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Sweden's refusal to recognize Armenian Genocide to harm Turkey

PanARMENIAN.Net - Vahagn Avedian, Chairman of the Union of Armenian Associations in Sweden, told PanARMENIAN.Net that he addressed an open letter to Swedish MPs to point out some major flaws in the stated arguments, mentioning that the Foreign Committee members are either poorly informed on the existing data, reports, conventions and resolutions or they simply disregard the broad information which strongly contradicts their assertions.

"The UNCHR Whitaker Report from 1985, the resolutions issued by the International Association of Genocide Scholars (IAGS), the UN Genocide Convention, its background and meaning, along with the petition signed by over 60 world leading Holocaust and Genocide scholars were some of the attachments as evidence for the erroneous and misleading information the report suggested. But, the debate on June 11 proofed that the decision had nothing to do with the presented facts.

The more the debate went on, the more it was revealed that no MP could explain, less defend, any of the above mentioned arguments, save for maybe the last one. During the debate, Member of Parliament Hans Linde (Left), talking about the arguments stated in the document repeatedly asked the members of the alliance parties to explain the argumentation in the report and answer three simple and straight forward questions, namely 1) Who are these researchers disagreeing on the reality of the 1915 genocide? 2) If the 1915 genocide can not be recognized due to the chronology of the 1948 UN Convention, how come then the Holocaust is recognized? 3) Why should the fear of extremists inside Turkey dictate the freedom of speech in the Swedish Parliament? None of the defendants could give an answer. This actually might be the only light in the otherwise some what embarrassing situation that the MPs were faced with when trying to evade the questions in whole. Mats Sanders (Moderat/Conservatives) had, literally nothing to add but to refer to the report text. Alf Svensson (Christian Democrats), in regard to the "disagreement among researchers", was asked to name only one serious researcher who renounces the 1915 genocide. He defended the proposition by stating that he "believes in the information they receive from the Foreign Services… I believe that this is the truth, and if it is proven otherwise, then I am truly sorry." I am not quite sure if Mr. Svensson really believes in what he stated in that sentence. But then again, who, if not a Christian Democrat would safeguard issues such as moral, human dignity, and stewardship.

Mats Pertoft (Green), one of the co-authors of the motions, pointed out that the 1915 genocide was no different from the climate issue. For couple of years ago, there was a disagreement among researchers about the global warming, but now, even though there are some who still disagree, there is a consensus on the issue among an overwhelming majority of the researchers. The same applies to the 1915 genocide. Mentioning the petition signed by genocide experts, Pertoft joined Linde in urging the MPs to at least deny recognition on political basis and refrain from abusing the name of science and renouncing facts. A day earlier, I, together with Linde and Pertoft, partook in a debate broadcasted live by the Assyrian Satellite TV Station Suroyo. The TV station had invited several other MPs representing the "no" side, but in vain. No one was willing to participate. Linde's radio debate on the subject, scheduled for the morning of June 11, was also canceled since the MP defending the Foreign Committee proposition had backed out in last second. Maybe, just maybe, the text of the petition, sent to all members of parliament, made a difference by stating that "Today, the data and information about the Genocide of Armenians, Assyrians and Pontic Greeks are so extensive that no serious politician can honestly cite insufficient or inconclusive research as an excuse to avoid recognition." This was at least true in the case of those who chose not participate in any of the debates, rather than compromising their honesty by being forced to follow their party line and defend their denial of a genocide.

Two politicians defied their parties. Yilmaz Kerimo (Social Democrat), an ethnic Assyrian was one. The other, Lennart Sacrédeus (Christian Democrat), going against his party line, took the podium defending a recognition of the 1915 genocide and ended his statement by adding: "I know that we will stay here again in one year debating the very same question…Turkey will be hit by bad will for every debate in every parliament where this question is deeply associated with Turkey. I think that we acknowledge and can understand the background for why the issue is locked in Turkey; but the truth will set you free and it applies to Turkey and the legacy after Atatürk." The truth will set you free, but Swedish politicians today displayed that they are neither ready to acknowledge the truth nor willing to set Turkey free from its dark burdensome past.

