Sunday, 12 April 2015 15:37 GFP Columnist - Basil Venitis
Almost all societies have diverse populations.  Divisions between national, racial, ethnic, and religious groups and tensions fueled by past and present patterns of discrimination are among the key risk factors for conflict and atrocity crimes. Managing diversity constructively and building resilient, inclusive and transparent societies is crucial for the prevention of violent conflict as well as atrocity crimes, which we define as genocide, war crimes, ethnic cleansing, and crimes against humanity.

Pope Francis sparked a diplomatic row on Sunday by calling the massacre of up to 1.5 million Armenians 100 years ago the first genocide of the 20th century.  Muslim Turkey accepts that many Christian Armenians died in clashes with Ottoman soldiers beginning in 1915, when Armenia was part of the empire ruled from Istanbul, but denies hundreds of thousands were killed and that this amounted to genocide. Pegida, Patriotic Europeans Against the Islamization of the West, Patriotische Europäer gegen die Islamisierung des Abendlandes, declares Turkey tries to Islamize Europe.

All over the world Vienna is the symbol of resistance against Islam. It is Vienna that the Islamic invasion of the West was stopped in 1683. Islam was defeated at the gates of Vienna.

Today we have a clear message for Islam again. The same message that King John Sobieski had when he rushed to Vienna in 1683 to help defend it against the Turks: You will not be able to overwhelm Vienna or the West.  Because we will not allow it.

At an Armenian rite Mass in St. Peter's Basilica to mark the 100th anniversary of the mass killings, Francis became the first head of the Roman Catholic Church to publicly pronounce the word genocide to describe them.

As you can see, Islam is on the move again. It is also marching on Europe again. Most of our politicians look away. But we will not look on motionless. We will speak out. We will not be silent. Because we love our country. Because we love our freedom. Because we refuse to live in slavery. Because we believe that without liberty, life is not worth living.

Liberty and human dignity,  that is what we stand for. We are the torchbearers for freedom. We are the torchbearers for democracy. We are the torchbearers for a civilization that is far superior to any other civilization on earth.

Sympathizers of the Islamic State parade in our streets. They carry swastikas, they carry the black flags of ISIS. They shout Death to the Jews. Instead of rounding up these hatemongers, the authorities did nothing.

When we warn against Islam, the authorities call it hate speech and bring us to court. But when the grim forces of hatred march down our streets, the police look on and do not interfere. It is a disgrace. It is a scandal. It is intolerable.

The Islamic State is waging a war against the free West. So are other Islamic terrorists. Indeed, we are at war. Only fools can deny it. They have declared war on us.

Pope John Paul II and Armenian Apostolic Church Supreme Patriarch Kerekin II called the massacre the first genocide of the 20th century in 2001, but that was in a joint written statement.

Francis, who has disregarded many aspects of protocol since becoming pope two years ago, uttered the phrase during a private meeting at the Vatican with an Armenian delegation in 2013, prompting a strong protest from Ankara.

As archbishop of Buenos Aires, Cardinal Jorge Bergoglio had already publicly described the killings as genocide before he was elected leader of the world's 1.2 billion Catholics in 2013.

At the start of the commemorative Mass, the pope described the senseless slaughter of 100 years ago as the first genocide of the 20th century and noted it was followed by Nazism and Stalinism.

"It is necessary, and indeed a duty, to honor their memory, for whenever memory fades, it means that evil allows wounds to fester. Concealing or denying evil is like allowing a wound to keep bleeding without bandaging it!" he said.

Francis's comments were also published by Armenian President Serzh Sarksyan's office on Sunday.

"We are deeply grateful to His Holiness Pope Francis for the idea of this unprecedented liturgy ... which symbolizes our solidarity with the people of the Christian world," Sarksyan said in a speech at a Vatican dinner on Saturday evening.

The Islamic ideology is an ideology of war and hatred. It calls on people to be violent. It calls on people to be terrorists. The Koran leaves no doubt about it. To all those who say that Islam is peace I say: listen to what the Koran has to say.

It is full of verses such as Sura 4:89: Seize them and kill them wherever ye find them.

Or Sura 47:4: When ye meet the unbelievers, smite at their necks and cause a bloodbath among them.

There are over 150 verses in the Koran calling for jihad or holy war.

Islam cannot be reformed. For the simple reason that we cannot separate Islam from the Koran and neither can we take Muhammad out of Islam. So, there can never be a moderate Islam.

The pope said genocide continues today against Christians who, on account of their faith in Christ or their ethnic origin, are publicly and ruthlessly put to death - decapitated, crucified, burned alive - or forced to leave their homeland.

Islamic State insurgents have persecuted Shi'ite Muslims, Christians and others who do not share their ultra-radical brand of Sunni Islam as they carved a self-declared caliphate out of swathes of Syria and Iraq, which share borders with Turkey.

We have also supported the initiative to establish national focal points on the prevention of genocide and on the responsibility to protect and to create regional networks that can offer support to their members. We have much to learn from the initiatives of those States that are trying to integrate the prevention of atrocity crimes into the work of their national administrations.

