By Marieke Zoodsma –
The Dutch municipal elections are coming up this week and so, for the last couple of weeks, the various Dutch national and local political parties have been particularly active. In the run-up to the elections, politicians are always keen on getting as much media attention as possible, and so resolutions on pressing issues are last-minute accepted and political promises are made. Another political tactic is the making (and breaking) of alliances between political parties. The election contest in Rotterdam, for instance, “has been an energetic mix of soap opera, pantomime and farce”. The lead candidate for the PVV was sacked after just one day (after being unmasked as an extreme-right supporter) while other right-wing parties are forming pacts in the second largest city of the Netherlands.
In Amsterdam, left-wing parties are actually breaking their pacts to cooperate in a coalition. The reason? “De kwestie van de Armeense genocide” or “the matter of the Armenian genocide”, a euphemism used by Dutch politicians who do not want to name the mass murder of approximately 1 million Armenians in 1915 a genocide. The Armenian genocide was the systematic annihilation of the Armenian population by the Ottoman government during and after the First World War. It were these events in particular that moved Raphael Lemkin to legally define premeditated exterminations and coin the term genocide in 1943 (for more information on the definition of genocide, see my previous article on the genocide convention). The Turkish government does not recognize these atrocities as genocide, their argument; the killing happened during a civil war, casualties fell on both side of the conflict, and the number of Armenian deaths is overstated. Calling it the Armenian genocide is punishable under Turkish law.
As the ‘world capital of international justice’, the Dutch parliament decided in February this year to set an example and recognize the Armenian genocide, pledging itself to attend the commemoration once every five years. So, what is the problem in Amsterdam? Earlier, Tunahan Kuzu, national leading candidate for DENK (a progressive left-wing party founded by Turkish Dutch MPs who had left the Labour Party), proclaimed on Turkish television that by recognizing the genocide, the Dutch government “is pulling a stunt and playing the sympathy card in the run-up to the municipal elections”. According to Kuzu, candidate council-members all over the Netherlands will have to give their stance on ‘the matter of the Armenian genocide’ since the candidates “now no longer can hide”. Kuzu adds: “Recognition of something like this is completely unacceptable to us”. Different left-wing parties in Amsterdam, led by the Dutch Green Party (GroenLinks), responded by excluding any possible cooperation with DENK. DENK Amsterdam is outraged, directly targeting GroenLinks: “You name diversity and inclusion as one of your main standpoints, but you exclude New-West’s number 1 party?”.
So here is how the Turkish denial of the Armenian genocide becomes mixed up with Amsterdam municipal elections. As I have written before, denial comes in many shapes and forms. But the state denial of the Armenian genocide by Turkey goes far beyond simply not using a specific word. Investigative journalists and scholars have been known to be threatened by state police, politicians in many countries were told there would be “strong retaliation” if they would recognize it as such, and there has been a costly lobbying campaign in Washington to avoid the US government from using ‘the g-word’. Not to mention the crippling impact the Turkish denial has on Armenia as a country, its economics, and foreign policy – see here for more information on the non-existent diplomatic relations between Armenia and its powerful neighbor Turkey.
The evidence that the events in 1915 must be considered a genocide is overwhelming. Denying is a mere political act that will continue to feed the cycle of suffering for the Armenian population: they are suffering from what happened back then in 1915 and they are now suffering from their useless attempt to attain recognition for it.* That Kuzu found it necessary to respond to the Dutch parliament’s recognition of the Armenian genocide on Turkish television is, obviously, his own choice and opinion. The consequences that he and his party might suffer from his poor choice of words should then, however, not come as a surprise to them. Is it not quite ironic that DENK is questioning the inclusiveness of other parties, while they are excluding all those who think differently about one of the first and largest genocides in the 20th century?
In a little over a month, on the 24th of April, it will be 103 years ago that the Armenian genocide took place. Let us honor the approximately 1 million Armenians who lost their lives, and stop euphemistically calling it “the matter of the Armenian genocide”.
* I highly recommend watching the TV-documentary Bloedbroeders (Blood Brothers), broadcasted on Dutch television in 2015 but still extremely topical and available online (however, unfortunately only available in Dutch). It consists of six episodes in which two Dutch journalists of mixed descent (one of Turkish and one of Armenian descent) travel through Turkey to Armenia in search of answers; ‘was the mass murder of 800.000 Armenians a genocide and can Turkey be held responsible?’, as well as; ‘what happened to the ancestors of the two presenters during this period?’. It is one of the best and poignant Dutch TV-series made in years.