A French lesson: It’s not over yet

A French lesson: It’s not over yet

A decision handed down by the French Constitutional Council on February 28 relaxed nerves in Ankara which have been strained for months now over the Armenian issue, as a political competition over Turkey has taken place in the arena of the French presidential election.

The Council decided that the law, previously approved by the French Parliament and Senate, criminalizing the act of denying that the 1915 killings of the Armenian population in Ottoman Turkey constituted an act of genocide, was against the constitution and annulled it.

The law had been proposed by French President Nicolas Sarkozy. Under pressure from his Socialist opponent François Hollande, Sarkozy thought that mining Armenian votes might give him greater leverage. At first the Turkish government reacted strongly to Sarkozy. Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan delivered furious speeches against the French leadership. The main opposition Republican People’s Party’s (CHP’s) leader Kemal Kılıçdaroğlu fully supported the prime minister in this. 

Melih Gökçek, the mayor of Ankara, vowed to change the name of Paris Street, where the French Embassy is located, to “Algeria Street,” in memory of the Algerians killed by the French. French Ambassador Laurent Bili’s responded saying that there are no plans to change the name of Ankara Street in Paris, where the Turkish Embassy is located. Turkey’s Foreign Ministry imposed a number of sanctions against France, for example limiting the use of Turkish air space and territorial waters by French military planes and vessels.

Following requests from the Turkish Industrialists Association (TÜSIAD), and the Turkish Chamber of Commerce (TOBB), the government began to moderate its tone. Then diplomacy took over the fury of politics. French companies with large investment bases in Turkey worked to achieve this as well. As a result, there were more than enough members of French Parliament and Senate members who signed petitions applying to the Council for the repeal of the law, claiming that it was unconstitutional.

Some Turks considered the case lost; it was not very likely that the French supreme court would annul a law proposed by the executive body and approved by the legislative body. Perhaps they did not give much credence to the power of the principle of the separation of the executive, legislative and judiciary branches in modern democracies, but in the end the appeal did work. The Council ruled that the law was in violation of the 61st Article of the French constitution, and also violated the 1789 declaration of liberties and 1879 Act of the Freedom of the Press. 

The French Council taught the French president, who saw himself as above the law, a lesson. Sarkozy actually asked the government to prepare another bill, knowing, of course, that the parliament will recess next week for the first round of elections on April 22. The Council also gave a good French lesson about how a modern democracy should work: the separation of executive, legislative and judiciary power is vital to it.

There is one more thing: Turkish Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoğlu said yesterday that Turkey was ready to “share the pain of those who want to share their pain with Turks,” implying but not openly spelling out that he was speaking of the massacre of Armenians at the beginning of the last century, at the end of Ottoman Turkey. It is now time for the democratic republic of Turkey to leave the burden of this tragedy behind for the good of all peoples who share a part in it.

armenian genocide,