Turkey still occupies Northern Cyprus, killing Cypriots, bringing Turkish settlers to Northern Cyprus, destroying Christian churches, looting Cypriot property, and terrorizing all people.   Some Turcokleptocrats will eventually go to Hague for crimes against humanity.  The Cypriot genocide continues up to this moment.

The international community does not always live up to its potential when it comes to preventing atrocity crimes. Too often we find ourselves looking back and having to admit that we could and should have done better, and done more. The genocides of Rwanda and Srebrenica are two severe cases in which the international community has failed to prevent and respond in a timely manner. And, right at this moment, in Syria we are once again seeing how a lack of response costs lives every single day. It seems that morality often has to stand back, behind other interests, and that is certainly something we need to discuss more.

Speaking about the prevention of atrocity crimes, it is interesting to note that many States - especially in the developed world - perceive prevention first and foremost as a foreign policy matter rather than a domestic concern, linked to their aid and assistance to other States. This perspective fails to acknowledge that atrocity crimes can happen anywhere and anytime, and that no State is immune to them.

Atrocity crimes are processes, not singular events. They do not simply occur overnight, but are being foreshadowed by the presence of risk factors and early warning signs, often over a period of years. Thus, there are many opportunities to prevent crises from escalating. After they reach a certain stage, however, the options for action are both more limited and more costly.

UN has developed a framework of analysis to assess the risk of genocide, and is in the process of expanding this framework to assess also the risk of war crimes, crimes against humanity, and ethnic cleansing. Having these analytical tools is one important step towards successful prevention, as for each risk factor identified there is an opportunity to address that risk through appropriate preventive action. We cannot stress enough the importance of remaining alert, and taking early measures for prevention.

A government’s lack of capacity to take the necessary measures for prevention is of course a risk factor in itself. And often, as history has painfully taught us, national institutions often fail completely once there is a situation of armed conflict or a situation in which atrocity crimes are being committed, particularly when the State is the perpetrator. The strengthening of both judicial and democratic institutions plays a vital role in building resilience to the risk of atrocity crimes, and international, regional as well as sub-regional mechanisms can assist with this process. We have seen, too, that post-conflict transitional justice processes,  in the form of truth-seeking, individual prosecutions, reparations,  and institutional reform , can be very helpful in promoting reconciliation and preventing relapse into further violence. Reviewing constitutional protections, fostering political pluralism and creating legitimacy through respect for the rule of law in all areas of government, are also important steps towards the restoration of peace and stability. There is a way out of crises. However, we should remember that responses to atrocity crimes will always be more costly and more complicated than their prevention.

Sovereignty can no longer be seen as a barrier to interference, but as a charge of responsibility under which the State is accountable to its people. During periods of conflict, particularly internal armed conflict, States have often failed to take responsibility for the protection of their populations and this failure has resulted in calls for action by the international community, including through intervention, in the most serious cases of State failure.

What we should keep in mind when talking about the responsibility to protect is that it is a principle that seeks to strengthen the sovereignty of states, not weaken it.  History has shown that building societies resilient to atrocity crimes reinforces State sovereignty and increases prospects for peace and stability. The international community has a responsibility to support States in this regard, and to assist States that are under stress. States recognize the logic of this argument and are looking for ways in which to build their capacity to prevent atrocities so that their societies will flourish and will not be faced with the terrible human, political, economic and social consequences of atrocities and conflict.

The responsibility to protect underlines that there is no one size fits all approach to atrocity prevention. It stresses that each context is different and sets out a variety of ways in which States can live up to their responsibilities.

The word genocide is overused and often misused. We should be careful with terminology and focus instead on facts, the careful, credible documentation and reporting of developments worldwide that could increase the risk of genocide and the provision of this information to those in a position to influence policy and action in a timely manner including, ultimately, the Security Council.

It is true that some States have raised concerns about aspects of implementation of the responsibility to protect, which they see as a challenge to sovereignty. The actual wording of the commitment made by all States in paragraph 139 of the World Summit Outcome is to “take collective action, in a timely and decisive manner, through the Security Council, in accordance with the Charter, including Chapter VII, on a case by case basis and in cooperation with relevant regional organisations, as appropriate, should peaceful means be inadequate and national authorities manifestly fail to protect their populations.” Responsibility is in fact an ally of sovereignty; collective action by the international community to protect populations is not called for where a State fully discharges its sovereign responsibility to protect.

< In reality, also, the Security Council is extremely reluctant to authorize
the use of coercive measures, even in the most extreme cases, as we have seen in relation
to the Council’s deliberations on the tragic situation in Syria. >

A focus on preventive measures undertaken by Member States and with the assistance by the international community, also described as pillar I and pillar II of the responsibility to protect concept, has the potential to address existing negative perceptions, establish clarity about and build trust in the concept. The clear focus on the responsibility to protect was widely welcomed by Member States. During the informal, interactive dialogue of the General Assembly on the responsibility to protect, States also overwhelmingly agreed that the General Assembly should continue consideration of the concept and that the next report and debate should focus on how the international community can assist States in protecting their populations from atrocity crimes.

