In Ankara “Blue Book” launch, Genocide denial is challenged

Ara Sarafian, with Lord Avebury, speaking at the Turkish Human Rights Association, Ankara, June 26, 2009. Ani Sounds, London

In Ankara on June 26, the British peer Lord Avebury and the historian and publisher Ara Sarafian called the Turkish Grand National Assembly on its denial of the Armenian Genocide. In response to a petition to the British Parliament to repudiate its 1916 Blue Book on the Armenian Genocide, Lord Avebury and Mr. Sarafian released a Turkish translation of the volume.

“The critical edition demonstrates how a false case was made against the Blue Book by Turkish members of parliament in line with similar false claims made earlier by denialists, especially in the 1980s and 1990s,” Mr. Sarafian said in an interview with the Armenian Reporter.

Meanwhile, a retired Turkish ambassador told Hurriyet that the release of the publication aimed to defeat the Turkish position from the inside “The Turkish translation of the book is part of a strategy that aims to make Turkish people advocate the Armenian position, both in Turkey and abroad,” retired ambassador Omer Engin Lutem said at an Ankara press conference on July 1.

The Turkish-language edition of the Blue Book, published by the Gomidas Institute, was launched at the Turkish Human Rights Association in Ankara. Mr. Sarafian said the police preempted a demonstration by ultranationalists outside the venue.

A petition from Ankara

James Bryce and Arnold Toynbee in 1916 were commissioned to prepare a report about ongoing atrocities against Armenians in the Ottoman Empire. Toynbee carefully compiled and verified dozens of eyewitness accounts from different parts of the empire. By laying these account side by side, Bryce and Toynbee showed that a systematic, organized effort to annihilate the Armenian people was underway.

In April 2005, the Turkish parliament sent a petition to the British Parliament to repudiate the 1916 publication as a wartime fabrication.

The Parliament and the Foreign Office refused to do so.

The Foreign Office on July 8, 2005, noted in a letter to the Turkish parliament: “None of the individual reports has been refuted; and few have suggested moral or intellectual dishonesty on the part of the authors, Lord Bryce and Arnold J. Toynbee.”

Meanwhile, 32 members of Parliament responded to the Turkish Grand National Assembly in detail, repudiating the notion that the classic text was mere propaganda.

According to a report in Hurriyet, Lord Avebury told the Ankara gathering on June 26 that the British members of Parliament “asked for dialogue with the Turkish side on the issue. No response came from Turkish parliament.”

Lord Avebury, a Liberal Democrat who in 1971 founded the Parliamentary Human Rights Group, added, “The publication of the Turkish edition of the book is a milestone in a historical sense for Turkey and I believe a new era for dialogue will be created after this book.”

The book was sent to all deputies in Turkish parliament, but delivery was not immediately accepted. Mr. Sarafian said the necessary paperwork has been done for distribution in bookstores as well.

“The fact that such an outrageous document as the 2005 petition to London could be sent reflects ‘denial’ as an ongoing category, as well as the anti-Armenian sentiment (or toleration of such sentiment) by Turkish members of parliament, their advisers, and supporters, when discussing Armenians,” Mr. Sarafian added.

Distinguished audience

Diplomats from the United States, the United Kingdom, the Russian Federation, and Switzerland attended the Ankara launch, which was sponsored by the Turkish Human Rights Association and the Freedom of Thought Association.

“The audience was also quite distinguished in another sense, and I was humbled by them,” Mr. Sarafian told the Armenian Reporter. “I was sitting next to Ismail Besikci, who had a profound influence on me as a young student. He spent 20 years of his life in jail for writing about Kurds and talking about the Armenian Genocide. He kept on speaking out and going to jail. You have to remember that Besikci is an ethnic Turk who dared to speak out, as a good Turk, despite the efforts of the state.”

Mr. Sarafian explained, “In my book a good Turk is not one who simply defends the Turkish state, but one who stands up for universal human values. There are such people in Turkey, and Armenians should always remember that.”

“I also got to meet Temel Demirer, who stood up and spoke bravely to the cameras, also as an ethnic Turk, about the Armenian Genocide, and he did not mince his words,” Mr. Sarafian continued.

Referring to the article of the Turkish criminal code under which speech about uncomfortable aspects of Turkish history is suppressed, Mr. Sarafian added: “Demirer has been charged under Article 301, convicted by a lower court, and is appealing. In all probability he will go to jail, as he has been jailed in the past. His crime on this occasion is the statement he made that Hrant Dink was not simply killed because he was an Armenian, but because he spoke about the Armenian Genocide.”

Ragip Zarakolu was also present at the book launch. Mr. Sarafian noted that Mr. Zarakolu “has been persecuted by the state for his involvement with the Armenian issue. Zarakolu is now facing considerable difficulties because of the cost of remaining active in Turkey. When you are prosecuted, your offices bombed, your books banned, or bookstore owners ‘discouraged’ from carrying your books, there are inevitable consequences. Zarakolu needs financial support to remain afloat.”

“Let’s keep things in perspective,” Mr. Sarafian concluded. “There are many new openings in Turkey and there is still opposition from powerful quarters. That is inevitable with progress. Now is not the time to be complacent or intimidated or stop. It is important that new openings are explored in a sensible manner. That is what we are doing.”