalously convicted and sentenced to imprisonment of one year and three months according to article 7/2 of the Anti-Terror Law “because of the fictional characters of the novel named Siti, Sabri and Şiyar ... After the court session, Güler [said]: 'We all see to what extent trials in Turkey are deteriorating. The government, talking about opening and high standard democracy,went as far as prosecuting and punishing fantasy and imagination' (BIA News, 11 June 2010)."
For Bjorn Smith-Simonsen, Chair of IPA's Freedom to Publish Committee: "Through convicting N. Mehmet Güler to a prison sentence of 15 months, Turkey is in breach of its international obligations under Article 19 of the United Nations Universal Declaration of Human Rights, Article 19 of the International Convention on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR), Article 10 of the European Convention on Human Rights (ECHR), and Article 11 of the Charter of Fundamental Rights of the European Union ... International PEN calls for writer Güler to be acquitted on appeal”. Eugene Schoulgin, International Secretary of PEN International emphasised that "it is not only the big names attracting media attention like Elif Shafak or Orhan Pamuk, who need acquittal. The lesser-known names need acquittals too, in those freedom of expression trials. PEN International therefore joins IPA in calling for the acquittal of N. Mehmet Güler on appeal (IPA/WiPC/IFEX,10 June 2010)."

For further information about the event, contact Eilian Williams