Break or save Franco-Turkish relations?

Break or save Franco-Turkish relations?

A new bill criminalizing the “denial” of the unsubstantiated “Armenian genocide” claims was introduced in the French National Assembly with the barely implicit support of Mr. Sarkozy.

The co-chairmen of the Coordination Council of France’s Armenian Associations, namely Jean-Marc “Ara” Toranian, former spokesman of the terrorist group ASALA, and Mourad Papazian, unrepentant sympathizer of another Armenian terrorist group, the JCAG/ARA, did not expect that anymore, at least not in 2011. The level of knowledge of the MPs supporting the bill is exemplified by Richard Mallie (UMP), who still uses the crude forgeries of Aram Andonian that have been proven to be fakes since 1983.

The bill is not the result of the Armenian nationalists’ real influence in France; on May 4, 2011 they suffered a humiliating “fiasco”(this is their word) in the Senate after several other failures to obtain any discussion of the old, now defunct, criminalization bill (2008, 2009, 2010). The new bill is not the expression of a wave of anti-Turkish, or still less, anti-Islam sentiment. The Turkish season (2008-2009) in France was a success. According to a recent Gallup survey, 64 percent of the French have a good opinion toward Islam. There is indeed nothing in France like the Protestant fundamentalism in the U.S. and Germany or the vehement anti-Muslim and anti-Turkish demagogy of the so-called “Party for Liberty” in the Netherlands. The French colonial tradition, despite obvious shortcomings, was pro-Islamic and even largely pro-Turkish. The background is so completely different.

In a sense, the reasons for the bill are sadder than that. Mr. Sarkozy is afraid – not without reason – of losing the presidential election and as a result is ready to do anything to obtain more votes. His initiative is a serious error, even in a strictly electoral perspective. Assimilation leads many French Armenians to vote out of ethnic considerations. Even the majority of the nationalist activists and sympathizers vote traditionally for the same party because they prefer to show an electoral fidelity with the hope of being awarded – at least by subventions – for their associations.

So, the oldest alliance still existing in the world – the alliance of François I and Süleyman the Legislator, perpetuated in 1921 by the Ankara agreement and again in October 2011 by the Franco-Turkish agreement against terrorism – is not jeopardized by prejudices but prejudices toward prejudices and in addition toward the personal ties of a few dozen Armenian activists with a few dozen MPs. Similarly, the blog opened on the website of Le Monde by the author of this article was censored because of Armenian pressure. This is merely the result of social intercourse of a few Armenians with one or two editors. The failure of French Turkology to produce works comparable to the ones of Edward J. Erickson, Guenter Lewy and Justin McCarthy, or the passivity of most French Turks until very recently, also has something to do with the problem.

But this is not the time for a blame game. Political irresponsibility can provoke irreversible damages in the context of the Arab Spring – especially the repression in Syria, which makes Franco-Turkish cooperation so desirable – and the unresolved problems in the Caucasus. The French language was studied in Turkey for decades, but especially since the “recognition” of 2001 there has been a dramatic decrease, and that is why this text is written in English. The “recognition” of the “genocide” claims and the irresponsible statements of Mr. Sarkozy about Turkey cost France many contracts and its place in Nabucco. The vote of the liberticidal bill would still be worse. Even if it has nothing to do with any deep anti-Turkish and anti-Muslim feelings in France, the vote on the censorship legislation proposal would be interpreted like that by many Turks and not only by the less educated people.

Armenian nationalism has been used since its revival in 1965 as a tool by powers which have agendas other than European – or more generally Western – unity. Alas, it is also helped by the miscalculation of some Western politicians. As a result, the French deputies have a heavy responsibility. They can choose to damage irremediably the relations with a rising regional power and as a result seriously hurt the European Union policy, the French economy and their prestige and diplomacy. They can also choose to prefer French and European interests, as well as the value of free speech, to the cries of former supporters of Armenian terrorism.

*Maxime Gauin is a researcher at the International Strategic Research Organization (USAK-ISRO) and a Ph.D. candidate at the Middle East Technical University department of history.