Misguided and Premature Celebration

Keghart.com Editorial Board, 29 January 2012

“The French Senate has just passed a bill, proposed by President Nicolas Sarkozy’s party that will make it a crime to question whether the Armenian massacres in eastern Turkey in 1915 qualified as genocide.”—Gwynne Dyer, “Sucking Up to Armenians,” Hurriyet, Jan. 26.

Dyer, a notorious Genocide of Armenians denier, echoed what many Turcophile and anti-France Anglo-American media reported regarding the passage of the genocide bill by the French Senate last week. Dyer’s prejudiced take—like that of J. Michael Kennedy (“The Los Angeles Times”) and other Western reporters was based on second-hand information, since the official text of the bill will not be released until its promulgation by President Sarkozy. It’s also a well-known fact that most Anglo-American journalists are monolingual.
 

Keghart.com Editorial Board, 29 January 2012

“The French Senate has just passed a bill, proposed by President Nicolas Sarkozy’s party that will make it a crime to question whether the Armenian massacres in eastern Turkey in 1915 qualified as genocide.”—Gwynne Dyer, “Sucking Up to Armenians,” Hurriyet, Jan. 26.

Dyer, a notorious Genocide of Armenians denier, echoed what many Turcophile and anti-France Anglo-American media reported regarding the passage of the genocide bill by the French Senate last week. Dyer’s prejudiced take—like that of J. Michael Kennedy (“The Los Angeles Times”) and other Western reporters was based on second-hand information, since the official text of the bill will not be released until its promulgation by President Sarkozy. It’s also a well-known fact that most Anglo-American journalists are monolingual.
 

While the Anglo-American media’s bias is something Armenians are used to, what’s alarming in this instance is the premature and misguided Armenian celebration, unaware that the issue had been hijacked by Turkey. Armenians missed the fact that Turkey and the Anglo-American media had misrepresented the French law and had portrayed it as a law against the freedom of expression. For added measure, Turkey was depicted as the injured party while President Sarkozy was criticized for supposedly courting the French-Armenian vote for the upcoming elections. There was also no mention that the hysterical country whose leader was throwing temper- tantrums and demanding freedom of expression in France has more journalists in jail than any country.

It’s time Armenians removed their blindfolds, stepped back and took a careful look at what the French Senate’s bill actually proposes.

–The bill’s wording is very general. It covers war crimes, crimes against humanity and genocide. The bill makes no mention of the Genocide of Armenians. The law is meant to stop all negation of genocides which are recognized by France.

–The Genocide of Armenians and the Holocaust were recognized by the French parliament a long time ago (Gaysot Law, 1990), except that the denial of the Holocaust was made punishable but not the denial of the Genocide of Armenians. Thus there was an obvious inconsistency in the way the Holocaust and the Genocide were being treated by French law. The new law makes “les negationists”/deniers of the Holocaust or of the Genocide equally culpable. While the Genocide of Armenians is not mentioned, it’s there by reference. It’s for this reason that Minister Patrick Ollier and other speakers repeatedly emphasized the intent of the new bill.

–The wording of the law is not of French origin. The text was recommended by the European Union to all EU member states.

–The law covers any crime recognized by Articles 6,7, and 8 of the Statute of the International Criminal Court, Article 6 of the Nuremburg Tribunal Charter of 1945, and any crime recognized by France.

The Turkish propaganda machine, including their leading newspapers (Today’s Zaman, Hurriyet, Cumhuriyet, etc.) twisted the wording of the bill to make readers and viewers believe Armenians are getting something special from France because President Sarkozy “needs the votes of 500,000 Armenians.”

(The statistic that there are 500,000 Armenians in France is an exaggeration. The number is closer to 400,000. As well, many Armenians, most of them third-generation, are assimilated and don’t speak Armenian. The half-a-million is also misleading because not all of them are of voting age. However, bandying about the false and inflated figure suits Turkish intentions so as to incite French citizens into believing French-Armenians are a privileged group.)

For added mischief and pressure, Turkey is portraying Sarkozy’s France as a place where a Christian minority gets preferential treatment. These types of malicious and mendacious reports find eager ears on “Al-Jazeera” and in the murky alleyways of Cairo, Riyadh, Islamabad and Kabul.

