Nouvelles d'Armenie    




Ragip Zarakolu*

(*) President of the Turkish Publishers Unions Committee for Freedom to Publish and IPA’s IFTC Member

The events that took place in the year 1915, namely the Armenian Genocide, continue to be the most sensitive and taboo topics in the history of the Turkish Republic. The prohibitions concerning the discussion of the events that took place in 1915 have escalated to such a degree as to question Armenian identity itself. Such prohibitions have endeavored to erase Armenian identity from historical atlases and encyclopedias, and have even encouraged the destruction of graves and historical sites. I have labeled this the final stage of the genocide.

The chief endeavor of these prohibitions was to erase all consciousness of this incident from public memory. Up until 1965, which happened to be the 50th anniversary of the Genocide, it is plausible to argue that this was successfully achieved. During that time, aside from the dispersed Diaspora circles, the event had been forgotten.


Starting with the 1990’s, when the problem was initially discussed in the courts, we may divide the prohibition process into three stages.

1. 1923-1945. Orders for prohibition during this period were issued directly by the Council of Ministers (OPCM). In addition to Armenian publications, Kurdish, Greek, Laz, Circassian books and reviews, publications by intellectuals, leftist and Islamic circles which had been driven out of Turkey were also closely monitored. The issuing of prohibition orders based on the flow of these reports constituted a very important aspect of the government’s duties.

a) In 1925 after the issuing of the Takrir-i Sükun Law (Law for Peace or Silence), which encompassed both the press and political activity, the Armenian press in Istanbul saw its fair share of difficulties. The Hahtanak newspaper was shut down because it was argued that `it attempted to popularize bolshevism amongst Armenians.’ In the 30’s the Aztarar newspaper, which was also published in Istanbul, was shut down because of the prohibition by Council of Ministers.

b) During the time period in question publications outside Turkey were prohibited and denied circulation in Turkey because it was argued that `they might incite hostility amongst the citizens once again.’ Another reason given for this prohibition was `to protect Armenians from harmful influences.’ Yet another reason given was the alleged ties between these publications and the Tashnak Party. An interesting fact worthy of mention is that the Tashnak Party was seen as `a committee, which has important organizational links inside the country.’

With that said, in 1928 the newspaper Harac published in Paris, Aztak published in Syria, Noror published in Athens, Husaper published in Cairo and Misak magazine published in California were all denied circulation in the country. In the following years Armenian publications that were prohibited are as follows : Hayrenik and Baykar (Boston), Mardigoz (Paris), Arev (Cairo), Zartonk and Ararat (Beirut), Aramatz (Athens), Aras (Bucharest),Yeprat and Hayastan Gacnak (USA), Azad Hosk (Sofya), The Armenian and His Works (Yerevan). In the decisions for outlawing these publications other reasons that were often given were that these were `inciting Armenians within the country’ and ` catering to the Armenian cause.’ It was claimed that the article which led to the closing of Mardigos in 1933 defended the position that the `Armenian revolution was in fact righteous and not working together with the Kurds was a very important tactical mistake.’ The article that was given as the reason for closing Arev, which was published in Cairo, is one of he first examples of memories from 1915 being revitalized : `Due to the 20th Anniversary of the Mush Plain tragedy.’

c) Books during this period also received prohibitions. Examples of these are `Today’s Armenia’ and `Gardens and Orchards’ published in Cairo, `Emma’ and `Longings for Life’ published in Yerevan.

d) In 1933 for the first time the entry of an encyclopedic publication was denied. The famous German dictionary/encyclopedia Brochaus’ Atlas was prohibited because it was argued that it `had a splintering effect on Turkish Cultural Unity.’ The prohibition concerning encyclopedias would once again resurface after the September 12th military coup d’etat in 1980. The reason given for this was the incorporation of `Historical Armenia.’

e) An event that left its mark on this period was the attention Austrian writer Franz Werfel’s Forty Days on Musa Dagh received. It was a novel that served as a reminder of the events that took place in 1915. The Turkish diplomatic effort for the banning of this book was successful and the campaign served as an example for campaigns against 1915 memorials in the world and the movie `Midnight Express’. The book was first published during the beginning of Nazi rule and with the OPCM its entry in to Turkey was immediately prohibited.

