Teach genocide!
Teach genocide!Teach genocide! Kurdistan and Hayastan - Hand in Hand: Report on the London Launch of Desmond Fernandes’ The Kurdish and Armenian Genocide

Sunday, April 13, 2008

Report on the London Launch of Desmond Fernandes’ The Kurdish and Armenian Genocide

Armenia Solidarity with the Victims of All Genocides (ASVAG) and Nor Serount Cultural Association present a report on the London Launch of Desmond Fernandes’ The Kurdish and Armenian Genocides: From Censorship and Denial to Recognition? [Apec Press, Stockholm - ISBN: 91-89675-72-X].

The London launch of Desmond Fernandes’ book, The Kurdish and Armenian Genocides: From Censorship and Denial to Recognition?, took place in the House of Lords, Committee Room 3, on 12th March 2008, at 6.15pm. Organised jointly by The Kurdish Student and Academic Association (KSAF), Nor Serount Cultural Association, Armenia Solidarity, WeKurd, the Art and Science Education Group, the Youth Collective and the Kurdish Federation in the UK (FEDBIR), the event was sponsored and chaired by Lord Rea.

Messages of support were sent by Professor Noam Chomsky, Rosie Malek-Yonan (the Assyrian classically trained pianist, composer, actress, director, writer, documentary filmmaker and author of The Crimson Field), Muhammad Idrees Ahmad (from Spinwatch), Jean Lambert (Green MEP for London) and Nicholas Hildyard (policy analyst).

For Professor Noam Chomsky:
“Fernandes has unearthed a remarkable treasure of surprising, often shocking, and most valuable information about Turkey and the Kurds, and about the crucial role of outside powers, notably the US , in facilitating major crimes. His revelations should be carefully pondered, along with the lessons we should draw from them”.

To Nicholas Hildyard:This book is years overdue. For too long, the question of whether or not the repression directed against the Kurds amounts to genocide has been the elephant in the room in discussions on the ‘Kurdish question’. Desmond's book is meticulous in its research and courageous in its approach: he has not flinched at asking the difficult questions, even where they lead to uncomfortable conclusions. We owe him our thanks for fearlessly putting the issue on the table. Whether or not one agrees with his conclusions, open discussion of what lies behind the decades long repression of the Kurds is critical if a long-term resolution of the Kurdish issue is to be achieved”.

Muhammad Idrees Ahmad sent his wishes for “a very successful book launch … Fernandes has rendered invaluable service in revealing the interlocking interests of various pressure groups and the network of think-tanks through which they have come to dominate the policy process in the United States. His investigation of the nexus between the military-industrial complex and the Israel lobby, and its impact on the Kurdish question also has implications for the wider Middle East. The excellence of Fernandes' scholarship is matched only by the courage he has shown in tackling a subject that is often overlooked for fear of the potential harm it exposes proponents to”.

Jean Lambert conveyed her best wishes for the event. Rosie Malek-Yonan sent the following message: “In order to strive for world peace, we must first clean house. By that I mean we must acknowledge all genocides without exception. So long as these open wounds are not healed, we continue to pass on the hatred and anger towards one another because we feel defenseless. It is time to end the cycle of violence and hatred by opening the dialogue about atrocities that have occurred to all people of all nations particularly those nations who have been subjected to genocide. No one nation is above the rest. No one genocide is more important than the rest ... The recognition and acceptance of a genocide, and mass murder of nations is not to merely point a finger at a tyrant guilty of those crimes. It is acceptance of facts and truths with the ultimate goal to mend bridges between the races. It is not to merely condemn but to create the first step towards world peace”.

