Thursday, September 03, 2009

Desmond Fernandes' historical understanding: specialised, or misleading?

Searching for terms I feared the Internet might associate with me, I found two Lobby for Cyprus events that concerned me, both involving Desmond Fernandes. I am worried that his historical understanding, his academic history work and public political commentary, may be so specialised as to be misleading.

Fernandes is a serious scholar: he is a human geographer and geographer of genocide, and has published serious scholarly work, including a book considering the Kurdish and Armenian Genocides and an article making a Comparison of Kurdish Educational Language Policy in Two Situations of Occupation (in Genocide Studies and Prevention, the journal of the International Association of Genocide Scholars).

[Inserted on 4th September 2009:

I should have noted that when I heard about his work on Cyprus, I had already read and respected Desmond Fernandes' article with İskender Özden, United States and NATO inspired 'psychological warfare operations' against the 'Kurdish communist threat' in Turkey.

While researching this blog post, I found and appreciated Fernandes' individual article on Denialism and the Armenian Genocide (which was an excerpt from his book on the Kurdish and Armenian Genocides).

I trust Fernandes as an academic and as an educator. It is because I trust him that I find his apparently one-sided work another warning sign that even intelligent, independent research is being misdirected, and thus misdirecting the public.]

On 21st July 2008, the Labour and Co-operative MP David Drew(1) sponsored a House of Commons debate on the Armenian, Assyrian, Greek, Kurdish and Greek Cypriot Genocides and the Politics of Denialism:
The intention of the discussion [was] to highlight the attempts to deny the various genocides committed against Turkey's ethnic minorities or near neighbours during the last 90 years and the reasons for these denials.

There [were] speakers from all the affected ethnic groups including Lobby for Cyprus.
But if the Turkish state's treatment of the Greek Cypriot community constituted genocide (as Fernandes argues), then the Greek Cypriot administration's treatment of the Turkish Cypriot community also constituted genocide; yet there were no speakers from the Turkish Cypriot community.

I appreciate that Fernandes has specialised in Turkey and Turkish policy, but I fear that his work may be so specialised that it is ultimately misleading. Thankfully, some of the blurb for his work teases out the very things that worry me.

According to Kurdish editor Gurgîn Bakircioglu, 'Fernandes examines important and often ignored questions of genocide where clear evidence exists but is still denied'.

The primary author of the co-authored Comparison of Kurdish Educational Language Policy in Two Situations of Occupation, linguistic human rights scholar Dr. Tove Skutnabb-Kangas, stated that Fernandes proved
the Turkish state (and its forerunner, the Ottoman Empire) has been committing genocide against the groups mentioned in the title of the book, at least since 1894, and continues to commit genocide even today.
Notably, Skutnabb-Kangas specified the 'comparative aspect, documenting and comparing several genocides' as 'novel'.

Specialism is natural and necessary, and an expectation of discussion of different histories can be unrealistic; but here it is a matter of balance, which affects readers' understanding of history and its lessons. I do not expect the discussion of two histories; but I do expect the discussion of both halves of one history.

Based upon the information advertising his book, speeches and meetings, Fernandes' work on Cyprus does not compare Turkish state and Greek Cypriot administration policies; it only compares Turkish state policies in Cyprus and Turkish state policies elsewhere.

This is crucial, because avoiding any comparison between Turkish and Greek Cypriot policies is ignoring the history of Cyprus, and the context within which the Turkish state developed and implemented its policies.

None of that excuses Turkish ethnic cleansing of the Greek Cypriot community (or the Armenian Cypriot, Latin Cypriot or Maronite Cypriot communities either).

Nevertheless, documenting only one half of abhorrent nationalist violence in Cyprus is doing what Bakircioglu claims Fernandes exposes: 'ignor[ing] questions of genocide where clear evidence exists' and 'assist[ing] and support[ing]... denial'.

Ahead of the House of Commons debate, on 16th July 2008, Des Fernandes gave a seminar on the Genocide in the Turkish Occupied North of Cyprus, which included 'a critique of the Annan Plan, written within the context of a genocide debate' and applied
the concepts and definitions of [lawyer Raphael] Lemkin, who first used the word genocide, and the UN 1948 Genocide Convention to the polices and practices that Greek Cypriots have been subjected to in occupied Cyprus.
(The United Nations' 1948 Convention on the Prevention and Punishment of the Crime of Genocide reflected Lemkin's definition, but excluded cultural genocide.)

How could Fernandes critique the Annan Plan 'within the context of a genocide debate' without the context of the political exclusion, geographical enclaving and economic destitution of the Turkish Cypriot community (and the Linobambaki and Roma Cypriot communities), without the context of the destruction of Turkish Cypriot homes, schools, mosques, neighbourhoods and entire villages?

This shows that Fernandes' work on Cyprus cannot academically or justly be limited to Turkish state treatment of the Greek Cypriot community; it also shows that Fernandes' one-sided research inaccurately and unjustly supports one-sided public policy.

The Turkish Cypriot community suffered domicide; it suffered ethnocide/politicide; if the Greek Cypriot community was a victim of genocide, then the Turkish Cypriot community was a victim of genocide, too.

Thus, Fernandes' apparent ignorance of Turkish Cypriot suffering means his work is not simply specialised; I fear it is misleading, and may misdirect historical understanding and public policy.
  1. Encouragingly, Drew is an environmentalist, but disappointingly, he votes for ID cards and against equal gay rights. I only mention this to show that he is a serious and seemingly informed parliamentarian, not an activist or propagandist.
Fernandes, D. 2007: "Denialism and the Armenian Genocide". Variant, Number 30, 27-29.

Fernandes, D. 2007: The Kurdish and Armenian genocides: From censorship and denial to recognition? Stockholm: Apec Press.

Fernandes, D and Özden, İ. 2001: "United States and NATO inspired 'psychological warfare operations' against the 'Kurdish communist threat' in Turkey". Variant, Number 12, 10-16.

Fernandes, D and Skutnabb-Kangas, T. 2008: "Kurds in Turkey and in (Iraqi) Kurdistan: A comparison of Kurdish educational language policy in two situations of occupation". Genocide Studies and Prevention, Volume 3, Number 1, 43-73.

No comments:

Post a Comment