A treaty with only a single condition was signed between Turkey and Nazi Germany concerning the prohibition of the book. This must have been one of the first international treaties the new German regime had signed. In any case Werfel’s book in addition to many other authors’ books was burned in campaigns organized by the Nazis through out Germany on May 10. In 1935 the book along with a photograph of Werfel was burned in the garden of the Armenian school in Pangalti. In 1934 the book was published in French. France refused to prohibit its distribution. The American edition became a best-seller with over one million copies sold. The American company MGM expressed interest in making a movie based on the book. However, when faced with Turkish diplomats threatening to close Turkey’s doors to the American film industry they gave up the idea. (The detailed story of this diplomatic campaign that spanned a time period of five years may be found in Rifat Bali’s article in the magazine Tarih ve Toplum).

f) Armenian graves were removed ; most churches were either legally expropriated or simply left to collapse. These practices were once again employed after 1960 with the help of the secret Subcommittee for Minorities (Azınlıklar Tali Komisyonu) initiated by Prime Minister Ismet Inonu. This Committee were dissolved again secretly in 2005, by Government’s Decree, as a part EU reforms.

2) We may label the second phase of this process as the stage of amnesia or that of forgetting. In 1948, despite being one of the first nations to sign the UN’s genocide treatise, it is safe to say that a general amnesia played an important role for Turkey in this decision. While the Turkish Republic signed this treaty with out giving any thought to the hardships it would cause later on, the United States waited until 1986 to sign it. The period between 1945 and 1990 marks a tumultuous democratization period for Turkey. In 1950 the founding party of the Republic, CHP, lost the elections and was removed from power. However, in 1960, 1971 and 1980 respectively military coup d’etats would take place. Despite all these changes the prohibition on foreign publications entering into the country as arranged by the Council of Ministers continued. Interestingly enough tourist guide books also suffered as a consequence of this because of mentioning `Historical Armenia.’ Those who guide books on them or anyone who was found carrying books about Armenians at borders were detained. One of the most memorable demonstrations of the 1980 coup was the bombing of the resistance memorial at Musa Dagh by canons.

During the militaristic rule of General Kenan Evren the French encyclopedia Larousse was prohibited from being imported due to the fact that it included an entry on the Armenian Genocide and its history. The editor of the Turkish edition of the British encyclopedia Britannica was tried in court for allowing an entry on `Historical Armenia.’ The Britannica fascicle in question was taken out of circulation. During this time a Turkish encyclopedia which gave detailed accounts of all the provinces, Yurt Ansiklopedisi was published under strict censorship, cleaned from the pages about Armenia and Armenians.

3) The third phase constitutes a kind of civil disobedience where books on the Armenian issue began to get published and discussion of the issue itself began to be carried out in the courts.

The 1980 coup had a detrimental effect on human rights, this lead to a large scale human rights movement. The escalation of the Kurdish issue caused a continuation of these problems on the one hand and on the other intensified the search for civil liberties and rights.

Ayse Nur Zarakolu, one of the leading figures in this human rights movement, published books on the Kurdish issue in 1990 and also published sociologist Dr. Ismail Besikci’s books which had been banned from publication since 1971. By doing so Ayse Nur Zarakolu initiated the discussion of the Kurdish problem. In 1990 while being tried for the book Kurdistan : An Inter-states Colony in her defense Ayse Nur Zarakolu mentioned for the first time in addition to all the international human rights documents the Genocide Treatise. She stated that `It is the committers of genocide that should be tried not those who discuss it.’

The 142nd Article of the Turkish Penal Code, which had been borrowed from the Italian Penal Code in 1930 and was removed in 1990, in addition to socialist publications had become the standard article with which books on the Armenian and Kurdish issue were handled. The article was used for prosecuting crimes that endeavored to incite hostility amongst social groups based on class, religion, ethnicity, race and nation.

After the removal of the 142nd article from the penal code there was a significant increase in the number of publications concerning the Kurdish issue.

But this also translated into an increase in the number of trials taking place. Med/Zel/Peri Publications’ editor Ahmet Onal, in 1992, published Armenian researcher Garo Sasuni’s The Kurdish National Movement and Kurdish- Armenian relations beginning with the 15th Century up until The Present the original of which was first published in Beirut and later in Stockholm. The book was tried and banned. ’The same publisher in 1994 published Western Armenia and Genocide by Kurdish researcher K.Kalman. The book was also tried and banned. In 1996 a book published by Ahmet Onal was banned : The novel Longing/Garod written by Hracya Kocar who had been exiled during the Stalinist rule in the Soviet Union, had its second edition banned, because of the cover.

Despite the removal of article 142 from the Turkish Penal Code the State Security Courts began using article 8 of the Struggle on Terror Law and the Penal Codes 321st article in place of it, essentially employing these alterations for the same purposes as before.

