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Marina Brutyan

[Opinions]: Yerevan’s Point of View – France and Turkey Disputing Over Armenian Genocide

For more than a month, media of Armenia, Turkey and Azerbaijan have been focused on a French project of outlawing denial of any genocide, including the Armenian one. According to the proposed legislation, those negating such events are to be liable to a one-year imprisonment and a fine of EUR 45,000. On 23 January, the bill was brought before the French Senate.

Nicolas Sarkozy w Armenii, autor: PanArmenian, źródło: flickr.com

Nicolas Sarkozy in Armenia, author: PanArmenian, source: flickr.com

Algeria does not need a Turkish advocate

France formally recognized the Armenian genocide back in 2001. The negation of the events is punishable also in Slovakia and Switzerland. Ankara, while not acknowledging the political responsibility of the Ottoman Empire, claims that such regulations mean restricting freedom of speech in France. Turkey reminds Paris about the genocide against Algerians organized during the period of colonizating North-West Africa. Yet, the reaction of Algeria itself surprised everyone.

Its Prime Minister Ahmed Ouyahia called on Turkey to stop approaching this subject from this angle. The PM added that every country has a right to defend its interests, but: “Nobody has the right to make the blood of Algerians their business”. He also reminded that during Algerian war for independence, Turkey, as the NATO member, engaged in providing weapons to France. “We say to our (Turkish) friends: Stop making capital out of Algeria’s colonization”, said the PM.

Turkey cares for freedom of speech

The French bill was called a project limiting freedom of speech by Mevlut Cavusoglu, the current president of the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe and representative of Turkey. “The amount of substance the Armenian accusations have is not the issue here – the actual prosecution of denial is the problem”. It seems that the president has forgotten that, as a Turkish citizen, he is supposed to fight for freedom of speech in his own country first. The existence of Article 301 of the Turkish Penal Code – against public denigration of Turkish nation – is no secret. In consequence, recognition of Armenian genocide could come under the provisions of the very same Article.

In 2011, Nobel Laureate Orhan Pamuk was sentenced in relation to his comment: “The Turks have killed 30,000 Kurds and 1 million Armenians in this land”. The initial decision was upheld at appeal – the Supreme Court of Appeal upholds the verdict concerning the denigration of the Turkish nation through “bringing discredit to our fathers, calling them murderers resulting in tarnished image of Turks in foreigners’ eyes, and accusing all Turkish people.”

Exclusive commentary of Armenian experts for Eastbook.eu:

Hayk Khalatyan, Armenian analyst of Panarmenian.net news agency:

The current crisis of French-Turkish relations caused by French parliament approving the bill on sanctions against those denying the Armenian genocide in 1915, might be divided into four sections:

1. Internal policy: President Nicolas Sarkozy, facing the possibility of gaining a low position in pre-election rankings, ought to make a bold move in order to boost his popularity and keep the support of Armenian diaspora. Sarkozy cares more about the potential election failure than about complications of French-Turkish relations.

2. Foreign policy: Turkey, since Recep Erdogan came into power, has been following policy of neo-Ottomanism through enhancing its independence from both the US and Western Europe. This approach has been pursued even more firmly after the dawn of the Arab Spring accompanied by the decrease of the Arabian leaders’ – Egypt and Libya – significance in the world. France, whose focus of interest includes this region, seems to use the Armenian genocide as one of, in fact, traditional tools to exert pressure on Turkey.

3. Ethics and law: Turkish accusations against France issuing regulations concerning freedom of speech do not withstand criticism. The Penal Code of Turkey avoids mentioning freedom of speech and human rights at all. According to its Article 159, “Those who publicly insult or ridicule Turkishness, the Republic, the moral Personality of Parliament, the Government, … will be punished with a penalty of no less than one year and no more than six years of maximum security imprisonment”. In the case of Armenian genocide, the Article 301 (on “denigration of Turkish Nation”) comes into use. The Algerian issue, an argument during the ongoing dispute, might be a mythical Pandora’s jar – an introduction to speculations about possible genocides if takinginto consideration the fate of Pontic Greeks and Assyrians in Ottoman Empire, although both cases are slightly disproportionate in comparison to contemporary massacre of Kurds.

4. Economy: Turkey is threatening France with economic sanctions, yet we should not forget that two can play that game. France is the third biggest investor in Turkey – its contribution into projects located in this country amounts to EUR 6.5 billion, and the trade exchange – more than EUR 13.5 billion. Despite already imposed sanctions against France, Turkey’s actions are limited by the two countries’ membership in WTO, in addition to a trade treaty between the EU and Turkey. Bear in mind that France aspires to be one of EU leaders, which strongly relates to Turkish economy. A question arises who might lose more while struggling over the genocide issue.

In all probability, the present crisis in relations between France and Turkey will share the fate of a similar conflict from 2001, when, after French official recognitions of events from the beginning of the 20th century as a genocide, relationship of the two countries briefly worsened, only to go back to normal. The aftermath for countries connected by joint political and economical interests, regarding short- and long-term outlook for cooperation, is to include normalization.

Arshaluys Mghdesyan, Armenian political researcher:

Turkey’s reaction on approval of the bill by the French parliament, criminalizing denial of the Armenian genocide, did not surprise Paris.

Recalling the ambassador, freezing diplomatic relations (probably for a short time), threat of economical sanctions – this combination has been already known in France since 2001, when Turkey reacted in the same way exactly. This time, new is publicly accusing France of Algerian genocide after the Second World War (1945 – 1962). Generally speaking, the bill has nothing to do with Armenians, Armenia, and, at least, with the Armenian lobby.

Adopting the new law in Paris might provide internal and external benefits. The former means potential support of a huge Armenian diaspora located in France, in terms of the upcoming presidential elections. The latter – winning by Paris popularity competition between France and Turkey in Arab countries.

At the same time, arguments used by Ankara – threat of similar legal actions leading to recognition of events that took place between 1945 and 1962 in Algeria as a genocide – are not very convincing, for Ankara remembered them only in the context of the French actions. In Turkey, a public acknowledging of the Armenian genocide is prosecuted, pursuant to the Article of the Penal Code “On denigration of Turkish Nation”.

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Translated by KD

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