The Swiss government has started an inquiry into a statement by Egemen Bağış, Turkey’s minister for European Union affairs, in which Bağış stated that the Armenians suffered no genocide. According to a report in the Turkish press, Bağış said, “There is no Armenian genocide. Let them arrest me.” Deputy Prime Minister Bekir Bozdağ commented on the incident, “Can’t a minister of a country express his views speaking in another country? It’s ridiculous.”
While I’m not in favor of laws restricting the speech, no matter how wrong the speaker, Bağış and Bozdağ’s stand is rich considering that Bağış – with the apparent blessing of Namik Tan, the Turkish ambassador in Washington – tried to sue me into silence after I wrote a series of articles criticizing Turkish government policies. Turkish officials believe in free speech for themselves, but seek to censor when speech is used to challenge their ideas.
The reality today is that, despite Bağış and Tan’s best efforts, the only place Turks or Turkish analysts enjoy free speech is outside of Turkey. Hence, as Jonathan noted yesterday, in order to defend free speech, Kemal Kılıçdaroglu, the chairman of the Republican Peoples Party, the largest secular party in Turkey, took to the pages of The Washington Post rather than a Turkish outlet. As Kılıçdaroglu explained:
Turkey today is a country where people live in fear and are divided politically, economically and socially. Our democracy is regressing in terms of the separation of powers, basic human rights and freedoms and social development and justice. Citizens worry deeply about their future. These points are, sadly, reflected in most major international indexes, such as Human Rights Watch, which rank Turkey quite low in terms of human rights, democracy, freedoms and equality.
Just as Secretary of State Hillary Clinton embarrassed herself by labeling Syrian dictator Bashar al-Assad a reformer, President Obama embarrasses himself by calling Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan a friend. Should Obama and Clinton embrace Turkey as a model for the Arab Spring, then he is condemning another generation of Arabs to repression.