Positive fallout from French law
Much has been said about the law enacted in France criminalizing denial of the Armenian genocide. The best comment, however, came from the Armenian side. Harry Hagopian, “an international lawyer, ecumenist and EU political consultant,” can hardly be called a “denialist.” This is an abbreviated version of what he said in an article for the “Ekklesia” think-tank (www.ekklesia.co.uk/node/15961):
“In France, President Sarkozy is anxiously courting the Armenian French votes in order to outdo François Hollande’s Socialist Party in the presidential elections (…) In Israel, the resurgent enthusiasm toward the Armenian genocide is meant more as a potential threat (…) to Turkey ever since bilateral relations chilled following the Mavi Marmara flotilla incident (…) Should Armenian nationalism and faithfulness to their identity accept their ‘cause’ to be crassly marketed with such animated toadying in a political bazaar that debases the memory of their murdered ancestors?”
That one is for Armenians to answer and not for a Turk. As Turks we can look instead at what might be the positive fallout from this whole episode for the country, especially when combined with the outrage over the verdict in the case of the murdered Armenian-Turkish journalist Hrant Dink.
Before that, however, it is important to note that the denial law in France also exposed the large number of Western academics, intellectuals, politicians and commentators opposed to it. Even Amnesty International (AI) has criticized France now.
“The real issue at stake with this bill is not whether the large-scale killings and forced displacement of Armenians in 1915 constituted a genocide, but the French authorities’ attempt to curtail freedom of expression in response to that debate,” Nicola Duckworth, AI’s Europe and Central Asia director, said in a statement.
To be chastised like this by AI must be particularly hard to swallow for the grandchildren of Voltaire. None of this means, however, that those criticizing France are scurrying to support the official Turkish narrative on 1915.
Everyone from Timothy Garton Ash to Robert Fisk have made it amply clear, in so many words, that the problem here is with the freedom of expression this law denies. So, to return to our basic point, France’s loss could be Turkey’s gain. Let me explain.
It is extremely contradictory for the Turkish government to constantly accuse France of violating freedom of expression with this law. Turkey is the last country that can say this given its own track record. But this glaring inconsistency is constantly highlighted in Turkey now by academics, intellectuals and commentators.
So much so that one can say, with some confidence, that it is unlikely anyone in Turkey will be tried under these circumstances if they say that it was genocide in 1915.
Together with the public outrage in Turkey over the verdict in the case of Hrant Dink, who was also convicted for his view on the events of 1915, this much appears certain.
So, no government expecting to be credible can accuse France anymore of violating freedom of expression on this topic if there is such an investigation in Turkey in the background. This then is the corner into which Turkish nationalists have painted themselves.
Given this situation it is hard to disagree with Hagopian when he asks, “Should recognition not pass directly and unfailingly through Turkey, rather than meander hither and thither?”
The tragedy in question, with all its political and social dimensions, occurred in Turkey, and that is where the problems emanating from it have to be ultimately resolved, with positive input from Ankara and Erivan. Where these will not be resolved is France or any other country. That much should be apparent by now.