Letter To the Hellenic Parliament

11/18/2005 10:16:14 PM

To the Hellenic Parliament:

Sano Halo's personal account of a death march in Turkey that took the lives of her family -- as recounted by her daughter, Thea, in "Not Even My Name" -- bears witness to the greatest crime humanity can perpetrate against itself: genocide.

The Turkish state's elimination of its Armenian, Greek and Assyrian populations was part and parcel of the same effort to obliterate Turkey's Christian minorities. All were perpetrated during the same time frame, by the same governments, and using the same methods - namely, massacres, labor camps and death marches under the guise of deportations.

New York State's governor George Pataki and the Armenian National Committee have recently added their voices to a growing community of individuals and organizations of conscience that have recognized the genocide of Asia Minor' s Greeks by the modern Turkish state.

Now Greece, which has wrestled with its own turbulent history to evolve into a champion of democratic ideals, human rights and the rule of law, is poised to betray these very principles by denying the historical reality of a genocide that was perpetrated against its own people.

In April 1998, over 150 of the world's most respected thinkers, scholars and authors --including Yehuda Bauer, Israel Charny, Seamus Heaney, Deborah Lipstadt, Norman Mailer, Arthur Miller, John Updike and Kurt Vonnegut -- took a stand against Turkey's multi-million-dollar campaign of genocide denial by signing a petition that affirmed:

"The Denial of Genocide is a form of aggression. It continues the process of genocide. It strives to reshape history in order to rehabilitate the perpetrators and demonize the victims. It prevents healing of the wounds inflicted by genocide. Denying genocide is the final stage of genocide-it murders the dignity of the survivors and destroys the remembrance of the crime."

As with the Armenian Genocide, those opposing the recognition of the Greek Genocide of Asia Minor attempt to shift focus away from the unfathomable reality of the historical event itself by portraying the issue as one of nationalism and ethnic conflict rather than of healing and remembrance. Yet, as noted by Professor Peter Balakian, prominent U.S. scholar and author of "Black Dog of Fate", the driving force behind the renewed awareness of Turkey's Greek holocaust transcends nationality and ideology: "this is not about ethnic conflict, Greek vs. Turk or Armenian vs. Turk, this is about universal moral issues and universal human rights issues . . . Clearly, denying genocide paves the way for future genocide, for it suggests to the world that governments can commit mass murder with impunity."

This chilling postulate was already put into practice just twenty years after Turkey's eradication of its Christian minorities. Eight days before unleashing his exterminationist campaign in Europe, on August 22, 1939 Hitler defended his orders "to kill without pity or mercy all men, women and children" by declaring "who, after all, speaks today of the annihilation of the Armenians?"

By yielding to, and thus further encouraging, Turkey's efforts to deny the Greek Genocide of Asia Minor, the Greek government becomes an accomplice to the systematic pattern of violence and intimidation that the Turkish government has used to silence those who have spoken up against genocide.

Hebrew University professor Stanley Cohen's statement regarding the Turkish government's aggressive campaign of denial vis-à-vis the Armenian Genocide applies equally to its denial of the genocide of Asia Minor's Greeks:

"The nearest successful example [of 'collective denial'] in the modern era is the 80 years of official denial by successive Turkish governments of the 1915-17 genocide against the Armenians in which some 1.5 million people lost their lives. This denial has been sustained by deliberate propaganda, lying and coverups, forging documents, suppression of archives, and bribing scholars. The West, especially the United States, has colluded by not referring to the massacres in the United Nations, ignoring memorial ceremonies, and surrendering to Turkish pressure in NATO and other strategic arenas of cooperation" (Law and Social Inquiry, Winter 1995).

According to a groundbreaking expose by The Chronicle of Higher Education, Microsoft's electronic encyclopedia "Encarta" pressured contributing scholars Helen Fein, Executive Director of The Institute for The Study of Genocide, and Ronald Suny, a political scientist at the University of Chicago and the University of Michigan, to incorporate strategies of denial when referring to the Armenian Genocide because "the Turkish government had threatened to arrest local Microsoft officials and ban Microsoft products". Any familiarity with Turkey's record on free speech would demonstrate that these were not idle threats.

A Turkish writer for Encyclopedia Britannica was imprisoned for using the word "Armenia" in a map of ancient Anatolia.

Last year, Turkey imprisoned Assyrian priest Yusuf Akbulut for "telling reporters that his Christian minority had been the victim of genocide" (The New York Times, 12/12/00).

Ankara's Public Prosecutor's Office is now seeking a six-year prison term for Turkish human rights activist Akin Birdal for saying "everybody knows what was done to the Armenians" during a panel discussion in Germany. In 1998, Birdal survived multiple gunshot wounds to the chest and legs by two extremists linked to the Turkish military.

In October, Turkey successfully blackmailed the U.S. House of Representatives to withdraw a majority-supported resolution recognizing the Armenian Genocide by threatening economic, military and diplomatic sanctions.

Incredibly, in a not-so-veiled threat Ankara warned that Americans in Turkey would be in danger should the resolution pass, prompting Representative Frank Pallone (D-NJ) to remark "what kind of ally threatens American lives if it doesn't get its way? With friends like that, who needs enemies."

In sharp contrast, France's parliament passed its recognition of the Armenian Genocide into law, braving fanatical reactions in Turkey which included potentially billions of dollars in costly trade sanctions, the recalling of Turkey's ambassador to France, nationwide boycotts, flag-burnings, street violence, and a shooting at the French consulate.

Ironically, in 1996 the Greek Parliament designated April 24th as a day of remembrance for the Armenian Genocide. Yet while Armenians have assumed their responsibility to memorialize their own near-extermination, those in the Greek government opposed to the recognition of the Greek Genocide of Asia Minor have instead looked backwards to a shameful pattern of acquiescence to the erasing of historical memory.

The downplaying of the genocide of Asia Minor's Greek population became official state policy following the collective shame that gripped Greece as a result of its catastrophic attempt to emancipate Asia Minor's indigenous Greek population, and as a result of Greece's ensuing detente with Turkey. This detente was interrupted in 1955 by a decade of anti-Greek pogroms that drove out the remaining remnants of Asia Minor's ancient Greek community, and which in turn were followed by the ethnic cleansing of northern Cyprus' Greek and Armenian populations during Turkey's infamous 1974 invasion of that island-nation.

The Greek government now has the opportunity to rehabilitate its past enabling of the denial of genocide by unequivocally recognizing that what befell the Greek populations of Asia Minor was genocide as defined by the 1948 United Nations Convention on The Prevention And Punishment of The Crime of Genocide.

Hellas must forge a destiny that embraces progress and civilization, not regression and repression. Despite their ongoing victimization by Turkey in places like Cyprus and Istanbul, in fact because of it, Greeks must meet this destiny and become a major democratizing force for Turkey itself.

By surrendering to Turkish and related pressures on vital moral issues, the Greek government is ensuring the perpetuation of a morally damaged neighbor with an outmoded nationalist ideology who will continue to threaten territorial conquest and sap Greece's full economic and human potential. Moreover, Greece's policy of appeasement will not only lock Turkey in an anachronistic holding pattern while the rest of developing Europe busies itself with genuine reform and democratization, but will also perpetuate the cycle of fear that lies at the heart of regressive elements within Greece itself.

People of good conscience implore the government of the Hellenic Republic not to remove the word "genocide" from a law recognizing the Genocide of Hellenism in Asia Minor.

With great concern,
Paskalini Savopoulos