‘A monstrous violation’

‘A monstrous violation’

By the time this commentary is out it should be clearer whether Turkish-French relations are going to take a nose dive or if a sense of reality has prevailed in Paris. The expectation at the time of writing was for the worst.

This commentary is therefore based on the assumption that the bill in the French Parliament – which aims to severely punish anyone denying that an Armenian genocide happened – has passed and is now headed for the Senate.

Even if it is held up in the Senate, this issue will remain a deadly virus in ties between Ankara and Paris at a time when level-headed French politicians are calling for deeper cooperation with an increasingly influential Turkey.

It is of course highly cynical for the Turkish government to base its campaign against France on the tenet of the freedom of expression. Looking at the remarks from various ministers one would think Turkey has the best record in this regard.

Let alone those like Nobel Laureate Orhan Pamuk, who have been legally hounded in the past for remarks about the Armenian issue, even current events suffice to show where this country stands in this respect. But one does not have to be pro-Turkish or anti-Armenian to understand that this French attempt amounts to curbing free speech.

The best proof of this is the editorial in Dec. 21’s Los Angeles Times (LAT). Pointing to this development in France, the paper said, “If stating even an incorrect view of history is a crime, it amounts to pre-emptive censorship. The bill should be voted down.”

This is significant coming from a newspaper out of Los Angeles where an influential Armenian community lives. The paper nevertheless indicates that what is important here is not Turkish touchiness or Ankara’s warnings of a diplomatic rupture with countries using the term “genocide.”

“That’s not the reason to oppose the bill. The reason the French bill deserves condemnation is that it would be a monstrous violation of free speech,” it said, adding the following:

“Some would say that it’s presumptuous for Americans to lecture the people of a fellow democracy about the rights they accord their citizens. But robust freedom of expression isn’t some American fetish. Article 19 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights says: ‘Everyone has the right to freedom of opinion and expression; this right includes freedom to hold opinions without interference and to seek, receive and impart information and ideas through any media and regardless of frontiers.’”
The Armenian issue is not as much of a taboo in Turkey as it was a mere five years ago. There is a public discussion that may be acrimonious at times but which nevertheless goes on with new revelations. The Armenian Church in Turkey is currently interacting with the government unlike any other time. There are also increasing contacts between Turks and Armenians from Armenia today on various levels.

President Nicolas Sarkozy’s political whims also threaten to overturn this already difficult trend and restore nationalist feelings of enmity between the two nations. Turks say, “It takes one madman to throw a stone in a well, but a hundred wise men to try and take it out.”

Leaving aside his personal hatred for Turkey, which he has never hidden, it seems Mr. Sarkozy does not even see the precedent he is creating for his own country, which can hardly be said to have the cleanest of histories. It’s almost as if the ghost of Louis the XV has been revived and is saying, “Après moi le deluge.”