Desmond Fernandes briefly spoke about the issues and themes at the heart of the book, and thanked a number of people for their moral support. He also thanked Eilian Williams for helping to organise the event. Desmond noted the way in which the book was dedicated to the late Musa Anter (the Kurdish writer and intellectual - who was assassinated by Turkish state 'inspired' death squads - who explicitly referred to the Kurdish genocide as “genocide”) and the courageous and inspirational publisher and human rights activist, the late Ayse Zarakolu. He was honoured by the presence of Ragip Zarakolu (husband of Ayse, Chair of Writers in Exile – International PEN: Turkey Branch, and member of the International Committee – Freedom to Publish and the International Publishers Association), who specially flew from Turkey for the event.

Desmond noted the manner in which, “even now, in North West Kurdistan (South East Turkey) and South Kurdistan (Northern Iraq) and Turkey as a whole, terrible things are happening. The Turkish government, as I and others such as Tove Skutnabb-Kangas show, is currently in breach of two articles of the United Nations’ Genocide Convention. It is still conducting a cultural genocide of Armenians and Kurds. The crime, legacy and human impact of genocide needs to be urgently recognised and addressed. The book recognises the Armenian, Assyrian, Greek, Kurdish and other genocides, and examines policies of genocide denialism. As I show, the record of the US, UK, Israeli governments, and NATO, has really been shameful in all of this, alongside that of successive Turkish governments and a number of lobbying groups pursuing their own cynical economic and geopolitical agendas. The above have been complicit in assisting the Turkish state with its genocidal and/or genocide denialist actions. And as Articles 3b and 3e of the 1948 UN Genocide Convention make clear, 'conspiracy to commit genocide' and 'complicity in genocide' are international crimes. Article 4 of the Genocide Convention states that: 'Persons committing genocide or any of the other acts enumerated in Article 3' – i.e. relating to ‘conspiracy to commit genocide' and/or 'complicity in genocide' - 'shall be punished, whether they are constitutionally responsible rulers, public officials or private individuals'”. Desmond further clarified that many writers and human rights activists and academics – such as Ismail Besikci – have been criminalised, even as others have been murdered, for courageously and publicly exposing these issues. He paid all of the above his deepest respect, even as he expressed his opposition to those ideologies driving and 'inspiring' such targeting actions.

Ragip Zarakolu's moving speech emphasised the way in which people who raise these topics in Turkey continue to be, scandalously, criminalised. Zinur Duru and Kasim Agpak presented detailed and critical reviews of the book.

For Kasim: "One thing here needs to be recognised is that all atrocities do not only oppress or massacre a particular community, they also target the whole of humanity. They take all the good human values from us as we are, in a sense, losing the meaning of what it means to be human beings. If we, as human beings, did not turn a blind eye to the Armenian genocide, perhaps the Nazis would not dare such a crime. If we did not turn a blind eye to the Holocaust, perhaps the genocide in Rwanda would not have occured. Fernandes’ book in a way shows us our contradictions, in the sense of recognising our true human values".

Professor Khatchatur I. Pilikian's presentation - relating to genocide and the concepts of "cosmos" provided by Raphael Lemkin, who coined the term 'genocide' - was thought provoking. To Khatchatur, an artist, musician, writer and author of The Spectre of Genocide as Collateral Damage is Haunting the World and UNESCO Laureates: Nazim Hikmet & Aram Khatchaturian, and director of the 1970's programme HARC: The Heritage of Armenian Culture: "Desmond Fernandes speaks of the state total terror inflicted upon two ancient peoples of Anatolia, Armenians and Kurds, by a colonial usurper power first as an Empire - Ottoman - then as a Republic of Turkey. His book is a testimony that those two peoples, and others ... are not only thinking for themselves but are still continuing their struggle to prevent the 'draining of the spiritual resources of mankind'. Fernandes’ work also illustrates what the Permanent Peoples’ Tribunal thus declared: '...To uncover and expose the genocidal reality makes it somewhat harder for those with motives of cover up to maintain their position. By validating the grievances of the victims, the Tribunal contributes to the dignity of their suffering and lends support to their continuing struggle. Indeed, acknowledging genocide itself is a fundamental means of struggling against genocide [and is] an affirmation of the right of a people under international law to a safeguarded existence'”.