According to Zeynap Necipoglu, president of the Turkish-French Chamber of Commerce (established in 1885), an increasing number of politicians are planning to refer the matter to the French constitutional court for judgment on two grounds: the bill allegedly limits the freedom of expression and second the present penal code is sufficient to refer cases to a penal or civil court when a person makes racist statements. According to Necipoglu, the number of opponents to the bill was 30 earlier in the week, but “could reach the required 60 soon.” The court would decide whether the bill is compatible to French law. Politicians opposing the bill are joined by Reporters Without Borders. The journalists’ group has also urged members of parliament to refer the bill to the constitutional council.

Rather than celebrating a premature victory and claiming it an Armenian victory over Turkey, Armenians should be circumspect and study the French bill with a higher level of sophistication and maturity. Let’s defend the justice of the bill, rather than bear-bait Turkey. Let’s be cognizant of French politics and French public opinion. Let’s not appropriate the bill as an Armenian victory. And when critics say the bill is anti-freedom of expression, let’s point out that the denial of genocide is the last act of genocide; that denial is incitement to further genocides; that saving innocent lives takes priority over the abuse of the freedom of expression. Let’s remind the world that it needs no lessons from Turkey about freedom of expression. Just this week the World Press Index placed Turkey in number 148 (of 179) in freedom of the press. While Prime Minister Recep Tayyep Erdogan boasts about democracy in Turkey, since he rose to power (2002) Turkey has regressed from 100th place to 148th on the World Press Index.

 

 
9 comments
  1. Great article

    Congratulations on a great article. 

    The mainstream international media got this French bill wrong and continues to get it wrong.

    It is, indeed, a very general bill, with no mention of anything Armenian. 

    By the media’s not reporting the bill as such, and through the failure of our own media, the bill has been falsely depicted as specifically outlawing denial of the Armenian genocide. 

    In some cases, I think the false reporting was deliberate.  In other cases, the mainstream media has simply done what it does best: copy each others’ stories and ignore the facts.  They’re pathetic.

    How to fight this sort of thing, or do we sit around and accept it?

  2. Cuts both ways

    If Armenians got all excited about this bill as some sort of misguided victory, then one wonders why Turkey took it the way they did as being something against Turkey. Could it be a matter of  գող՝ սիրտը դող. If we, naturally and sometimes misugidedly and based on emotions, took this with a hoo-ha victory, then I wonder why did Turkey feel so self-conscious about it and took it as an anti-Turkey bill? Does awareness of one’s own wrong-doing give them a guilty concsious of some sort?

     

     

  3. The proposed French Law should be easy to defend

    The proposed French law has it right and should be relatively easy to argue for.
     
    a) There is wide academic and theoretical agreement among scholars that genocide denial is the final stage of committing the act of genocide.

    b) In fact, genocide denial is a perpetuation of the crime of genocide.

    c) Therefore, because genocide is the ultimate hate-motivated crime, genocide denial, by its very nature, also becomes a hate-motivated crime.

    d) Hence, genocide denial should be punishable as such a crime, in jurisdictions where such laws exist.
     
    Now as to the issue of limits put on Freedom of Speech because of this law.  It is true that Anglo-American bias is ultimately related to the legal frameworks of these two entities in the world, mainly, a stronger focus on individual freedoms vs. broader rights of the collective.  There is a valid point to that, the price of our humanity (as Denis Donikian put it so well) will be limitations on freedom of speech.
     
    And yet, a valid analogy would be by thinking whether child pornography and paedophilia would be acceptable in a society or are they another form of freedom of expression, or freedom of sexual orientation?  I  for one, would prefer living in societies that ban them even at the price of there being some "limitation" put on such "freedom"s.  To pretend that our societies are worse off because of these laws is frankly ludicrous.  After all, there are still many countries in the world where the sexual exploitation of young children is condoned and practiced, e.g. Afghanistan, Saudi Arabia, Thailand or the Philippines.  To suggest that these places are paragons of democratic behaviour and models to follow by the rest of the world is surreally grotesque.
     
    Therefore, given the context above, the argument of the right to freedom of expression is easy to refute as well.
     
    Armenians are still victims of genocide every day, as long as it is being denied.  Plain and simple.  The French law enables us (and all victims of all genocides) to finally stare down the bullies of history. 
     
    Paregamoren,
    Viken L. Attarian
     
  4. Celebrating Too Soon

    I agree with your editorial regarding the need for a more restrained and considered reaction to the French Senate’s bill. However, there’s a silver lining to our premature celebrations. The rousing celebrations from South America to North America to France to Armenia and to the Middle East show how deeply interested Armenians are in Hye Tadd. We are following developments; we are participating; we are demonstrating to the world that Turkey will not succeed in burying the Genocide of Armenians by pushing it to some vague international back shelve where "historians will study and decide what happened."

