Getting prepared for 1915
Turkish Prime Minister Tayyip Erdoğan has announced a series of measures as a reaction to French Parliament’s voting of a bill that criminalizes saying the 1915 killings during World War I that hit the Ottoman Empire were not “Armenian genocide.”
The measures include the cancelling of all existing political and diplomatic programs and military cooperation including using airspace and maritime routes under Turkish control and any kind of cooperation.
Stressing that French Parliament’s decision was with the backing of President Nicolas Sarkozy, Erdoğan said that was only the first stage of measures, and if the French Senate will approve the bill to become a law, there are more to come, without elaborating much about what those were.
There was no mention of an economic boycott on French goods following two careful warnings. One was by the French government reminding the Turkish government of the Customs Union agreement with the European Union and the World Trade Organization regulations. The other was by the Turkish business community, particularly by Ümit Boyner of Turkish Industry & Business Association (TÜSİAD) and Rifat Hisarcıklıoğlu of the Turkish Union of Chambers and Commodities Exchanges (TOBB) who said, one, it may hit the Turkish economy, especially in the employment side, and two, it is not likely to bear any productive results, at least in the short run.
Time is important because, according to French laws, the legislative work has to stop two months ahead of the elections. The first round of presidential elections in France is on April 22, 2012, so the bill has to pass at the latest on Feb. 22, 2012.
The date is important because April 24 was the date of a telegram sent to local officials by the Interior Minister Talat Bey of the disintegrating Ottoman Empire in 1915 about deportation of the Armenian population from eastern provinces with accusations of collaborating with the invading Russian army, which is considered as the beginning of the alleged genocide.
Therefore, if the bill is approved by the French Senate, both Sarkozy’s Union for a Popular Movement (UMP) and François Hollande of the Socialist Party (PS) seek to harvest the votes of the Armenian electorate in the country (most of them are immigrants from wartime Turkey) at least for the second round on May 6.
In 2006 the French Senate had refused to vote for a similar bill on grounds that it was against freedom of expression, one of the basic elements of France.
Despite a terrible competition between Sarkozy and Hollande this time, the same thing may happen and the Senate may again drop the bill, turning the whole theater into a game to take Armenian votes for French politicians by bashing Turkey once again.
But we have the American Congress’ turn of bashing Turks for Armenian votes beginning early 2012, a black festivity that repeats itself every year.
And there is more to come as the 100th anniversary of the 1915 incidents approach. Ankara is right to say the French attempt was aiming at freedom of expression. But that doesn’t help the situation with Turkey’s Armenian issue, which needs more that correcting the image campaigns.
This is a major issue that Turkey has to put behind it in order to move on, and it needs political steps to be taken, the sooner the better.