Turk businessman: Boycotting France wrong, unsustainable

Turk businessman: Boycotting France wrong, unsustainable

ISTANBUL - Hürriyet Daily News
Turk businessman: Boycotting France wrong, unsustainable


Turkey should not shoot itself in the foot in reacting to France as the country’s Senate prepares to vote on a motion criminalizing the denial of Armenian genocide claims on Jan. 23, according to a Turkish businessman.

Both Turkey and France will suffer in the event of an economic boycott, said Yılmaz Argüden, the head of the Turkish-French Business Council at the Foreign Economic Relations Board of Turkey (DEİK).
There are several French businessmen genuinely working to prevent the adoption of the bill, yet Turkey needs a more organized and sustainable approach to fight Armenians’ claims of genocide, he told the Hürriyet Daily News in a recent interview.

What will happen on Jan. 23 in the French Senate?

There is a possibility that [the genocide motion] could pass, and the fact that French President Nicolas Sarkozy is putting so much effort behind it strengthens this possibility.

What can be done about it now?

Unfortunately, we started acting at the last minute. From this point on, what could be done is that Sarkozy should be told by those whom he might listen to that what he is doing is not right; and these [people] are not Turks.

Who are they?

Other powers in the world.

Would Sarkozy listen to them?

Everyone has somebody to listen to. Would this be enough? No, but I think it might be helpful. Another thing to do is to raise the awareness in France about the subject. We need to have our arguments heard by larger segments of French society. Of course, from this point on, nothing is easy. Our approach to the Armenian issue is very passive. It’s been like this for many years. This is an issue that we don’t even have in the curriculum. I only became familiar with this issue when I went abroad. The Armenians, on the other hand, have been very consistent.

French businessmen are working against the bill. This also depends on the potential for a positive outcome. Their efforts might weaken when they see a decided Sarkozy.

So you think we should include it in the curriculum?

Of course, societies can only endorse and defend all the positive and negative arguments that they are reproached with when they have deeper knowledge about them.

We don’t even discuss it in Turkey, we say, “Let’s leave it to the historians.”

Yes but we should not sit and wait for the historians. If there are 20,000 books defending the Armenian arguments but not even 200 books about the Turkish arguments, this shows that we are not working. If we are opening the archives, we need to get the historians to come and work; it’s not enough to say “go and work.” We need to encourage and allocate resources. But we also need to be honest. Sad events have taken place. I don’t think it is appropriate to mention what the French have done in Algeria. The fact that the French have done bad things in Algeria does not vindicate the Turks. In fact, if you mention this argument, this means an implicit acceptance of what you are being accused of.

If we are really confident about our arguments, about our archives, we have the responsibility to work on those archives and explain our arguments to world opinion in a way that they can understand. This responsibility does not belong to others: it’s not enough to say that if you have accusations, then come and look at our archives.

In this respect, you probably don’t think that the Turkish campaign on France has been effective so far.

I am not sure it has created a positive effect. We acted too late. Plus, we get reactive very fast but we cool down with the same speed. We don’t have a sustainable effort. When we don’t have enough information, we give different type of reactions. What we need to say is that, yes, there were sad events, that a lot of people lost their lives, but that this cannot be identified as genocide.

But even if you give this more-balanced message, it falls on deaf ears. There is a widespread and strong belief in global public opinion that there was an Armenian genocide.

This is because we have been late. What breaks the stone is the continuous flow of water. The Armenians have been working for the past 90 years, whereas we talk about it when the issue comes to the agenda and then forget about it.

What is your view on the government intention to implement economic sanctions?

We should not forget that initiatives to block trade are detrimental to both societies. But especially at this time around, France stands to lose more than Turkey. There is an incredible competition in the world and all countries are looking for markets. It is obvious that the French economy will have problems in the near future. Turkey has alternatives.

Turkey’s alternatives as trade partners are diminishing as well with the Arab Spring.

A: This is why I say both sides will suffer. And I don’t think this is sustainable. As a society, we are very quick-tempered and then, in time, this temper cools down. But this time it could be different. There are several infrastructure projects in Turkey. And these long-term projects are decided by states. Naturally, the tendency of a state to enter into a long-term project with a state that is hostile will be weaker. But at the end of the day, we as the Turkish-French Business Council want to increase business. I see business as an area where people get to know each other more. Instead of turning inward as a reaction, if we are confident of our arguments, then we should explain these arguments with stronger means of communication.

France should be alarmed that it itself is taking a decision based on
short-term ethnic politics at the expense of a sacred value like
freedom of expression.

Yes but in the short term, the Turkish government is looking for ways to hurt France.

I don’t think it is right to say I am boycotting France as a reaction. But for many Turkish decision-makers, Sarkozy’s attitude is an element that affects their decision; whether we like it or not, it has already started hurting bilateral trade. If there are alternatives, preferences slide to the alternatives.

Whenever there are problems with France, all eyes turn to economic sector.

This is one of the means of pressure, but we know that politicians don’t change their stance just because businessmen want it. This is a tool that can be used, but we can’t rely on that tool alone.
Q: Are French businessmen with economic ties to Turkey working enough to prevent the adoption of the bill?

There are representatives of the French business community that are showing a genuine effort. But this also depends on the potential of a successful outcome. If they see an incredible resoluteness from Sarkozy, then their efforts could remain at 80 percent rather than 100 percent. But we know that there are many French businessmen that are genuinely dedicated and expending efforts.

Some say we should not give such a strong reaction, as that only makes the Armenians happier.

We need to react but not through blackmail. In the interdependent world that we are living in today, there should not be a policy of hurting the other side. Trying to hurt the other side can hurt you and become very exhausting; the reaction should not [make] us shoot ourselves in the foot. It should be through law, information and communication.

Europe suffers from the shortsightedness of its leaders. Europe has not faced the truth that it has an unsustainable system. There is no awareness that Europeans need to change. Leaders just think with the perspective of the next elections; they have difficulty dealing with long-term problems, so instead of leading their societies in the right direction, they look out for short-term scapegoats. This analysis is true for France as well.

Empires start falling once they start clashing with their own values: What France should be alarmed with is not the Turkish boycott, but that it itself is taking a decision based on short-term ethnic politics at the expense of a sacred value like freedom of expression. France should be alarmed that it could accept a restriction on freedom of expression. One of the keys to governance [the title of Argüden’s book] is consistency. France fails to meet these criteria. We need to underline that point.

The restrictions on freedom of expression in Turkey make it difficult to criticize France. Don’t we need to be consistent as well?

Of course. I’m not saying that we are wonderful, but the French are bad. I believe consistency and freedom of expression should be [practiced] everywhere. But for those who think we can’t criticize France on freedom of expression, I’ll recall the mistake of using the Algerian case. Two wrongs don’t make a right.


Yılmaz Argüden is the chairman of ARGE, an Istanbul-based strategy consultant. He is also the chairman of Rothschild Turkey. His career spans the private sector, public sector, multinational institutions, NGO’S and academia.

A graduate of Bosphorus University, Argüden received his Ph.D. in policy analysis from the RAND Graduate Institute. He worked in the World Bank. Upon the Turkish government’s invitation, he returned home, where he helped lead a privatization program. In 1991, he served as the chief economic adviser to the prime minister. He has served on the boards of more than 50 institutions. He is the author of several books, including “Keys to Governance,” and “Boardroom Secrets,” both in English.