While I was chilling on my sister’s couch, performing my role as funky aunt and sister (in-law), I caught the news story on telly that France is to make the denial of the Armenian genocide a crime. This action infuriated Turkey, that denies that the mass killings of Armenians in the last days of Ottoman rule were genocide, to the extent that it recalled its ambassador in Paris and threatened to expel the French ambassador in Ankara. Well done France and how childish are those Turks I thought initially. But then I thought, how can a democratic country with a free press make the denial of a historic event illegal? In many countries denying the Holocaust is illegal. I don’t agree with that either. I am by no means a Holocaust denier as I believe there is very little proof for the argument that 6 million Jews, Gypsies, gays and other so-called threats to the Third Reich were not really murdered on an industrial scale. I just have an issue with the principle that I am forced to believe a certain interpretation of historic events and questioning this interpretation is deemed a crime.
History is a social science that uses sources from the past to tell a story from the past. This story is open to interpretation. The one who tells his-tory with the strongest argument wins and will make it to the ‘common explanation of history’. Our view of history changes depending which side we’re on and which time we live in. The white man’s burden of ‘cultivating’ the ‘uncivilised’ parts of the world has become quite a different burden as he gets blamed for everything that is currently wrong with the Global South. Colombus setting foot in the Americas is considered a mile stone in European history yet is viewed as the beginning of a great tragedy by the continent’s native inhabitants. The establishment of the state of Israel is seen as the homecoming of a people discriminated and prosecuted for centuries to a land of their own. Others see it as the continuation of a European occupation. If I told you that black folk in the Americas weren’t forced from Africa to work as slaves in agriculture, but travelled there on their own account to assist the white man in his great mission you just think I’m on some bad trip and out of my mind. By no means would you threaten to prosecute me. Yet, why is the explanation of some historic events protected by law and others are just to be fought out in the realm of social science? I guess the severity of some historic events is considered so great that denial is more than stupidity or a great insult. It’s a crime. Perhaps the denial of the Atlantic slave trade is not a crime because there is no one denying it and even is someone did, no one would feel threatened by it. Even -or perhaps especially- horrific events like the Holocaust or Armenian genocide should not need the protection of the law. Most Holocaust deniers make utter d*cks out of themselves anyway. In a free country there should be room to question the general assumption of historic events, how ridiculous or plausible this might be, without fear of prosecution. Unlike the Holocaust, the Armenian genocide is only recognised by twenty sovereign nations making the acknowledgement of the mass killings of Armenians as genocide a far more disputed issue. The explanation and interpretation of history should not be a matter for the judiciary, but for historians. Believing otherwise means one has not much faith in one’s scholars and intellectuals and especially in a country like France, that would be a very sad state of affairs indeed.