    Question: How many historians do you need to negate the Genocide of Armenians?

    Answer: Two Turkish "historians": one to hold the authentic Turkish archives and the other to burn them.

     

     

  5. The Business of Death

    In April 2005 I published a longish essay in the Armenian Reporter (Apr.16, 2005, Vol.xxxvii, iss.20) entitled "The business of Death: Genocide Industry". I do intend to repeat the content of that piece but in relation to the present debate I wish to make a few points.

    The Genocide of the Armenians 97 years ago has been exploited shamelessly by attention seeking Armenians and politicians seeking re-election; the memory and misery of the survivors has been exploited. One of the questions that has not been asked and adequately addressed is When and Why did the European States and Turkey begin the denial process of the Genocide?

    At the time when the atrocities of the Armenians, Greeks, Assyrians was in progress books were being published in Constantinople by Armenian printing houses which suggested that the atrocities were acknowledged and accepted.

    Among the many titles I wish to draw the reader’s attention to the following few.

    1.Լօյտ Ճօրճի հռչակաւոր ճառը եւ Հայկական խնդիրը Անգլիական խորհրդարանին մէջ: Թարգմանեց՝ Ենովք Արմէն:Երկրորդ տպագրութիւն:Կ.Պոլիս: Օ.Արզուման,1919.

    2. Rene Pinon re-digesting the running "La Suppression des Armeniens. Methode Allemande" – commentaries in the daily German newspapers produced a small pamphlet called "La Suppression des Armeniens. Methode Allemande -Travail Turk", which was promptly translated into Armenian by Eduard Tchoburian and published in Constantinople in 1919 under the title « Հայերու բնաջնջումը: Գերմանական մէդօտ Թրքական գործելակերպ»:

    3. The French, not to be undone, published their own version of events. In Paris, in 1916, Henry Barby produced his "Au Pays de l’Epouvants – L’Armenie Martyr",  with a Preface by the Academician and President of the Chamber of French Deputies M. Paul Deschanel. This was also hastily rendered into Armenian by Mikayel Shamtanchian and printed in Constantinople in 1919 under the title «Սարսափի Երկրին մէջ, Նահատակ Հայաստան».

    4. And finally to cap it all the British government commissioned Arnold Toynbee "the most overrated writer" (Roger Berthoud, How are the mighty fallen- according to the critics, The times 1977) "The Treatment of the Armenians in the Ottoman Empire", London,1916.

    The decision of the French Senate to pass a bill after 97 years criminalising the denial of Genocide of an event which they did not consider so in 1916-1919 is absurd in so far as enforcing of it will be impossible except against the powerless. Would France jail the Prime minister or President of Turkey?

    Germany, France, England were participants in the Ottoman Turkish criminality,  they exploited it for their own interests and then discarded it in the dustbin of history. The precursor to the Nazi Holocaust was not just the Armenian genocide, although it is on record that Hitler once asked scornfully who remembered them, the first indictment of the west by a despot, the pogroms, or early stages of what became a genocide against the indigenous Greeks of Asia Minor in 1914. According to Sir. Henry Morgenthau the Young Turks were so successful in the campaign that they also decided to target the other Christian "races” as well. Mustafa Kemal picked up where the Young Turks left off. The Pontic Greek lost 353,000, the Assyrians 750,000. In 1923, Lord Curzon stated that 1 million Greeks had been slaughtered and 1 million more were exiled. The massacres of these populations does not occupy a place in European history analogous to the racist, industrial –scale extermination of the Jews in Germany, France, Britiain and elsewhere, where Holocaust denial has been a crime for many years.

    It is hypocritical of Europe to exploit the Armenian Genocide and it is the awareness of this hypocrisy by the west that drives Turkey into a bunker mentality. Good progress had been made and is being made. The story has moved on- as many as 80 writers, scholars, artists and activists have challenged the Turkish official history of the period while France is moving precisely the opposite – illiberal- direction.

    Rev. Dr. Vrej Nersessian

    1. Genocide Exploitation

      Dear Dr. Nersessian, you say that the Genocide of Armenians has been "shamelessly exploited by attention-seeking Armenians and politicians…" Could you please identify who do you mean? And exploited in what way, for what personal benefit? Thank you.

