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Interview with Lincoln McCurdy, the president of Turkish Coalition of America (TCA)

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- What are your views on Armenia’s negative insistence on international community as the French Senate recently passed the bill penalizing the denial of the so-called genocides recognized by the law?

- This bill criminalizes speech by mandating the categorical acceptance of a historical narrative. It goes beyond expressing support for a one-sided narrative of the Ottoman Armenian tragedy, and would effectively censor any viewpoint that differs from how a political body, the French Parliament, reads and interprets this history and defines it - although it lacks the legal or legitimate authority to do so. It is an onslaught on academic freedom, freedom of inquiry, freedom of thought and freedom of speech. This is antithetical to the impartial pursuit of the truth.

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There is ongoing and lively scholarly inquiry into this period of history and how to most accurately understand and characterize the tragic events during the closing days of the Ottoman Empire. In fact, just recently, an issue of the Middle East Critique shed light on the complex and controversial nature of the Ottoman Armenian tragedy. Under the French law, some of the scholars who contributed to this publication could be prosecuted if they were to voice the conclusions of their research in French soil!

At the heart of this issue is freedom of thought and speech. We are not talking about hate speech or inciting anyone to violence through speech. We are not even talking about offensive speech. One could agree with the entire pro-Armenian narrative of this history but still not define it as "genocide" under the definition of international law.

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TCA maintains that President Sarkozy should refrain from signing this bill into law not only in the name of free speech and intellectual inquiry; but also to show his support for efforts to attain closure on this period of history, with a view to building new and strong relations between Turkey and Armenia.

- What are the prospects of the Armenian-Turkish reconciliation in conditions when the Armenian lobby does not disavow the global campaign for recognition of ‘Armenian genocide’ by parliaments, as well as by the US Congress?

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- The global campaign pursued by the Armenian lobby essentially reduces the common history of the Ottoman Turks and Armenians to a one-sided account of suffering that only serves to aggravate prejudices and sabotage efforts to reconcile these two peoples.

This interpretation of history overlooks the historical friendship between Ottoman Turks and Armenians—nurtured over ten centuries of peaceful coexistence—and continues to cause division and bitterness.

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Pursuing the truth concerning this complex chapter of history is essential to fostering ties of friendship between Turks and Armenians and paving the way towards improving relations between the two states in the future.

- What should the US do in that case - stand aside of the process, or continue participating in it?

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- Anything the US can do to foster an atmosphere of reconciliation between Turkey and Armenia would be appreciated. In this respect, continued US support for the establishment of a joint commission of historians to study the two nations’ shared Ottoman past is of utmost significance. It is encouraging that support for the creation of a joint historical commission has also been voiced by the parliamentary assemblies of the OSCE and the Council of Europe and most recently by Swiss Foreign Minister Michelin Calmy-Rey.

It should be recalled that the proposal to establish a joint commission of historians was first made by Turkish Prime Minister Erdogan in 2005 to then-Armenian President Robert Kocharian. Ever since, the proposal has been repeated on various occasions at the highest levels. Regrettably, Armenia still has not responded favorably and, in fact, continues to keep pertinent archives closed to scholarly research. Pressure must be exerted on Armenia to change its stance on these matters if this proposal is to be taken forward and turned into an effective reality.

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- How will the fact that France passed the “genocide” bill affect the Turkish-West relations? Do you think the French Parliament’s decision will influence Turkey’s activity as a NATO member, its place and importance in the region?

- It will be up to the Turkish government and society to determine the best course of action against an act that is regarded as directly affecting the right of not just Turks, but everyone who holds a strong opinion on a disputed historical matter. All indication so far is that Turks are deeply offended by the French bill, and that the Turkish government is taking this issue extremely seriously, as it should.

- How will the France’s “genocide” bill affect to the Nagorno-Karabakh adjustment process?

- France is a co-chair of the OSCE Minsk Group, which seeks to find a political solution to the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict. The passage of this bill in the France Senate raises serious questions as to the ability of that country to act as an impartial broker in—and thus constructively contribute to—the mediation of the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict between Armenia and Azerbaijan.

- Can Azerbaijan provide any support to Turkey in resisting campaign of Armenian lobby on passing the ‘genocide’ in the parliaments of other countries? What kind of joint steps can Turkey and Azerbaijan take in the current situation?

- Sadly, those who show great humanitarian concern for a historical tragedy have no compassion for the hundreds of thousands of Azerbaijani refugees created by Armenian aggression today. We find this very difficult to understand.

TCA has always advocated that rapprochement between Turkey and Armenia must include a joint effort to find a solution to the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict.

The histories as well as futures of Turkey, Armenia and Azerbaijan are very much intertwined, and we implore all parties to take an approach to both past and present that can create sustainable peace and prosperity for future generations in the region.

APA

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