The French national assembly voted, in first reading, a law sanctioning any person denying a recognised and existed genocide. A law backed by the ruling party and the opposition both although some MPs were very guarded about such a provision.
This law must be examined by the Senate before coming back in the Assembly in order to be definitely adopted. Nonetheless, it already provoked a huge controversy within the Turkish community and even in Turkey, the country having the impression to be clearly targeted because of the debate on the 1915 Armenian genocide, a word denied by the Recep Tayyip Erdogan government. Consequently, Ankara recalled his ambassador based in Paris and demonstrations took place in front of the Istanbul French Consulate and also in front of the French national assembly, initiated by the Turkish community in France and the Franco-Turkish citizens.
A lot of people are wondering on the relevance of this new law, voted a couple of months before a very important national election, even if it means aggravating the Franco-Turkish diplomatic relations more. In 2001, these relations got worse when the French national assembly recognized the Armenian genocide. Since then, these relations remained complicated in the difficult context of the Turkish accession to the European Union negotiations, negotiations still blocked because of the explicit opposition of France, Nicolas Sarkozy still being and firmly opposed to Ankara candidacy.
The issue – and I think it’s nice to remind it – is not to know if there was or not a genocide in 1915 but if the recent law voted by the French lower House is relevant or not and which clearly targets Turkey, a country which is still looking for itself and has still difficulties with an episode taking place during the World War I and before the foundation by Mustafa Kemal in 1923 of the Turkish Republic. Taking into account this point allows understanding the opinion of the large part of the Turkish population better who categorically denied the expression of “genocide” and preferring the word “massacre”. This semantic approach is not chosen by chance, the recognition of a genocide having some chain reactions on a geopolitical point of view mainly (for instance, a lands restitution to Armenia)
But acting like this, France tries, once again, to oblige a country which needs to think by itself to recognize such a tragedy. Once again, Turkey is forced to recognize genocide whereas the debate never really occurs. Instead of placing Ankara in front of its responsibilities, Turkey is turned against anyone who wants to force it, putting forward his impressive patriotism (as I could notice during my previous stay in Istanbul, on October 2010) to get round the problem.
What is more, the French assembly vote comes a couple of months before the presidential election, where the non-official candidate (and still president) Sarkozy tries to seduce the Armenian community, very present, active and quite powerful (especially in Paris and the south of France, at Marseilles). The last autumn, he even came to Armenia with Patrick Devedjian, former minister and current MP, very active within the French-Armenian community. He delivered a speech at Yerevan clearly targeting Turkey and ordering its government to recognize the genocide. In reaction, the Turkish authorities invited Nicolas Sarkozy to tackle to the French public debt, a polite and diplomatic way to tell France to meddle its own business.
Thus, this law may be considered as a way to get the Franco-Armenian community vote, these one being used to voting for the right and the Nicolas Sarkozy’s party. A fact that François Hollande, the socialist candidate, strongly criticized, denouncing the ulterior motives of Nicolas Sarkozy. But with this behaviour, France is adding fuel on the fire, for nothing. Besides, this controversy may give to Turkey some ideas, insisting on the fact France is also accountable vis-à-vis the Algerian war of independence or the Colonization and it is not in position to be moralistic.
Turkey already warned: it will not let humiliate itself and will want to charge France such an affront. Let’s wait and see but it is sure this controversy will still exist.