US Rep. Frank Pallone–Jr. (D-NJ)–co-chairman of the Congressional Caucus on Armenian Issues–criticized the cancellation of a conference on the Armenian Genocide in Turkey that was scheduled to begin yesterday. The New Jersey congressman gave the following statement on the House floor on Wednesday.
"Mr. Speaker–I rise today to voice my outrage and great disappointment about a recent development in Turkey. A conference set to begin yesterday in Bogazici University–of Turkish scholars/academics entitled "Ottoman Armenia’s during the Decline of the Empire: Issues of Scientific Responsibility and Democracy," was indefinitely postponed by the University organizers.
According to Agence France-Presse–Turkish Justice Minister Cemil Cicek yesterday accused Conference organizers of committing treason–saying–"We must put an end to this cycle of treason and insult–of spreading propaganda against the [Turkish] nation by people who belong to it." In addition–Turkish officials have demanded copies of all papers submitted to the conference.
This development further affirms the speculation that the image that the Turkish government has attempted to create for itself is nothing more than a desperate attempt at creating a facade. Contrary to what Turkish Prime Minister Erdogan and other Turkish officials would have us believe–the government of Turkey is not democratic–is not committed to creating a democracy–is not making an effort to create better relations with Armenia and is definitely not ready to join the European Union.
Over the last year–we have witnessed the government of Turkey attempt to move towards democratization. However–the manner in which they have chosen to do so is an insult to any truly democratic government. Their attempts have included the adoption of a penal code that in reality represents a dramatic display of the Turkish government’s campaign to deny the Armenian genocide. Furthermore–this new criminal code further hindered improved relations between the Republic of Armenia and Turkey.
Section 306 of this code punishes individual Turkish citizens or groups that confirm the fact of the Armenian Genocide in Ottoman Turkey or call for the end of the Turkish occupation of Northern Cyprus–with up to ten years in prison. Far from coming to terms with the Genocide or reaching out to Armenia- Turkey–in adopting Section 306 of its new penal code–hardened its anti-Armenian stance and undermined hopes for a reduction of tensions in the region. This sets the stage for possible legal action against Conference planners and participants. The Turkish government has refused to support rescinding this prohibition against free speech despite international criticism.
With the cancellation of this conference–we find that the government of Turkey will go to any length to avoid facing its own bloody past. In just two weeks–Turkey’s Prime Minister Erdogan will be in the United States for an official visit–proclaiming that his nation is a democracy ready for full membership in the European Community and asking for US support. The sad reality Mr. Speaker is that when it comes to facing the judgment of history about the Armenian Genocide–Turkey–rather than acknowledge truth–has instead chosen to trample on the rights of its citizens to maintain its lies.
Hrant Dink–editor of the Armenian weekly Agos in Turkey–stated–"This (decision) strengthens the hand of those outside Turkey who say–’Turkey has not changed–it is not democratic enough to discuss the Armenian issue.’ It shows there is a difference between what the government says and its intentions."
Numerous European countries–including Poland–France and Greece–have passed Armenian Genocide resolutions–and have continuously urged Turkey to admit its crime. Just this week–French President Jacques Chirac–urged Turkey to recognize the genocide and said failure to do so could harm Ankara’s drive to join the EU.
We cannot sit by and allow for any nation that we consider an ally and a nation that is desperately seeking admission into the EU to behave in such a manner. To bring this development into perspective–consider that–according to current law in Turkey–dozens of US Senators and hundreds of Representatives would be punished simply for having voted for Armenian Genocide resolutions–spoken about the lessons of this crime against humanity–or commemorated the victims of this atrocity. So too would the American academic establishment–human rights groups–the mainstream media–and just about everyone else aside from the Turkish Embassy and its paid lobbyists here in DC.
Only by being prepared to admit mistakes and make amen’s can the Turkish government truly be considered a nation governed by the values of democracy. This recent event reveals a vulnerable side of Turkey: one that is still hiding from its history and is incapable of learning from its mistakes so as to ensure that they will not be repeated in the future.
The United States prides itself in being the world’s leader in spreading democracy and liberty. As an effective leader–it is our duty to recognize that Turkey is not yet a Democratic state–and it will take a sincere effort on the part of Turkey to make the transition from a government that currently advocates censorship and lack of freedom of speech–to one that embraces the principles of democracy in its true meaning."