In accordance with changes taking place since the 2004 reforms for EU membership the 8th article of the Struggle on Terror Law has been dropped and the 312th article of the TPC has been `softened’. However, since these changes, cases dealing with the Armenians and Kurds are now tried under the 7th article of the Struggle on Terror Law and the old TPC’s 159th article (301st under the new penal code). `Publishing materials contrary to the national interest of Turkey with the help of foreign aid’ has been added on to this as a new article, article 305. It is this article that permits for Armenian Genocide Publications to be prosecuted directly as offenses. So far no prosecution has made use of this article.

While the 305th article has yet to be employed in such matters, cases that are taking place frequently prosecute under the law which prohibits insulting and making accusations against the Turkish State or its armed forces. In addition to this a special law that came into effect in 1951 which strives to protect the honor of Ataturk is also resorted to i.e. Dora Sakaryan’s and George Jerjian’s cases in 2005. Journalists who have made a point of discussing this kind of trials have found themselves in court houses being charged with `attempting to affect the Turkish Justice System’. Even the Administrative Court System has been included in trying to prevent the Armenian Genocide from being discussed in the Turkish Universities. This demonstrates just what kind of a political and ideological tool the legal system is becoming.


With the threat of genocides in Bosnia and Yugoslavia and with the Kurdish problem not making any progress, with the process of a forced migration being reinstated we feel that it was time to once again to begin discussing the Armenian Genocide. Over the course of two years we worked on Yves Ternon’s ` History of The Armenian Genocide’ and published it in 1993 under the title `The Armenian Taboo’. The Rwanda genocide which was taking place at the time only confirmed our fears that history would have to be faced sooner or later.

The same year Taner Akcam as part of the civil liberties and rights search, though not settling for the term `Genocide’, concentrated his studies of the tradition of the oppressive Turkish State around the Armenian question and published his first book relating to the matter under the title `The Armenian Problem and Turkish Identity’.

While the Ternon case continued in order to solidify our position and to broaden our argument we published a translation of Professor Vahakn N. Dadrian’s `Genocide According to International and National Law : The Armenian Example’ published by Yale University. This book too was immediately banned and a case was set up against it. While the Ternon case resulted in conviction and a two year prison sentence, the Dadrian case was dismissed and this in turn opened the door for further study of the matter. Because of the importance that rests on the shoulders of these two cases for having paved the way for further discussion of the Armenian Genocide we will talk about them in greater detail later on.

Yves Ternon’s Case, the Accusation, the Defense and the Conviction

In November of 1993 we had given the following reason for publishing Ternon’ s `The Armenian Taboo’ : `The Turkish public knows of only one story when it comes to the Armenian issue and that is the official position the government has taken. What is the other side of the story ? This was never found out by the Turkish public. The prevention of future problems such as international hardships, more genocides and new dangers is only achievable through facing our own history in a bold manner. It seems unlikely that any Turkish Prime minister will ever kneel before a genocide memorial the way German Prime minister Willy Brand did. But they must.’ In order to prevent discussion of the Armenian Genocide the first law that was put into action was the law concerning the struggle against terror and more specifically its 8th article. Therefore, Ayse Nur Zarakolu was tried as a ` perpetrator of terror’ at the 4 State Security Court 4th in Istanbul. While the book on the Armenian Genocide was being prosecuted in Istanbul, in Paris, Historian Bernard Lewis was being prosecuted for arguing in one of his articles for Le Monde the inapplicability of the term `Genocide’ for the Armenian issue. The case against Lewis had been brought on by Yves Ternon and the Armenian community. These two cases, which concentrated on the acceptance and the denial of the Armenian Genocide, affected each other and both resulted in convictions. Lewis was sentenced to pay a symbolic one Franc compensation in Paris, while Ayse Nur Zarakolu was sentenced to two years in prison along with a 250 million Lira fine. The prosecutor instead of grounding his charges in the 312th article of the TPC decided to prosecute under the struggle against terror law. Turkish media focused its attention mainly on the Lewis case in Paris and therefore paid little attention to the Ternon case in Istanbul, this resulted in no discussion taking place at all amongst the Turkish public concerning the Armenian Genocide. On December 4th 1994 the publishing house was bombed and in the case which was held shortly after the Government was on the losing side. It has been 12 years and the case still has not been recognized by the Court of Appeals.

