FRANCE’S HOLLANDE RISKS FRESH TURKISH ENMITY AS HE HERALDS HISTORIC DIPLOMATIC TIES WITH ARMENIA
by: Shari Ryness
European Jewish Press
Nov 13 2012
PARIS (EJP) — French President Francois Hollande risked endangering
newly re-established diplomacy with Turkey, as he sought to reaffirm
his country’s commitment to fierce rivals Armenia, which he said had
endured “a tragic history, but a history that created ties”.
Receiving his Armenian counterpart on an official visit to Paris,
Hollande paid tribute to the “friendship that unites our two peoples
and our two countries”, as he insisted the ties between the two allies
“are not only affectionate, but also concrete”.
Committing to further bilateral development between France and
Armenia, he reaffirmed France’s economic interest in the Republic,
which it heavily finances in its capacity as the country’s second
largest global investor.
Vaguely invoking common discussion of “international subjects of
interest to Armenia because of its geographical position”, the French
President avoided direct reference to Turkey in the leaders’ joint
press conference which followed their meeting, instead choosing to
focus on neighbouring Syria and Iran, calling on all possible means
to be employed to facilitate “a political transition and the end of
violence” in conflict-ridden Syria.
Responding to the French leader’s words, Armenian President Serge
Sarkissan expressed his gratitude for “the warm welcome that is always
reserved for me”, as he said the friendship between their two peoples
served as a “pillar and solid base to also strengthen the development
of relations between the French and Armenian states”.
The Armenian leader was far more equivocal in referencing the
controversy over France’s support for Armenian genocide at the hands
of Turkey, which had led to a rupture between former French President
Nicolas Sarkozy’s administration and Turkey, when the former leader
supported legislation in favour of characterising the atrocities
as a genocide. Socialist Hollande’s May election to office however
looked to redress the breach as his victory was closely followed by
the announcement by Turkish Foreign Minister Ahmet Davitoglu of the
restoration of diplomatic ties between the two countries.
Thanking France for its “clear position”, Sarkissan said “the
French President was behind the launch of a legal project for the
acknowledgement of the Armenian genocide as well as a legal project
to outlaw its negation”.
Concluding the conference, Hollande thanked Sarkissan for his words
recognising his attempts to acknowledge on behalf of France the
The Armenian genocide row between Turkey and France erupted last
year, halting all economic, political and military links between the
countries, after Sarkozy’s UMP party backed a bill in France’s lower
house of parliament to make it a legal requirement to refer to the
1915 mass killings of Armenians by Ottoman Turks as a “genocide”.
Despite the successful championing of the bill by the then-president
in parliament, the law was overturned by France’s highest court only
two months later. However this did little to placate the Islamist
country, which responded with outrage, claiming the move by Sarkozy
was a cynical ploy to court the votes of 500,000 ethnic Armenians
living in France, ahead of this year’s closely fought Presidential
campaign against victorious Socialist candidate Hollande.
Following a successful meeting between Hollande and Turkish Prime
Minister Tayyip Erdogan at a G20 world summit in Brazil, however,
Davitoglu announced live on news channel CNN Turk that “the prime
minister gave the necessary instructions after meeting with Hollande.
Because of this new attitude from France, these sanctions will be
dropped”, continuing to speak of hopes for “positive steps” to further
building on the relationship in the future.
It was thought that Turkey was keen to rebuild severed relations
with France in order to strengthen its case for EU accession, a key
priority for the country, and a move of which France, under Sarkozy’s
leadership, was a fierce opponent.
The EU itself played a seemingly incendiary card of its won in July,
however, when European Council President Herman Van Rompuy paid
tribute to Armenia as “a key partner in promoting international peace
and security”, on a visit to the National Assembly of Armenia.
In a speech to a specially-convened session of parliament, Van
Rompuy spoke of the EU’s “ambitions” for a relationship with Armenia,
describing the Eurasian republic as “a partner who wants to embrace
“Armenia is intent on deepening its relations with the European Union,
and this is something we welcome. Your desire to bring your own
standards and norm closer to those of the European Union represents
a strategic choice for your country, which will lie at the heart of
our new Agreement,” he continued.
The President of the European Council went on to announce negotiations
on an Association Agreement between the EU and Armenia, with a Deep
and Comprehensive Free Trade Area and visa facilitation work.
Hailing May’s general elections as “demonstrated progress towards
a more transparent and competitive electoral system”, he encouraged
the former republic of the Soviet Union “to continue on this path,
by strengthening democratic institutions, promoting transparency,
human rights and the rule of law”.
Armenia, backed by many historians and parliaments, says about 1.5
million Christian Armenians were killed in what is now eastern Turkey
during World War One in a deliberate policy of genocide ordered by
the Ottoman government.
Turkey says there was a heavy loss of life on both sides during the
fighting in which Armenian partisans supported invading Russian forces.
The Ottoman Empire collapsed after the end of the war, but successive
Turkish governments and the vast majority of Turks feel the charge
of genocide is a direct insult to their nation.