      1. You Ask How

        You ask how is the Armenian Genocide been exploited and by whom?

        We have a very hazy grip of our history. Ffrom 1896 to 1923, over 23 international treaties have been signed by the European powers against Turkey in favour of the Armenians. Although in none of these documents you will see the word "genocide" the fact of the forced deportations and massacres is accepted.

        1.Prof. Arnold Toynbee(1889-1975) in "Acquaintances" devoted a chapter to Lord Bryce and the motives behind the publication of the so-called Blue Book. This is what Toynbee says on the objectives behind the request of British Government:

        "At the very time when the Russians had been committing barbarities against their Jews, the Turks had been committing considerably worse barbarities against their Armenians. If Russian barbarities were telling against Germany and France, would not Turkish barbarities tell against Germany and Austria-Hungary? This line of reasoning in Whitehall lay behind H.M.G’s application to Lord Bryce to produce a Blue Book on what the Turks had been doing to the Armenians (p.151). If this political spider’s web had been visible to Lord Bryce when he had been asked by H.M.G to undertake the production of an Armenian Blue Book, I believe he would have declined".

        The publication of the Blue book had been judged by its authors like the advertisement in the times that accompanied it, to be a propaganda material. Thousands of "postcards" were also circulated, depicting images of hanging Armenians, corpses and deportation meant to shock the American public and draw the Americans into the First World War. In a document written to the British prime minister on September 1924 and published in Armenia ("Political and Ethnic Boundaries 1878-1948, London,1998), there is this paragraph:

        "Lord Bryce’s Blue Book describing the sufferings and losses of the Ottoman Armenians published in 1916, entitled ‘The Treatment of the Armenians’ in the Ottoman Empire", was widely used for Allied Propaganda in 1916-1917 and had an important influence upon American opinion and upon the ultimate decision of President Wilson to enter the War" (p.921).

        This explains why from among the European governments the British still refuse to recognize those events as genocide.

        In 1916 academician and President of the Chamber of French Deputies M. Paul Deschanel wrote his preface to «Սարսափի Երկրին մեջ. Նահատակ Հայաստան» does not shy away from stating his reasons. The German General Delbruek had boasted that the construction of the rail route from Hamburg to the Persian Gulf "like the Suez Canal" would free German commerce from the trusteeship (tutelle) of the British. Armenia emptied of its habitants, together with Mesopotamia, will become "Indes germaniques". With such a diabolical distasteful attention on the Armenian misfortune, it is not at all surprising to me that decades later Hitler would have scornfully remembered the Armenian massacres. Has this connection been investigated by Armenians.  I doubt it.

        During the presidency of Jacques Chirac, France quite openly exploited the issue of the Genocide to prevent Turkey from entering the EU, despite Jacques Chirac’s formal commitment to see it in the club. Sarkozy today is drawing attention to the question in order to bag the Armenian votes for his re-election. Every US president since Ronald Regan has done the same but none have kept their promises. Attention-seeking Armenians have grabbed every photo opportunity with White House staff believing that the promises made would materialize. Attention- seeking Armenians very prematurely named the one of the most attractive street in Yerevan after Jacques Chirac.

        I will recommend every Armenian to watch a BBC 2 program titled ‘Russia and the West’ and the war with America’s ally, Georgia. The Armenian diasporan attention on the Genocide is in conflict with the geopolitical interest of independent Armenia.

        Yours,
        Dr. Vrej Nersessian

  6. Highlighting the purpose of the law was missed

    65 senators and 86 members of the Assembly (French Parliament) filed today an appeal in the Constitutional Court against the law penalizing the denial of the genocide.

    Once again the Armenian leaders of different organizations and parties underlined their lack of political maturity and pragmatism by stressing the "victory factor" of the Armenians against Turkey instead of highlighting the purpose of the law against war crimes, genocide and crimes against humanity.

    They should have joined the official position of France which indicated in a written message to the Turkish president that the law was of general nature and not intended to address any particular country and stressed the need to treat all the violations of the law concerning the penalization in the same way.

    Often we are our own enemies.

    1. Our Jubilation and Turks

      Serge,

      I do not believe that our jubilation has anything to do with the reaction of Turkey. As far as I am concerned the Turks would have reacted with no less fervor and determination, albeit quietly, at the probable passage of the act into law even if the act had not gained the publicity it did.

      Also, I believe the French court will be addressing the constutionality of the wording of the act and not render a verdict on a historical event.

       

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