Turkey Declares Diplomatic War On France on Armenian Genocide Law

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Turkey Declares Diplomatic War

On France on Armenian Genocide Law

By Harut Sassounian

Publisher, The California Courier

The Turkish government gets embroiled in diplomatic conflicts every time that a country acknowledges the Armenian Genocide. However, what happened this month is extraordinary even by Turkish standards. Ankara simultaneously recalled its ambassadors from France and Canada to express its displeasure at these countries’ stands on the Armenian issue.

The confrontation with Paris has much more serious repercussions as Turkey is caught between needing France’s support to join the European Union and going on an all-out offensive attempting to stop the French Parliament from adopting a law on May 18 that would make the denial of the Armenian Genocidea criminal offense.

After recalling its Ambassador to France, Ankara threatened to exclude French companies from multi-billion dollar tenders, called for a boycott of French products, rallied the Turkish community in France against this law, placed ads in various French newspapers, pressured French companies operating in Turkey to lobby against this bill, and dispatched teams of Turkish politicians, trade union officials and businessmen to Paris to dissuade the French Parliament from such action. Both the Turkish Prime Minister and Foreign Minister met with their French counterparts, urging them to prevent their Parliament from considering such a law.

The Turkish government is outraged that the Armenian Genocide issue is being raised once again in the heart of Europe, despite Ankara’s extensive efforts to relegate this "tragedy" to the dustbin of history. Consequently, Turkey has resorted to all sorts of political and economic pressures, even threats and blackmail, to thwart the passage of the new law. In their desperation, Turkish leaders have shamelessly tried to use the argument that the ban on genocide denial would constitute suppression of freedom of _expression!

Turkey is in no position to lecture anyone, especially a democracy like France, about the protection of civil rights. A pariah state like Turkey, that has long violated just about every human right of its citizens, makes itself the laughing stock of the entire world when it tries to give lessons to Europeans on civil liberties. The fact is that Turkey is using all possible means in its disposal and making up ridiculous arguments in order to silence discussion of the Armenian Genocide in France.

Regrettably, it appears that even some highly-educated and independent-minded Turkish individuals, along with a handful of Armenians, have been fooled by the shenanigans of the denialist leaders in Turkey.

Since these otherwise reputable individuals have come forward opposing the French bill on grounds that it limits freedom of _expression, I must say that in a perfect world no government should restrict any of the liberties of its citizens. As the publisher of a newspaper, I value highly freedom of the press and take full advantage of it in my weekly columns. However, I realize that even in the United States, where such freedoms are cherished and zealously guarded, legal limits have been placed on them, such as libel, defamation and fraud. Freedom of speech is therefore not an absolute right in the United States, and even less so in France, where verbally assaulting the dignity of an individual is itself a crime under French law!

Many European countries, where such freedoms are further restricted by outlawing racism, anti-Semitism, and advocacy of crimes against humanity, have laws that specifically criminalize the denial of the Jewish Holocaust. Such restrictions have not only been sanctioned by national laws, but by the European Court for Human Rights.

Isn’t it ironic that neither a single Turkish official nor any of those siding with Turkey’s position on this bill have uttered a single word against such restrictions on freedom of speech in a dozen or so European countries? But, all of a sudden, when the French Parliament considers making the denial of the Armenian Genocide a criminal offense, all sorts of complaints are voiced about the sanctity and inviolability of freedom of speech. There seems to be an unacceptable double standard in this matter. Logically, either these other laws are also considered to be restrictive of the freedom of speech, in which case Ankara should have complained about them years ago, or they are not, in which case Turkish officials should not utter a single word of complaint now!

Last week, nine prominent citizens of Turkey (Murat Belge, Halil Berktay, Hrant Dink, Muge Gocek, Ahmet Insel, Etyen Mahcubyan, Baskin Oran, Elif Shafak, and Ragip Zarakolu) who are well-known for their opposition to the Turkish state’s denial of the Armenian Genocide, surprised everyone by issuing a hasty statement which put them inadvertently and uncomfortably in bed with Genocide denialists! They condemned the proposed French law by claiming that the ban on the denial of the Armenian Genocide would not only curb free discussion of this issue in France, but even more so in Turkey.

