Genocide Denial and Its Consequences
The panel will explore a variety of harmful consequences for individuals, communities, and states that arise from the denial of genocide and mass atrocities. Aside from acting as a hindrance to just reparations and reconciliation, the denialist social environment hinders self-development and identity formation for victims, survivors, and their descendants. Sustaining a denialist environment for long periods of time often requires that high levels of hatred be maintained and results in the demonization of the victim group. Victims are perversely turned into potential or actual genocide perpetrators in this denialist narrative. Blaming the victim is often part of the playbook for denialists. The central role of denialism for the establishment of supremacist nationalist ideologies and the subsequent destruction of the victim group’s cultural heritage is analyzed. Drawing upon a range of philosophical work and memory studies, these presentations explore the epistemic injustice engendered by genocide denialism. The century-long denial of the Armenian Genocide by the Turkish state and the more recent Azeribaijani aggression against Armenians and their cultural heritage serve as the primary focus of these presentations.
Presentations of the Symposium
A Regime of Epistemic Injustice: Turkey’s Three Pillars of Genocide Denialism
Epistemic injustice is an umbrella term referring to various forms of harm and injustice that target the epistemic agency of individuals and groups. I apply the epistemic injustice framework to discuss the ethical and epistemological implications of the Turkish denial of the Armenian genocide. The paper begins with a discussion of the conditions under which a regime of epistemic injustice develops in Turkey. I call these conditions the three pillars of genocide denialism; these three major conditions have historically supported each other in building a regime of epistemic injustice in Turkey: 1) the supremacist founding ideology of the Turkish Republic (Turkism), 2) the institutional practices based on this ideology (especially, educational and legal), 3) “Turkish” individuals’ ‘active ignorance’ and ‘epistemic vices’ (Medina 2013). After a brief introduction of these pillars of genocide denialism, I concentrate my discussion around the third pillar, where my main aim is to show how the racial ideology of Turkism and the institutional practices that are supported by this ideology impact the “Turkish” individual’s epistemic reservoir, causing what José Medina refers to as epistemic vices and active ignorance. The condition of active ignorance refers to a type of ignorance that involves an internal resistance to incorporating true belief and rejecting false belief, which is linked to epistemic vices, ‘a set of corrupted attitudes and dispositions that get in the way of knowledge’ (Medina 2013, 30). I argue that it is on the basis of this epistemic make-up that the ‘Turkish’ individual becomes a candidate for genocide denialism.
Genocide Denialism, Collective Misremembrance and Hermeneutical Oppression
When human beings experience traumatizing events, such as genocide, they have a legitimate interest to understand what happened to them, to render it intelligible to themselves and others. Specifically, remembering genocide is important for self-constitution, social criticism and justice. Insofar as we consider truth as crucial to our integrity and projects of self-constitution, this requires that our social environment provides accurate and meaningful epistemic resources, or if it lacks them, provides a space in which those affected can articulate significant social experiences and generate shared interpretations of those experiences as epistemic equals. However, what if this process is disrupted by genocide denialism? How can genocide denialism perpetrate a particular epistemic injustice against those who seek to “truthfully remember” their genocidal experiences?
In this paper, I argue that genocide denialism, as collective genocide misremembrance and memory distortion, constitutes hermeneutical oppression of genocide victims, survivors and descendants. Inspired by Sue Campbell’s relational account of reconstructive memory, I show that genocide denialism involves several forms of disrespectful challenges to memory and accordingly, systematically misrecognizes rememberers. Genocide denialism thereby poses unwarranted institutional constraints on a core human capacity through which we learn by experience and thereby develop personhood, as well as moral and epistemic agency. Adopting the case of Turkey’s denialism of the Armenian genocide, I discuss three interrelated mechanisms through which this can happen: i) through conceptual distortions of “genocide”; ii) through the normatively distorted policy of “just memory”, and iii) through the systematic portrayal of Armenians as “vicious rememberers”.
Genocide Denial and Its Consequences for Victims and Perpetrators
Genocide denial has long been acknowledged as an essential feature of the crime of genocide. Denial is often evident before the actual violence commences and continues well after the overt violence has ceased. Appreciation of the serious detrimental consequences of denialism on the victims and perpetrators, both as individuals and as communities, has garnered little attention in the broader genocide studies field. Denial has been acknowledged as a hindrance for legal redress for genocide and in the achieving reconciliation and justice. Yet the long-term harm of continuing denial requires more further exploration. My presentation will explore two aspects of denialism: 1) How denialism as a state policy has detrimental effects on the citizens of a perpetrator society both in terms of stoking ethnic hatred that extends well beyond the state’s borders and in hindering the establishment of an open and free society within the state. The detrimental effects on democratic nation building are evident in such denialist societies. 2) Denialism is a serious harm to the victims and survivors of genocide that continues for generations. Such harm is just as destructive to the collective identity of the victim group as the actual physical killing that took place. Key themes from the Claudia Card’s philosophical work on social death and Jeffrey Blustein on the moral burdens of memory and the making of self-identity will be marshalled to explore the evil of genocide denialism. The primary illustrative example will be the Azerbaijani and Turkish denials of the Armenian Genocide.