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Aidan White


Published: 18 January 2012

Region: Turkey

By Aidan White

Turkey is a country notoriously touchy about history. Journalists and others who write about the Armenian “genocide” in 1915 face prosecution and jail if they question official versions of the event.

One of them, newspaper editor Hrandt Dink, a member of the country’s shrinking Armenian community, was convicted in 2005 and given a suspended sentence. Two years later he was shot dead by a teenage nationalist.

Today the country’s controversial laws against insulting “Turkishness” remain in place and its harsh treatment of dissidents (around 60 journalists are currently in jail, many of them for reporting on the rights of the Kurdish minority) are the focus of campaigns for justice among human rights groups.

But on January 26 – the eve of International Holocaust Remembrance Day – Turkey will break new ground in the Muslim world when the TRT television network becomes the first state broadcaster in the region to air the celebrated epic Shoah which documents one of the darkest periods in European history.

The film’s French Director Claude Lanzmann, who spent 11 years working on Shoah, now hopes that other countries will follow Turkey and broadcast the film which is available with Turkish, Persian and Arabic subtitles.The broadcasting of Shoah, a nine-hour film made in 1985 that provides a vivid record of the Holocaust through interviews with survivors and visits to key sites, is a major step forward say campaigners seeking to reconcile Jews and Muslims.

He says, “No part of our international community should exclude itself from the universal lessons of the darkest pages of Europe’s history; lessons that are only too relevant today.”

The Turkish decision owes much to the work of the UNESCO-supported Aladdin Project, an international group promoting intercultural dialogue, especially between Jews and Muslims, on the basis of education, knowledge of history and rejection of Holocaust denial.

Already in March last year, the Los Angeles-based Pars TV satellite channel aired the Persian version for viewers in Iran. Although the government reacted with predictable hostility, the broadcast was welcomed by many viewers and the station says it received almost 3,000 messages and calls of support.

Turkey’s leadership deserves credit for breaking down the Muslim cultural boycott of this historical record of the Jewish people. It is an important step towards better intercultural understanding.

At the same time, journalists, writers and historians inside the country will hope that it signals a wind of change. They will hope that political leaders now think again about Turkish history and remove the current political and legal obstacles to rapprochement with its Kurdish and Armenian minorities.

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