Sarkozy and Ankara

A stern promise came from Nicolas Sarkozy to attempt to criminalise denial of the Armenian Genocide. To his credit a bill was prepared and sent swiftly to the country’s lower house of Parliament where it was comfortably passed, paving the way for its entrance to the French Senate, who too later passed it. Then, as Armenians the world over were in complacent delight, the complications arose.

Did ministers accidentally tick the wrong box? Did they misjudge the bill? Or did they just timidly succumb to the classic angry remarks from Ankara like misbehaving schoolchildren at the sound of their headmasters’ voice?

Whatever the case, some who originally voted in its favour became uneasy and questioned themselves, and before too long the bill was appealed, sending it to France’s Constitutional Court.

We sat down once again eagerly awaiting the verdict. Perhaps unsurprisingly the bill in its current form died there. Unsurprising because it seemed too good to be true for us, or that it seemed unlikely to have a lasting impact after so little time in the making. However, on the other hand, the decision that to criminalise denial of the Armenian Genocide is unconstitutional in France was far more of a surprise.

This is the same France which last year banned the burqa: a law was passed through the same Senate and Constitutional Court making it a criminal offence to wear the religious face-covering headgear in public areas.

Freedom of speech I hear you say? What then of the fact that this came from the country where it is already illegal, and has been for decades, to deny the Jewish Holocaust? There appears to be stark inconsistency here in the application of the French constitution. Double standards are evident.

The argument that France criminalised denial of the Holocaust because France themselves played a part in the tragedy is unacceptable: it would mean France is denying the memory of the Armenian Genocide due protection simply because they didn’t partake in the atrocity. Is France merely doing the Jewish community a favour? One would like to believe that laws such as this are not passed to make amends; but instead they are passed categorically, and unequivocally, in the name of justice and honour. Had France not been involved in the Holocaust would they have come to find this bill unconstitutional too?

It can neither be said that such laws meddle with history: quite the opposite, they are based precisely on the correct analysis of that. World-renowned scholars and historians have researched, debated and made a conclusion. To argue that this needs re-addressing is to avoid the existing verdict. This is a stance that is certainly not beyond Turkey because if they succeed, the issue will be pushed into the realm of history and out of current political affairs. This is a dangerous game in which Armenians should not engage. It remains – and has done for too long already – for the perpetrating nation to stand up and accept the painful truth like the civilised, Westernised country as which it wishes to be seen.

Sarkozy said that Turkey’s refusal to recognise the Armenian Genocide will force France to criminalise its denial. His first attempt failed by a narrow margin. One hopes he will push on for the pursuit not of votes, but of integrity and righteousness. He has thus far, commendably, remained indifferent to Turkey’s angry, arms-flailing reactions to the progression of the bill.

Others on both sides of the UK fall victim to Ankara’s bullying far too easily.

— Heros Jojaghaian

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