The Prosecutions primary argument :

It was argued that the book `on 29 separate occasions claimed that at various times genocide had been committed against the Armenians, and it did so in a manner that openly provoked hostility amongst citizens based on racial differences. It labeled certain regions of the Republic of Turkey, Kurdistan and Turkish Armenia which is an argument in favor of the divisibility between the countries people and its lands.’

Publisher Ms. A. N. Zarakolu’s Defense :

`As I stated from the very beginning, I am a human rights activists and it because of my beliefs as a human rights activist that I am opposed to all types of genocide. The only way of preventing genocide today is by unearthing past ones and discussing them.’

The Decision :

`While the book, which goes on to discuss the Ottoman Empires role in subjecting the Armenians to genocide and the massacres committed by the Kemalists during the Turkish independence movement, claims in 29 separate pages the occurrence of an `Armenian Genocide’ it is noted that the borders which are said to belong to Armenia overlap with regions claimed by the PKK to be Kurdistan’ the decision then continues as follows : `The book is accurate in so far as the Armenian people living under the Ottoman Empire were over the course of history harassed, had their villages plumaged, and were killed by the Empires Kurdish subjects living in the same region. However, the portrayal of these two groups as currently friendly with one another, as two suffering nations, reflects a future interest in the sharing of lands.’

A book which studied a period of history 80 years ago was being convicted for its involvement with a contemporary issue, the Kurdish issue. The decision which is full of all sorts of conspiracies continues like this : `From the books entirety it is understood that the requests of these two ethnic groups, both of which have never been able to achieve statehood, include territories of the Republic of Turkey. It is agreed that the defendant, therefore, has argued in favor of the idea of divisibility in relation to future times. The map in this book matches the map drawn by the PKK, and the victimization of both these groups is discussed at length. It is understood by these stated facts that the book is arguing in favor of the division of Anatolian territories into two separate states by the afore mentioned two groups. The State Security Court despite understanding the reasons for the books publication, which were stated to be `facing history and preventing future genocides’, chose to ignore this. Instead, choosing to fabricate certain theories which have nothing to so with the contents of the book in question, they decided to convict based on fabrications. In 1997, twenty years after the publication of the books original edition in French, this conviction was approved by the Supreme Court of Appeals.***

** Because the court recognized ANZ as the author of the book she was given the maximum sentence. They noted that Dr. Ternon was `some unidentifiable person who was narrow minded and full of hate.’ Once information concerning Dr. Ternon’s status as a researcher and scholar, who at the time was delivering a paper on the Rwanda genocide in Paris, was established the Court of Appeals asked that her sentence be reduced to six months as the publisher of the book not the author. The court agreed to this only not changing their minds about the following : they stated that `considering the defendants past and her tendency to commit such offenses it is believed that with the reduction of the sentence will not prevent her from committing future offenses.’

***The following Press Statement was released by Belge Publishing on the 27th of April 1997 as a response to the decision :

`This decision is not based on any judicial truth. The reasons they have given are purely stereotypical. The only thing that is accurate about the conviction is that the term `Western Armenia’ is mentioned in the book. According to the court this same region is claimed by the PKK to be a Kurdish region and therefore this book in some way serves their cause. This decision is perhaps the strangest one ever to be issued. Because of the ambiguity concerning the language that was used in the statement we wonder whether or not the committee responsible for reading and analyzing the book even did so. It has even led us to believe that perhaps the case was confused with another one ! The statement mentions certain things that have nothing to with the contents of the book. They argue that this book, which was written in 1977 by a French researcher, serves the PKK’s cause. The PKK was founded in 1978 which would make Dr. Ternon one of the world’s foremost prognosticators ! He discovered a separatist group before it had actually formed and had devised certain evil plans for Turkey through them ! This scenario can only be described as paranoia. The map in the book is said to overlap with a map drawn by the PKK. If that is the case where is this map that was drawn by the PKK !? What does the PKK have anything to do with the issue at hand anyway !? In fact there is no map in the book. In all honesty this is an embarrassment for the legal process. We believe that it will suffice to say that Dr. Ternon’s book is a study of a specific historical and tragic period in time and that its sole purpose is to aid in the prevention of future tragedies by allowing for honest and open discussion of history.’


The acquittal of Prof. Dadrian’s book, entitled `Genocide’, on December 29 1995 by the No : 5 State Security Court of Istanbul was a decision of historical significance. This caused a significant increase in awareness and up until the wave of nationalism that came about as a result EU membership talk in 2005, not a single publication concerning genocide was prosecuted. We saw this decision as a victory in our struggle for truth.

