Text of the letter addressed on 23rd of February by H.E. Mr. Mehmet T. GÜCÜK, Ambassador of the Republic of Turkey to Switzerland to the members of the Festival Committee and to the Chief Editor of the newspaper “Le Temps” regarding the screening of the movie “Le Génocide des Arméniens, 100 Ans Après” during the “Festival du Film et Forum International sur les Droits Humains”
Mr. Chief Editor
Members of the Association Committee of the International Film Festival and Forum on Human Rights
I’m writing to you regarding the presentation of the movie entitled “The Armenian Genocide, a Hundred Years On” which will be screened during the “International Film Festival and Forum on Human Rights”, in order to be able to avoid any misunderstandings and misinterpretations about historical facts.
The final years of the Ottoman Empire was a tragic period for the people that made up the Empire. While four and a half million Muslims were killed in the Balkans, the Caucasus, the Middle East and the North Africa, five million more were expelled and many of them perished in their desperation to reach a safe haven. Together with other nations of the Ottoman realm, including millions of Turks, Armenians also suffered tragic losses which should, regardless of numbers and regardless of possible guilt on the part of the victims, always be remembered. However, it’s factually problematic, morally unsound and legally unfounded to call this episode, which needs to be understood in its entirety, a “genocide.”
National memories are important, but do not constitute reality by themselves. The national memories of Turks and Armenians do not support each other. Legitimate challenges to the Armenian narrative, even when based on scholarly research or personal histories, are suppressed or attacked as “denial.” That was the case when Dr. Doğu Perinçek was convicted in Switzerland for saying that "the Armenian genocide is an imperialist lie". Perinçek had applied to the ECHR over claims that the Swiss courts had breached his right to freedom of expression. The ECHR agreed on Dec. 17, 2013 that his statements in Switzerland fell within the bounds of freedom of expression. The judgment is an important warning against attempts both to politicize history and law and against initiatives aimed at having a one-sided view of history registered through the use of law.
Turkey does not deny the suffering of Armenians, we respect their sorrow. That is why Turkey has initiated a process aimed at an honest and open dialogue with Armenia. It was Turkey who proposed to Armenia the establishment of a joint commission composed of Turkish and Armenian historians to study the events of 1915, in the archives of Turkey and Armenia and all other relevant archives in the third countries and to share their findings with the international public. Moreover the Protocols signed in October 2009 between Turkey and Armenia stipulates to “implement a dialogue on the historical dimension with the aim to restore mutual confidence between the two nations, including an impartial scientific examination of the historical records and archives to define existing problems and formulate recommendations.” Unfortunately, the Armenian Government has recently revokedthe ratification process of the Protocols representing an opportunity for replacing the language of national conviction with the language of impartial knowledge.
At this point, I wish to add that the message of condolences issued on 23 April 2014 by the then Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan was a sincere gesture of empathy reaching out to the Armenian nation. It was followed on the 20th of January 2015 with the message of the Prime Minister Ahmet Davutoğlu which embraced the memory of the late Hrant Dink and his vision of reconciliation and peace between Turkey and Armenia based on mutual respect, understanding and fair and just interpretation of the common history of the two nations.
The fact remains that the issue is a matter of legitimate scholarly debate, with reputable historians on both sides. Privileging the Armenian views, even when reflecting well-intended attitudes to show solidarity with a group that has a painful past, does not do justice to the grievances experienced by so many.
Although the matter has an overbearing humanitarian dimension, its legal dimension is also central to the debate. Genocide is a clearly defined crime with specific conditions of proof and passing judgment on such an accusation should not be left at the behest of political considerations. Along with the ECHR decision of Dec. 17, 2013 on Perinçek case, the International Court of Justice’s (ICJ) recent decision (http://www.icj-cij.org/docket/files/118/18422.pdf) on the case Croatia v. Serbia concerning the application of the Convention on the Prevention and Punishment of the Crime of Genocide, is another reference source which clearly demonstrates that this term can’t be used to qualify the events of 1915.
We strongly believe that there is every reason to believe that these two ancient nations can demonstrate the wisdom to understand each other and contemplate a future together, without forgetting the difficult periods in their common past. But in this endeavor, all sides must be honest and open-minded.
Mehmet T. Gücük
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