Towards Demanding Accountability For The Armenian Genocide

Written by Houry S. Mayissian (Lebanon)

Newropeans Magazine, France
June 1 2006

Amid a diplomatic row with Turkey, the French National Assembly
debated a draft law last week that makes denial of the Armenian
Genocide punishable by law. Although voting on the bill was postponed,
it remains the first practical step by the international community
towards demanding accountability for the Armenian Genocide from Turkey.

The French bill, the first of its kind in the world, was introduced
by the opposition Socialist party. It proposes up to five years
imprisonment and a 45,000 euro fine for deniers of the Armenian
Genocide. The French government, however, made it clear on several
occasions that it is opposed to the resolution that would undermine
French-Turkish relations.

In the run-up to the debate on May 18, Turkey once again put on
one of its finest shows of diplomatic pressure and threats, usual
reactions to any Armenian Genocide resolution under study by the
international community.

Considering the seriousness of the bill, however, this time Ankara
went as far as threatening France with trade sanctions, threatening to
recognize what they called a “genocide” committed by France in Algeria,
stirring French businessmen involved in Turkey to lobby against the
bill, sending a special parliamentary delegation to Paris and calling
back its Ambassador to Paris for “consultations”; All this apart from
the regular letter and email campaigns, demonstrations and verbal
warnings by Turkish officials.

The Turkish pressures paid off partly but the bill was not scrapped
altogether as Ankara would have wished it to. It was debated, but
the vote was postponed due to alleged time limitations. Even though
the Armenian Genocide resolution was the second issue on the agenda
of the National Assembly’s May 18 session, speaker Jean-Louis Debre
reportedly extended the time limit of the first agenda, not leaving
enough time for discussing the bill.

The move led to an outcry by many French lawmakers. Nevertheless
Debre postponed the vote on the bill after 30 minutes of discussions.

The resolution is expected to return to the assembly’s agenda in

Those opposing the resolution in France sighted fears of strain in
relations between Paris and Ankara. French Foreign Minister Philippe
Douste-Blazy was quoted telling the National Assembly: “The Armenian
cause is just and should be defended and respected. But the bill you
have submitted today would, if passed, be considered as an unfriendly
gesture by a large majority of Turks, whether you want this or not.”

After postponing the vote, Debre, in his turn, told France Inter Radio
that laws can’t make history and urged parliaments not to interfere
with the job of historians. Herve de Charrette, the deputy chairman
of the French Parliamentary Foreign Affairs Commission, echoed a
similar statement.

Both reasons might seem justifiable or understandable to some French
lawmakers, but the fact is both are baseless arguments. Yes, if the
law is adopted French-Turkish relations will be strained as they
were in 2001 when France recognized the Armenian Genocide. Yes,
Turkey will cancel contracts with French businessmen, probably call
back its Ambassador for a while, maybe even recognize the so-called
Algerian “genocide”, but the fact of the matter is all this will
only be temporary measures and after a couple of months things will
be back to business as usual as happened 5 years ago.

French lawmakers know well that a Turkey aspiring to become a member
of the European Union can’t afford to boycott France for long, whether
diplomatically or economically, given that the latter is one of the
major players of the EU. It is Turkey that needs to appear favorable
to France and not the opposite.

The second reason is all the more baseless. The Armenian Genocide is
not an issue of the past, it does not belong to history and certainly
not to historians. Historians have long said their word on the issue:
what happened was Genocide. This makes the matter all the more a very
contemporary and political issue that the international community
needs to address.

It is true that more than ninety years have passed since the Armenian
Genocide was planned and executed by Ottoman Turkey during World War
I. However, as a result of that Genocide, the majority of the Armenian
population of the world continues to live outside Armenia; relations,
even diplomatic ties, between Turkey and Armenia still do not exist;
the destruction of Armenian monuments and heritage in Eastern Turkey
continues; and finally Armenians have yet to wait for an official
recognition and reparations by Turkey.

The UN Genocide Convention clearly provisions punishments for the
committers of acts of Genocide and reparations to the victims. Sadly,
despite the recognition of the Armenian Genocide by many countries,
the international community has yet to demand accountability from
Turkey, the successor of the Ottoman Empire that carried out the
systematic annihilation of over one and a half million Armenians,
looting their properties and historically Armenian lands.

It is here that the significance of the proposed French law comes to
the fore. It is the first law ever to go beyond merely recognizing
the Armenian Genocide and to react to the ongoing Turkish denial to it.

An Armenian Genocide recognition law adopted by France in 2001 states:
“France publicly recognizes the Armenian Genocide of 1915.”

It does not mention or condemn the perpetrators, let alone refer to
the continuous denial by Turkey of the Armenian Genocide.

The 2001 law was a historic step in the process for the international
recognition of the Armenian Genocide. Yet, recognizing Genocide without
willing to do anything about it is saying: “Yes, we acknowledge you
were subjected to genocide, but we’re not doing anything about it
except saying it out loud”!

It is time that France and the international community realize that
it is specifically this attitude that makes it ok for Turkey to deny
the Armenian Genocide. It is because the international community has
never demanded accountability that Ankara can so freely deny this
historical fact.

A recent example of ongoing, everyday Turkish denial was the attempted
trial of well-known Turkish author Orhan Pamuk on charges of “insulting
Turkish identity” following his comments to a Swiss newspaper that
one million Armenians were massacred by the Ottoman Empire. Pamuk
did not even have to use the word Genocide to be deemed a traitor by
many Turks.

And to think that many Turks both in Turkey and France protested
against limitations of free speech by the proposed French bill,
is to witness hypocrisy in its finest forms.

Despite Turkish pressures and threats the French bill will sooner or
later be debated by the French National Assembly. It will present the
perfect opportunity for France to lead the international community
into taking practical steps towards legally demanding accountability
from Turkey for the Armenian Genocide.

You may also like