After the decision we issued the following statement :

`Despite the courts reasons for the acquittal which were strange and somewhat offensive, we see this as a step towards forming a bridge between the two communities in an environment that uses the term `Armenian’ as an insult, many times by high ranking officials to degrade their opponents. We see this as a step in the right direction.’

The decision caused certain political debates. In 2000 the Islamic press drew attention to the issue by releasing the headline : `Acquittal for the Armenian, Conviction for the Hoca.’ The reason for this was because of the convictions that were approved by the Supreme Court against former Prime Minister Erbakan and Istanbul’s mayor Tayyip Erdogan. How is it that a book arguing in favor of the genocide could be acquitted (Akit, Oct. 6, 2000)

The Prime Minister at the time, Bulent Ecevit, sent an official letter to the Supreme Court asking how such an acquittal could be issued. The court in its response stated that they did not accept the term genocide ; however, in the TPC there was no article that was applicable to the case. The prosecution could not argue the 312th article.

Ecevit during this time established a Committee that would be responsible for Struggle against the Accusations concerning the so-called Armenian Genocide (CSAAG). As the president of this committee he appointed Asst. Prime Minister and head of the Nationalist Movement Party Devlet Bahceli. The Committee would involve representatives from the General Staff, bureau of Internal Affairs, bureau of International Affairs, also from the ministry of culture along side MIT (National Intelligence Agency) and YOK (Council for University Education) and other representatives who would make a joint effort against the theory of genocide being committed against the Armenians.

This development involved reaching out to teacher and other government employees through out the country, editing text books with the inclusion of appropriate materials, composition assignments for students about the Armenian genocide, symposiums at universities concerning the issue. And anti-Genocide studies would be supported.

During the same period the new draft for the TPC including drafts of the 301st and 305th articles were penned in a manner that aided this campaign. Erdogan and his cabinet have not altered these changes to cause a significant effect.


The Dadrian acquittal is also interesting as it serves as an outline of the official denialist view on the Genocide. The Supreme Court paid special attention to the denial of the Genocide in its acquittal statement.

`The claim that at various times through out the 17th, 18th and 19th centuries ( ?) Genocide was committed against the Ottoman Empires subjects in the Caucuses is a well known Armenian accusation. Because this accusation is known by both Turks and Armenians it carries no legitimacy as a new development. The author has written this work with a very narrow frame of mind not making room for any opposing or comparative views and has endeavored to document it. During wars with large states a certain Nationalistic sentiment came about and the Empires Armenian subjects were affected by this. As a result of outside influences by neighboring states the Armenians actively jeopardized the safety of Ottoman forces, disrupted life for the local people and attempted to kill many of them in the process. Faced with these conditions the Ottoman government was forced to make certain decisions to try and stop these acts. The relocation of the Armenians to the Eastern regions of the Empire was a seen as a solution ; however, certain losses were suffered in the process. The term genocide is not applicable to the losses that were suffered nor is it possible to hold the Turkish people responsible for what happened during the relocation.

In addition to this it is noted that there is not a significant amount of the aforementioned people to incite. According to the TPC’s 312t h Article the crime must endeavor to incite a large group of citizens.

Because of these reasons stated the book must not be taken seriously. In addition to this because of the lack of scientific comparison it is not possible to qualify this book as scholarly in nature.

Despite distorting historical facts the book does not satisfy the conditions set forth by the TPC’s 2nd article which states that a work must, in order for the article to apply, try to `incite the public based on racial, religious and regional differences.’ Therefore it cannot be convicted.

Out of the 5 presiding judges two were opposed to the acquittal and their reasons for the opposition are as follows :

`When considering the book in question it was recognized to be a study that was not scholarly in nature and presented a single view point which was limited. From the book the following claim appears to be made `that Armenian’s in Anatolia were systematically massacred in a genocide committed by the Ottoman Turks and the reasons for the Ottomans denying it are that they plan on committing such crimes again in the future and this has resulted in the emergence of a dangerous situation for Armenian citizens in the country.’ This is a one sided argument that has been embellished and it does satisfy the conditions set forth by the 312th Article’s last condition trying to `incite the public based on racial, religious and regional differences.’ Because of this we do not agree with the opinion of the other judges in this matter.

In a way the accused in this case, the publisher, became the plaintiff and the court was left to defend itself.

As Ms. A. N. Zarakolu said once, `It is our belief as publishers, that such discussions do not belong in the courtroom, but should rather be the subject of articles, reviews, books and conferences’.

dimanche 17 décembre 2006,
Stéphane ©

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