Some of the main risk factors associated with genocide are a history of genocide or other atrocity crimes against a particular population group and a lack of accountability for past atrocities. Thus, it remains extremely important to support both national and supranational legal structures and accountability processes. A fair and transparent accountability process does not only serve as deterrent, but also restores credibility in national institutions and help the difficult process of reconciliation in societies divided and damaged by conflict, thus reducing the risk of future atrocities.

We all have a role to play in advocating for preventive action, including national accountability processes and supranational legal structures, such as the ICC. We should engage with those actors who have concerns about the structures. Not to support accountability would be to fail the victims of atrocities.

Turkey’s Article 301 outlaws insulting Turkishness. The law is used against Kurds and Armenians, because in the Kemalist vision that shaped the country, there are no Kurds or Armenians. There are only Turks, united in a single vision and a single story.  This impulse is unexceptional, particularly in 20th century nationalism.  As empire disintegrated, projecting a single vision became important. In this way, Turkish denial of the Armenian genocide, the Pontian genocide, the Greek genocide, and the Cypriot genocide may be different from Holocaust denial, driven by fierce nationalism alone, rather than the combination of nationalism, classic and modern anti-Semitism and paranoid conspiracism which drove the Holocaust.

But both are driven by distrust of the other, and by seeing diversity and cosmopolitanism as stumbling blocks on the path to perfection.  But while the two may differ, there is no difference in the free speech argument on laws covering them. Proscribing speech, whether it confirms or denies historical truths, is an offence to history, a barrier to dialogue and an insult to memory.

How on Earth could Turks do so many genocides? We do have a moral obligation to confront genocides, because they are violations of our common humanity. Occidentals share this commitment and believe we do have a responsibility to act. But it isn’t just the morally right thing to do. These crimes undermine stability in countries and across regions. They spark humanitarian crises and send refugees streaming across borders. They reverse economic progress and stymie growth for generations. They create bitter cycles of vengeance and retribution that can scar communities for decades.

Why Occident could not prevent the atrocities of Turks? Preventing mass atrocities and genocide is a core national security interest as well as a core moral responsibility. So if a government cannot or will not protect its own citizens, then Occident and likeminded partners must act. But this is not code for military action. Force must remain a last resort, and in most cases, other tools will be more appropriate through diplomacy, financial sanctions, humanitarian assistance, and law enforcement measures.

Turks planned ahead in committing the Armenian genocide, the Pontian genocide, the Greek genocide, and the Cypriot genocide.  There is now a fear Turks might commit a Kurdish genocide.  Genocides and mass atrocities don’t just happen spontaneously. They are always planned. Genocides are preceded by organized, targeted propaganda campaigns carried out by those in power. Extremist leaders spread messages of hate often disguised as something else – a song on the radio, a nursery rhyme, or a picture book. The messages filter down. Those in power begin to dehumanize particular groups or scapegoat them for their country’s problems. Hatred not only becomes acceptable; it is even encouraged. It’s like stacking dry firewood before striking the match. Then there is a moment of ignition. The permission to hate becomes permission to kill.

Whatever form atrocities take, even originating from NATO member Turkey, however society explains, rationalizes, even tries to justify, we must be committed to preventing and ending all of these actions that truly dehumanize all of humanity. Turkey cannot bully civil society. We have, in our lifetimes evil and hatred overcome. And in the tragic history of genocides, we also see the stories of the heroes – the men and women who did the right thing, even when confronted and threatened by evil. And we’re inspired. We’re inspired by their courage and their resolve, what drove them to try to save a life.

That resolve continues to grow stronger. If one were to look at the great sweep of history, one has to believe that we can together overcome these challenges, that there will slowly but inexorably be progress. And at the root of that must be our resolve, and that resolve must never fail so that we can say and mean it, never again.

Turkey denies all genocides it has committed! Combatting genocide denial and the hatred it fuels are obviously necessary and praiseworthy goals, but they cannot be achieved at the price of violating the constitutional principle of free expression. Turning historical fact into an unassailable dogma imposed by the state opens the door to dangerous excesses.  No parliament has been empowered by a constitution to determine historical facts.  Many genocides clamor for attention and if legislators recognize a dozen of them tomorrow, historical research will be turned into a minefield. Genocide denial is in the process of becoming the new blasphemy.

Turkey has severe laws for anyone who talks about genocides committed by the Turkish state. The penalties envisaged by genocide laws are neither necessary nor proportionate. Envisaging a prison sentence for abusing freedom of expression contravenes the European Convention on Human Rights, the principles of the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe and other international obligations.  People must be free to examine and critically analyze history in order to learn from our past mistakes. By banning the discussion of certain issues and historical events, society cannot move forward. Criminalizing free speech is anti-democratic.

Turkish genocide laws are silly and dangerous. Genocide laws violate international standards on the right to freedom of expression. These stupid laws unduly interfere with an individual’s right to know and their right to free debate. They elevate historical events to the status of an ideology. A blanket ban on denying genocide or historical events, regardless of context or impact, goes beyond the established international law standards on incitement to hatred.

Image Contributed by Basil Venitis

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