The debate lasted over three hours, during which the present audience agreed upon one certainty: no one of those recommending the rejection of a recognition could, based on the alleged arguments in the report, explain, less defend their case. It was soon obvious that there simply were no sustainable arguments to be given to explain why Sweden can not recognize the 1915 genocide. The "no" was purely a political decision for maintaining good relations with Turkey, nothing else. But could such a decision actually benefit Turkey? Or Sweden? Or EU? In my opinion, similar decisions and signals are nothing but doing Turkey, and not least oneself, a disservice. What kind of message do we send to a Turkey in urgent need of reformation and democratization when we tell them that it is actually acceptable to cover up crimes and deny facts and the truth? What kind of a democracy does Sweden and EU nourish in Turkey? Notwithstanding, I can not imagine a single Armenian who would not welcome, by European measures, a reformed and democratized Turkey as their neighbor. The same would apply to Assyrians, Greeks, Kurds etc. But, the kind of signals which the Swedish Parliament today sent surely cause more damage to the Turkish process of becoming a more open society than the opposite.

Another paradox in Sweden became evident, namely the existence of the Living History Forum, a government agency created in the wake of the International and Intergovernmental Genocide Conference in Stockholm, 2004. On their web site the mission of the agency is described as follows: "The Living History Forum is a government agency which has been commissioned with the task of promoting issues relating to tolerance, democracy and human rights - with the Holocaust as its point of reference. By spreading knowledge about the darkest sides of human history, we want to influence the future." The Living History Forum lists the 1915 genocide as one of the genocides in the 20th century and educates the Swedish society about what really happened in the Ottoman Empire during WWI. It seems highly ironic that the Swedish Government and politicians do not practice what they preach. "By spreading knowledge about the darkest sides of human history, we want to influence the future." Suddenly, Darfur makes total sense. The world which Swedish politicians, or any other politicians for that matter, shape by influencing the future with their denial of genocide is the kind where we do speak of, not a historic, but an ongoing genocide, that in Darfur; and we will most certainly experience yet many more.

The phrase: "history must be left to historians" is often used by the Turkish state and those politicians around the world who do wish to avoid treading Turkish toes by recognizing the 1915 genocide. I did not realize until today how true that phrase is. Actually, I totally agree with the Turkish state on this one: history must be written by historians, not politicians. Today, however, Swedish MPs wrote their own new version of the history, a revised alternative suiting their political agenda, denouncing a broad data and consensus put forward by the expert scholars in the field. I hope that Swedish leaders, as well as all political leaders, would in future leave the research to researchers and base their decision making on presented facts put forward by scholars. Sacrédeus' prophecy will be fulfilled as the 1915 genocide will most certainly be discussed in the Swedish Parliament again and again. As an answer to the last question I got in the TV debate, about how we will continue when the highly expected rejection in the Parliament comes, I replied "We will go on remembering the genocide of 1915, even after its recognition. We have already started the preparation for the manifestation on April 24, 2009, which, as the last two years, will take place in front of the Swedish Parliament. But, I hope that this time, instead of calling upon the Parliament to recognize the genocide, we will thank the MPs for having recognized it," Vahagn Avedian said.

On June 11, a long debate took place in the Swedish parliament in regard to the Foreign Committee report on Human Rights, including five motions calling upon the Swedish government and parliament to officially recognize the Armenian Genocide.

On June 12, 2008, the Swedish parliament, with the votes 245 to 37 (1 abstain, 66 absent), rejected a call for recognition of the 1915 genocide in the Ottoman Empire. On June 11, a long debate took place in the Swedish Parliament in regard to the Foreign Committee report on Human Rights, including five motions calling upon the Swedish Government and Parliament to officially recognize the 1915 Armenian Genocide.

In its answer (2007/2008:UU9), a majority consisting of the ruling alliance parties together with the Social Democrats (opposition party) proposed rejecting the motions, whereby the Green (Miljöpartiet) and the Left (Vänsterpartiet) parties announced their reservations, forcing the Parliament to have a debate in the main chamber before the proposal was voted on.

The argumentation for why recognition should be rejected was based on four main assumptions: "no particular consideration regarding the Armenian situation has ever been in form of an UN Resolution, either in 1985 or any other occasion; the Committee understands that what engulfed the Armenians, Assyrian/Syrians and Chaldeans during the reign of the Ottoman Empire would, according to the 1948 Convention, probably be regarded as genocide, if it had been in power at the time; there is still a disagreement among the experts regarding the different course of events of the dissolution of the Ottoman Empire. The same applies to the underlying causes and how the assaults shall be classified; [in regard to the development in Turkey] in the time being, it would be venturesome to disturb an initiate and delicate national process."
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