Friday, May 04, 2007

Free To Be Stupid

Sometimes, when you're typing up those query letters, you let your mind wander, to dream of your first book signing. Friends and family will be there as you read an excerpt, your voice smooth, your delivery as impassioned as the finest stage actor. Strangers look up at you with their eyes wide with wonder, in awe at your talent. And then, the crazy people at the back of the room explode.

Debut author Margaret Ajemian Ahnert didn't expect that last part, either. She was attending her own book signing at a New York City Barnes & Noble, with friend and former governor Hugh Carey and Manhattan district attorney Robert M. Morgenthau in the audience. Ms. Ahnert spoke of her recently published memoir, a tale of her mother and the Armenian genocide. Then the brouhaha began.

In Turkey, it is illegal to talk about this genocide -- one that never happened if you should chance to be living in Turkey. For the rest of the world, the murder of almost one million Armenians is a documented fact, and one that France would like to make illegal to deny. The Turks have an unpleasant habit of bristling whenever the genocide is mentioned, to the point that a Turkish author was arrested and put on trial for making the barest mention of the genocide in one of her novels. A Nobel Prize winning author was hassled for having the audacity to mention the genocide in the course of an interview.

Turkey would like very much to be admitted to the European Union, to take advantage of the many benefits that would come their way. So many things have impeded progress, with pressure from member nations to adopt Western values aggravating some of the more religiously fanatical. Recognizing the atrocity commited against the Armenians will be required if Turkey is ever to have the slightest chance at EU membership, but it is official history that the Armenians were not murdered, they didn't die off in vast numbers, and the whole thing is a cod and whoever says otherwise is lying. But can we come over and play in the EU just the same?

Up steps Erdem Sahin, a Turk from Staten Island, to disrupt the book signing with his demonstration against Ms. Ahnert's premise. The author said her mother survived this genocide, cited specific anecdotes, and Mr. Sahin shouted that it didn't happen. He and some of his friends tried to pass out leaflets denying the Armenian holocaust, but what exactly were they protesting?

Mr. Sahin and crew are upset with France. Not the author, not American policy, but they were protesting the French plan to make it illegal to deny the Armenian holocaust. So they ruined Ms. Ahnert's book signing to fight for "freedom of speech..." because historians say ..."there is no genocide."

If the historians in Turkey are as lost as that, then it's no wonder that Mr. Sahin was in New York City instead of Paris, protesting French legislation. Poor man must never have learned how to read a map.

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