Franco-Turkish spat over genocide law
23 December 2011
Yeni Şafak, Milliyet, Zaman & 3 others
The French parliament’s vote which approved a private member’s bill making it a crime to negate the Armenian genocide has provoked an angry response from Ankara. The reaction to the initiative in the French press has been largely negative, while the Turkish media is much more outspoken.
On 22 December French MPs adopted a private member's bill on the negation of genocides. Backed in equal measure by the majority and the left-wing opposition, the bill proposes to make “the denial of genocides acknowledged by the law” a crime punishable by up to a year in prison or a fine of up to 45,000 euros. If it is approved it will add to a body of legislation that includes four other "memorial" laws, which enshrine the state’s official point of view on historical facts.
The text of the bill implicitly targets the Armenian genocide of 1915-16, and the 1.2 million Armenians (two thirds of the Armenian population under the Ottoman Empire) who died in the course of officially sanctioned deportations and massacres. The bill, which will have to be approved by the French Senate and for a second time by the French parliament before it becomes law, has provoked the ire of Ankara, which has recalled its ambassador and threatened France with diplomatic and trade reprisals.
In Le Point, columnist Pierre Beylau deplores what he describes as a self-interested manoeuvre to attract more votes in the run-up to next year’s presidential election:
Is it really the time to raise the long-standing issue of the 1915 genocide, which no one serious actually contests? Obviously this is a vote-getting initiative backed by MPs for whom Armenian support may prove crucial. Acting to please a lobby, they have no qualms about the risk of causing considerable diplomatic and economic damage.
For French diplomacy in the Middle East "the power struggle with Ankara is absurd," adds Le Monde. However, the daily notes that the main problem rests in the nature of the bill itself:
It is not the role of the legislature – which has support in this regard from the Elysée – to say what is history. In recent years, French officialdom has come to adore the judicialisation of history, voting in memorial laws that make negationism a crime. But these measures are pointless. They do not even relieve the pain of those see their past (…) ignobly re-written so that it can be denied.
For its part, news website Mediapart interprets the quarrel in the light of the history of France and Turkey, two modern nations that have been marked by the influence of founding fathers – General de Gaulle and Mustapha Kemal – who continue to influence their respective political elites.
Both France and Turkey suffer to varying degrees from the same national pathology: an incapacity to cope with the loss of past grandeur; a desperate desire to hold on to a supreme saviour who protected the motherland with an ironclad mythology; a refusal to take an inventory of history, and to sort through it so as to acknowledge mistakes and crimes.
In Turkey, in the English version of the daily Zaman, columnist Bülent Keneş launches a direct attack on the French president: “By introducing bans to one side of the debate about a controversial issue that must be settled by historians and just ahead of the presidential elections, he showed everyone what democracy à la Sarkozy is.”
Given his now-well-established interest in creating dogmas via political and legal means over controversial incidents of the past, he should have turned a critical eye to France’s unquestionable colonial past instead of peering into Turkey’s dubious history. Banning views and ideas that may be voiced against a so-called “genocide” to which Armenians were allegedly subjected to in 1915, even before offering an official apology for the bloody massacres France had committed in Algeria until the very recent past, i.e., the second half of the 20th century, as well as for the French mass killings in other African countries, Indochina and in the French colonies in the islands could only be expected from a mealymouthed jester of French politics called Sarkozy.
In Milliyet, Mehmet Tezkan argues that the French President “has two reasons why he wants this law to be approved:”
One is a political investment in Armenian votes. The second is to damage relations with Ankara. Relations between Sarkozy and Erdogan are not good at all. From now on, all ties will be cut. Sarkozy's plan is to alienate Turkey from the EU with such manoeuvres.
Finally, Ali Bayramoglu writing for the daily Yeni Şafak points out:
According to the current interpretation of the 301st article of the Turkish Penal Code, it is a crime to say "there was an Armenian genocide". In France, it is a crime to say "the Armenian Genocide did not take place". Can we not realise that both attitudes restrict freedom of thought… and prevent both sides from questioning themselves? The French law will cause will major damage.