To Ben Hayes, from Statewatch: "Reading Desmond’s book reminded me of another, the book that had the single greatest influence on my critical faculties and perhaps even my choice of career: Modernity and the Holocaust by Zygmunt Bauman. Some of you may be familiar with it. Bauman’s central thesis is that while the Nazis were a genocidal regime – albeit one that first used democracy to destroy democracy – many of the factors that made the Holocaust possible are characteristics of all modern states ...

"Reading Des Fernandes’ book, it struck me not just how right Bauman was, but how the world continues to grow more and more hypocritical and unjust with every passing year. What sort of a Europe is it that condemns the denial of one genocide, only to facilitate the denial of another? We have not merely failed to learn the lessons of the holocaust, as Des Fernandes and others have shown, we have turned the other cheek while our friends – the states of Turkey and Israel included – have committed and continue to commit appalling atrocities in the name of the 'Fatherland', the 'promised land', and, in the 21st century, 'homeland security'. The Kurds are victims of Empire, of Turkish state repression, and now - like all struggles for self-determination with a few notable geo-strategic exceptions - they are victims of the global 'war on terror'. International human rights law, the crowning glory of human civilisation”, he observed, “is supposed to ensure solidarity, support and protection for victims of state repression. And anyone who reads this book cannot fail to be moved to share in that solidarity. But under the 'war on terror', international law and the terrorist lists in particular now mean that the international community’s solidarity is with the oppressor, while public solidarity with the victims is being steadily criminalised ... I hope that Des Fernandes’ book can make the same contribution to debates about Britain’s shameful foreign policy as it does to giving a desperately needed voice to Kurdish and Armenian victims of crimes against humanity ... I think it was Orwell who said that: 'In times of universal deceit, telling the truth becomes a revolutionary act', and so it is for the voices in this book".

Gurgîn Bakircioglu, Vice Chair of the Kurdish Student and Academic Association and Editor of Beyan.net, noted in his presentation that "the Turkish State remains on a mission of conquest while it continuously resists discussing and evaluating its past. These acts of denial are precisely why laws such as Article 301 of the Turkish penal code exist; for the sole purpose of denying people the right to criticize the present or even the past. The controversial and blurred article that the Turkish regime has created serves three purposes: Denial, of the past; Extermination, of today; and Prevention, of perceived future problems for the power of the State. So, the past is fabricated, the present is opposed and the future is protected from the people. There are many problems inside Turkey that should have been solved a long time ago; instead of solving them, threats from outside Turkey have been created so that the people would look away. These are the problems and conflicts inside Turkey that still are not solved: the institutionalised denial of the Armenian Genocide; the Kurdish oppression and as Desmond describes it, the Cultural Genocide of the Kurds; the Alevi question; the military power over the civilian authority. And the list goes on …

"I do not know if any of you remember or took notice of when the Turkish Prime Minister Erdogan in 2004, stated in Washington , 'I am against Kurdish self-rule, even if it were in Argentina'. These statements are iconic of Turkey ’s policy of attempting to wipe out the Kurdish identity by eliminating any possibility of a Kurdish state. As it is said in Kurdish: 'Zimane me hebuna me ye'. Our language is our existence". Gurgîn additionally noted that Professor David Gaunt from Södertörn University College, a leading Armenian and Assyrian genocide scholar, supported the purpose of this meeting and sent "his best wishes to everyone in this room, and especially Mr. Fernandes".

The presentations were followed by stimulating discussions between members of the audience and members of the panel. Lord Rea thanked all those who attended the event.

Note: The book can be ordered securely online via Paypal at http://www.techybits.net/desfernandes/ at the recommended retail price of £14.99 (postage and packing free within the UK). It can also be ordered from the UK distributor AK Press and Distribution (http://www.akuk.com/ ; http://www.akuk.com/dosearch.php?itemid=5326 ).