Turks Try to Intimidate This Writer By Threatening Him with Lawsuit

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Turks Try to Intimidate This Writer By Threatening Him with Lawsuit

By Harut Sassounian

Publisher, The California Courier

While Turkish leaders are desperately trying to convince the world that their country is civilized enough to join the European Union, they are actually proving the exact opposite with every passing day.

Despite the fact that the Turkish leaders are supposed be on their best behavior in order to impress the Europeans, they have yet to grant equal rights to Turkey’s many religious and ethnic minorities. They also refuse to return to Greek and Armenian charitable foundations in Turkey their properties confiscated by the Turkish government decades earlier.

In an attempt to fool the international community, on the one hand Turkish officials have advocated the setting up of a joint commission with Armenians ostensibly to study the facts of the Armenian Genocide, while on the other hand, they have forced the cancellation of a symposium organized by three leading universities in Turkey, thereby preventing the discussion of this issue even among Turkish scholars.

Meanwhile, Prime Minister Recep Erdogan has boldly announced that his government is ready to admit the Armenian Genocide if sufficient proof is presented, while Foreign Minister Abdullah Gul is bragging that Turkey has inundated journalists, scholars, universities, libraries and parliamentarians worldwide with revisionist books on the Armenian Genocide.

As the human rights of millions of Turkish citizens are violated on a regular basis, it comes as no surprise that the Turkish government is prosecuting Hrant Dink, an Armenian journalist in Turkey, for allegedly insulting Turks in an article he wrote in his newspaper, AGOS. If found guilty, he could be sentenced to a 1-6 year jail term.

Turkish officials and their agents are so used to silencing, intimidating and jailing anyone who disagrees with them that they dare to bully also their opponents overseas who are beyond their reach. No dissent is tolerated!

This writer is quite familiar with the Turkish practice of suppressing free speech. As the author of a weekly column that is very critical of Turkish denialist and oppressive policies, I receive a lot of abusive e-mails from Turks from around the world. Most of these Turks forget that the despotic methods they practice at home to bully people or force them into silence do not work in Western countries where freedom of expression is basic right.

Last week, when a young Armenian lady, Maral Der Ohanesian, sent a couple of e-mails to Dr. Sedat Laciner, editor of the Journal of Turkish Weekly in Ankara, an on-line Turkish propaganda site, complaining about the distortions in one of its articles, he shamelessly accused her of “fabricating” arguments.

The JTW had cleverly edited an Swiss info wire story by including revisionist statements on the Armenian Genocide and deleting criticism of the Turkish position, thereby giving the false impression that Peter Briner, the President of the Senate foreign affairs committee of Switzerland, had made statements which he had not.

When Maral forwarded to me her exchange of e-mails, I sent a strongly worded private e-mail to JTW, castigating the staff for accusing Maral of fabrication when they themselves had distorted the original news item beyond recognition. Within hours of my letter, the JTW published on its front page a “press release” with the following sensational title: “JTW Condemns The California Courier Publisher Harut Sassounian.” Not happy with my criticism, the JTW resorted to calling me an extremist Armenian and threatened that “the JTW will start a legal action in California” against me. The JTW also posted my e-mail on its web site.

I received dozens of e-mails and phone calls from around the world, from both Armenians and non-Armenians alike, among them several attorneys and judges, who assured me that there was nothing illegal in what I had written to the JTW. Criticizing a publication is not against the law in civilized countries. That, apparently, is not the case in Turkey.

A reader from Canada wrote: “The prospect of a lawsuit against you by the JTW in California must be extremely encouraging. They silenced their own in Turkey. They try to silence foreign parliaments and now they’re trying to silence an American journalist. It’s wonderful the way they are keeping the issue alive. A lawsuit would provide a superb opportunity for a US court to pronounce itself definitely on the Armenian Genocide.” Another reader from Armenia wrote: “Congratulations on being vilified by the Turkish press! It’s an achievement, and I consider it a badge of courage. Keep on pissing them off.” A fellow publisher wrote in his newspaper: “Turks have unwittingly made [this writer] an even bigger hero.”

The real issue is not these empty Turkish threats. As we do not live in Turkey, no one in this country is scared or intimidated by such tactics.

What’s more important is that these Turkish propagandists had apparently started celebrating a little prematurely. The JTW, quoting Peter Briner, had gleefully reported that the Armenian Genocide issue would “never” be taken up by the Swiss Senate. Dogu Perincek, the leader of the Turkish Labor Party, who had been interrogated by Swiss prosecutors last month for denying the Armenian Genocide, also claimed credit for this false report. He gave a press conference to announce that his outspoken statements on this issue as well his testimony in Switzerland had influenced the Swiss Senate to withdraw a pending resolution on the Armenian Genocide. Perincek called his antics “a great success.”

Here is a more accurate report of what really transpired: To begin with, Perincek’s bombastic statements not only got him in legal trouble in Switzerland, but helped generate great publicity for the issue of the Armenian Genocide in Switzerland and throughout Europe on the eve of a decision by the Europeans to consider starting negotiations for Turkey’s membership in the EU. Turkey then decided to deliver a note of protest to Switzerland and cancelled the scheduled visit of the Swiss Economics Minister Joseph Deiss to Turkey. These foolhardy Turkish actions made the genocide issue even more newsworthy throughout the world.

Erwin Jutzet, the President of the Foreign Affairs Commission of Swiss Parliament reacted sharply to the Turkish bullying tactics by stating: “Turkey has to stop reacting so sensitively to such events. It would be better to recognize once and for all the genocide of the Armenians.” Jutzet said it was up to Turkey to make a positive move rather than “always taking offense and resorting to blackmail. If Switzerland were to turn its back on Turkey, it would be a bad sign for EU entry.”

More bad news surfaced for the cocky Turkish propagandists, when Sen. Peter Briner denied having said that the Armenian Genocide would “never” be debated in the Swiss Senate. He countered that these false reports were “based on either a misquote or a misunderstanding.” He added: “I can never be sure what will be on the Senate’s agenda, of course, but right now the postponement of Economics Minister Joseph Deiss’ invitation to Turkey will certainly be discussed” during the Foreign Affairs Committee’s next meeting on August 23. At that time, any member of the Committee could raise the issue of the Armenian Genocide. Should that happen, the self-declared premature Turkish victory could end up being a defeat, thanks to the boastful behavior of Mr. Perincek and his band of incompetent propagandists.

Even worse for Turkey, the Swiss government declared that its law against denial of genocide also applies to the Armenian Genocide. The Swiss Foreign Ministry (DFA) issued a formal statement following a meeting between Ambassador Jean-Jacques de Dardel, the head of the Political Affairs Division of the Foreign Ministry, and the Ambassador of Turkey in Switzerland, in connection with the proceedings against Perincek. The Foreign Ministry stated:

“During the meeting, the DFA underlined the applicability of Swiss law in this matter and recalled that article 261 bis of the Swiss Penal Code stipulates that any person who denies, minimizes or justifies a genocide or other crimes against humanity is liable to prosecution. It is the task of the Swiss judicial instances to decide on the modalities of the application of the legal provisions of our country.”

Despite the boastful and threatening statements emanating from various Turkish propagandists, the fact remains that ever fewer countries are going along with Ankara’s denials of the Armenian Genocide. The Turkish officials have less than six weeks to come to their senses and realize that they have to make a bold move on the Armenian Genocide issue if they have any hope of salvaging their sinking prospects for the start of EU negotiations on October 3.