Monday, January 30, 2012

Sarkozy Should Not Attempt to Legislate Turkey’s History

January 30, 2012

The president of France is getting ready to sign a bill making it a crime in his country to deny that a century ago, the Ottoman Empire committed genocide against Armenians. As President Nicolas Sarkozy’s own party proposed the legislation, we suspect that he will sign it. But it’s never too late to drop a bad idea.

Let’s start with the genocide -- it happened. Beginning in 1915, as many as 1.5 million ethnic Armenians living in what today is modern Turkey were killed or deported. The Ottoman Empire was falling apart, or more accurately was being dismembered by Britain, France and Russia. The authorities in Istanbul saw Christian Armenians as a potential fifth column and drove them out through executions and deportations. Greeks and Christian Assyrians soon followed.

This is a painful piece of Armenian history that continues to traumatize the families of its victims, now dispersed around the globe in California, France and elsewhere. Every April, there are battles in Washington as legislators with Armenian constituents lobby for the U.S. to formally recognize the genocide.

Turkey, the Ottoman Empire’s successor state, has barely started to deal with the essential process of facing the truth and bringing some kind of closure to the victims’ families. While it has recently become possible for Turkish historians to discuss the events of 1915 without facing jail, it was only in 2007 that Turkish-Armenian journalist Hrant Dink was shot dead in broad daylight for daring to write about the genocide.