These professors and journalists, who are frequently accused of being traitors to their nation by the Turkish "deep state," were probably trying to rehabilitate their reputations in Turkey by issuing a statement that criticized both Armenians and Turks. However, they seem to have overlooked five key points in making their joint declaration:

1- Their utopian view of freedom of _expression contradicts the Europeans’ long-standing acceptance of certain restrictions for the sake of higher values, such as the rights and dignity of the victims of racism, genocide and crimes against humanity.

2- These nine individuals singled out the proposed ban on the denial of the Armenian Genocide in France, while remaining silent on the criminalization of the denial of the Holocaust throughout Europe. Why is the former considered suppression of free speech, while the latter is not?

3- No moral equivalence should be drawn between laws in Europe banning the denial of the Armenian Genocide and Turkish laws banning its recognition. In Europe, it is against the law to lie, while in Turkey, it is against the law to tell the truth on genocide!

4- They unfairly accuse "Armenian nationalists" for supporting laws limiting freedom of _expression in France. This law is being debated and considered not by "Armenian nationalists" but by the French Parliament. It is simply untrue that the Armenian minority in France, that constitutes less than 1% of the country’s population, controls the French Parliament’s actions and decisions. Similar laws have been or are being passed also in Belgium, Germany and Switzerland. Do "Armenian nationalists" control the parliaments of these countries too?

5- The proposed law, if adopted, would not ban the discussion or even the debate on the facts of the Armenian Genocide. It would simply ban its denial.

The rationale behind the French Parliament’s intent to pass such a law is very simple and straightforward. When the French government adopted a law in January 2001, stating that France recognized the Armenian Genocide, no punitive damages were assigned for those violating that law. The French Parliament is now trying to correct that oversight by prescribing a punishment for those denying the Armenian Genocide. This is why the title page of the proposed law states that it is intended for the "completion" of the law of 2001.

Finally, all those who are unhappy that such a law is being considered by the French Parliament, should note that the survivors of the Armenian Genocide, 91 years after the fact, are still hounded by a country that brings to bear all of its powerful political and economic resources to boycott, bully and threaten everyone around the world, from journalists to politicians, in order to silence any and all mention of the Armenian Genocide. The descendants of the survivors of the Armenian Genocide, who are engaged in a David vs. Goliath struggle, use what little clout they can muster to counter the onslaught of the Turkish state, which makes no distinction between legal and illegal means, and shows no regard for any kind of rights, starting from the right to life and ending with the right to be free of abuse and insults. All the while, the fledgling Republic of Armenia, due to its many domestic problems, is unable to come to the defense of its compatriots scattered in the four corners of the globe, leaving them alone to fend for themselves in the face of the massive Turkish assault.

The proposed French law also corrects the existing imbalance in French law between punishing the denial of the Holocaust, but not the denial of the Armenian Genocide. It eliminates a glaring double standard! All those who are siding with the denialist Turkish state on this bill are consciously or unconsciously backing the victimizers against the victims! Since the final stage of any genocide is its denial, and since committing genocide is punishable by law, so should its denial!

Even if this law is not adopted this week by the French Parliament, the bullying behavior exhibited once again by the Turkish government on this occasion, would surely further erode its low standing in the eyes of the European public. A country that uses threats and boycotts against its future partners cannot then turn around and ask for their support to gain entry into the European Union.

Furthermore, thanks to the Turkish overreaction to this proposed law, Ankara has once again managed to do something Armenians could never have accomplished on their own: it has placed the Armenian Genocide issue on the front pages of newspapers around Europe and indeed around the world. The only thing that would top this in the future is if the Turkish government would repeat its erratic behavior in many more countries. Should that happen, Turkey would withdraw its ambassadors from several countries, cancel all trade, boycott foreign products, and become an isolated pariah state – a fitting punishment for a denialist regime!

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