France-Turkey: What went wrong?

France-Turkey: What went wrong?

The Orwellian bill punishing the “denial” of the unsubstantiated “Armenian genocide” claims will be discussed at the end of January in the French Senate.

France is alone in such a case. However, France has the longest tradition of alliance with Turkey. It was the first major power to understand what Armenian nationalism really is, and as a result, to break its alliance with the Armenian committees after WWI and sign peace with the Kemalists, who even received weapons against the Greek invaders whose crimes were publicly denounced by French diplomacy in 1922, by order of the President of the Ministers Council Raymond Poincaré.

So, beyond the sui generis case of Nicolas Sarkozy, what went wrong? Having arrived en masse in France as soon as the 1920s, the Armenian nationalists secured, through a long-term effort, the unconditional support of a few dozen MPs. But this is not the main problem: The overwhelming majority of the deputies did not attend the vote of Dec. 22, 2011, chiefly because they did not dare to express their opposition to the bill. 

The main problem is the Turkish immigrants in France are, as a whole, the less educated and the less organized in the West. For years, this community was rather neglected and received too little encouragement to organize itself. There are definitely improvements, but they are still ongoing and too recent to prevent the vote in the National Assembly or the principle of a discussion in the Senate.

Regarding the Armenian issue, virtually no scholarly book rejecting the “Armenian genocide” label was translated into French since 1991. In contrast, Kâmuran Gürün’s “Armenian File” was published in French in 1984, one year after the original Turkish edition and two years before the English edition. The resources of the anti-defamation French legislation, more protective than the U.S. one, were very rarely used against the hate propaganda of Armenian and Kurdish nationalists.

Regardless, the U.S. case can provide a certain inspiration. There was an absurd crisis between Ankara and Washington in 1974, when Congress decided, because of the Greek and Armenian lobbies, to forbid the sale of military weapons to Turkey. In large part because of that, the Assembly of Turkish American Associations was eventually created in 1979. The serious problems which took place at the beginning of the 2000s (Armenian resolution in 2000, Iraq War and its aftermath) led to the creation of the Turkish Coalition of America, Turkish Cultural Foundation and Turkish American Legal Defense Fund.
What the shared Franco-Turkish interests need, as does the value of free speech, are a similar and coherent strategy of organization, education and legal defense. That means a quick conclusion of the preliminary work to establish the Coordination Committee of Franco-Turkish Associations; an effort to diffuse widely the Turkish culture in France by stressing the old, historical ties; permanent structures of big business, politicians and others to fight anti-Turkish propaganda and bills; and a permanent structure of legal defense.

An opportunity to crush the Armenian nationalism in France was missed because the anti-ASALA legal cases from December 1984 to November 1986, remarkably managed, were incomplete; Jean-Marc “Ara” Toranian in particular, spokesman of ASALA from 1976 to 1983, now co-chairman of the Coordination Council of France’s Armenian Associations, was never sued for the glorification of crime and contempt of court. The current opportunity should not be missed: There is an exceptionally widespread exasperation, in the country of Voltaire and Diderot, against the special ethnic interests which advocate a drastic limitation of free speech and are damaging the relations of France with a rising regional power.

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.