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Turkey extends ban on alluding to genocide

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  • Turkey extends ban on alluding to genocide

    Turkey extends ban on alluding to genocide
    By Nicholas Birch in Istanbul

    Irish Times
    May 05, 2005

    Turkey Turkey's new criminal code was supposed to be a crucial part
    of its efforts to bring itself in line with European norms. Instead,
    it stumbles from one controversy to another.

    Last autumn, voices were raised over plans to criminalise adultery.
    The centre of attention now is an article that looks as if it sets
    the courts loose on anyone describing the 1915 mass expulsion of
    Ottoman Armenians as a "genocide".

    Article 305's prescription of between three and 10-year prison
    sentences for individuals acting "against fundamental national
    interests" originally only affected Turkish citizens. Late on Tuesday,
    though, hours before a revised draft of the criminal code was due to
    be presented to Turkey's parliament, three MPs succeeded in extending
    its remit to include "foreigners in Turkey". "According to the legal
    changes we have made, those materially benefiting from claims that
    there was a genocide can be punished," Hasan Kara, one of the MPs
    tabling the motion, told reporters.

    Heavily criticised for its vagueness, the draft article was originally
    published last autumn with notes explaining its possible uses. These
    included "making propaganda for the withdrawal of Turkish troops
    from Cyprus", or arguing "contrary to historical truths, that the
    Armenians suffered a genocide after the first World War".

    The Armenian genocide issue usually drops off Turkey's agenda
    immediately after April 24th, the date that has come to mark the start
    of the 1915 massacres. That it is still there this year is largely due
    to the decision of a Swiss court last week to open an investigation
    into a Turkish historian accused of denying the Armenian genocide.

    The case caused outrage in Turkey, even among the very few who openly
    describe 1915 as a genocide. Tuesday's last-minute legal changes are
    widely thought to have been an act of retaliation.

    The historian in question, head of the government-funded Turkish
    Historical Foundation Yusuf Halacoglu, is a staunch defender
    of Turkey's official position on the events of 1915. Expelling
    Anatolian Armenians, he has argued, was a necessary response to their
    co-operation with enemies of the Ottoman Empire. And while most
    historians of the period estimate between 800,000 and one million
    people died, he insisted recently the total death toll could not have
    exceeded 100,000.

    Punishing those who oppose the official line is not new in Turkey.
    The novelist Orhan Pamuk, who told a Swiss newspaper in February that
    "one million Armenians were killed in Turkey", is currently facing
    three separate charges under a notorious section of the old criminal
    code. Article 312 makes "provoking the people to hatred and animosity
    through the media" a criminal offence. The article was removed from
    the new code.

    It remains to be seen whether Turkey's parliament will cave in now
    to internal and international pressure as it did over the adultery
    clause. If not, the perceptible broadening of freedom of speech in
    Turkey looks set to dwindle.
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