Freedom Of Speech ???
Being Heard On Campus
September 25, 2007
By Tulin Daloglu
Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad's speech at Columbia University made me
think about freedom of speech on America's college campuses.
Mr. Ahmadinejad - who represents a country the State Department calls a state
sponsor of terror, who represents a country that helps Iraqi militias, kill
American troops and who denies the Holocaust and calls for Israel's destruction
- was allowed to speak at one of America's most prestigious campuses. But
Archbishop Mesrob II Mutafyan, the Armenian patriarch of Istanbul, was denied
the same privilege last week at Georgetown University's Woodstock Theological
When the archbishop first visited the United States in April, he spoke at
Southern Methodist University, and said something Armenian-Americans never
question. Last Thursday, Harut Sassounian, the publisher of the California
Courier, a weekly English-language Armenian newspaper based in Los Angeles,
explained that Mr. Mutafyan had challenged the notion that Armenians were
innocent victims of the Ottomans during its last days. "Did some Armenian
political parties promote armed rebellion in the Armenian community?" the
archbishop asked in his April speech. "They did. In some areas, did armed
Armenian gangs work together with the Russian army? They did. But the government
of the Committee for Union and Progress, being in charge of the country, is
chiefly responsible for the painful events that occurred and the great suffering
that was endured." He charged both Armenians and Turks with making peace with
their past and acknowledged that Armenians must also clarify their history.
Mr. Mutafyan is voicing an unheard split within the Armenian community as
support grows in the House for congressional legislation recognizing the
Armenian genocide. If he could have spoken at Georgetown, he would have been
able to say that "we have to change the mentality shown by some Armenian
historians who still see the Turks as uncultured barbarian emigrants from
Central Asia." But the Armenian American lobby is determined to keep that
perception of Turkey in the United States.
The Armenian National Committee of America quoted Rep. Adam Schiff, California
Democrat, the lead sponsor of the House Armenian Genocide Resolution, as saying,
"In order to perpetuate its campaign of denial, Turkey seeks to intimidate all
Armenians worldwide, but especially the Armenians in Turkey who must live with
daily threats." Mr. Schiff said that "the editor of the... Armenian language
newspaper in Turkey, Hrant Dink, was assassinated for writing about the genocide (my notes here - Dink was very critical of the word "genocide", he promoted research and healing for all victims)
this year, and a popular video now being circulated in Turkey celebrates his
killers and threatens Armenians." Mr. Schiff did not acknowledge that the
assassination of Mr. Dink, a beloved Armenian-Turkish journalist, was a crime -
and has been treated as such. And while that disturbing video exists, there is
another, a much more popular video, which calls for unity and shows the protests
by thousands of Turks against Mr. Dink's murder.
Mr. Schiff can cherry-pick examples to criticize Turks and Turkey, but he
neither shows the whole picture nor acknowledges the society's true nature and
values. Mr. Mutafyan, however, admits that there is much unity in the gray
areas. Nearly 40,000 Armenians work in Turkey illegally; surely they would not
if they felt they were in constant peril. "trategists sin by...turning the youth
of the two countries against each other," he has said.
The Armenian National Committee of America, in a letter circulated last week to
members of Congress, said that "Patriarch Mutafyan... lives in constant fear of
acts of discrimination and retribution by a Turkish government that actively
persecutes those who speak freely" in recognizing genocide claims. So it blocked
his speech. Mr. Mutafyan's "political statements are made under Turkish pressure
and do not reflect his true views on the Armenian genocide," says Sassounian.
However, when I interviewed the archbishop, he said, "It is all lie. I am here
with my own free will." But he was sad. "I learned that the speech is cancelled
due to threats to my security... America should have been the country of
freedom, but things do happen here, too," he said.
There is an admirable elegance in the way the Armenian-Americans promote freedom
of speech in Turkey, but one has to wonder whether they really believe in total
freedom of speech. Is it so outrageous to think that the Armenian patriarch of
Istanbul would sincerely call upon all parties - Turks, Armenians and others -
to consider looking for "new primary sources?" What if he really believes that
both sides will heal by strengthening today's relationships and assuring
tomorrow's friendships? What if he believes that the House resolution will only
please the Armenian diaspora?
Finally, Turkey is no Iran. It is a NATO ally and has started full membership
accession talks with the European Union. If the archbishop could have spoken, he
would have suggested constructive solutions to bring people together. What's
more, American colleges and universities derive their strength from their
students' ability to think critically and ask questions. If Mr. Mutafyan were
not to speak his own mind, they would have easily discredited him.
Last but not the least, if Mr. Ahmadinejad can speak at Columbia, certainly
Mesrub II Mutafyan, the Armenian Patriarch of Istanbul, deserves a chance to be
Tulin Daloglu is a freelance writer.
Re: Freedom Of Speech ???
They let the minutemen speak also, then they tried to kill them.
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