Why has President Sarkozy Revived the Alleged Armenian Genocide?

Genocide is always ignored until the genocide is over. After its completion, eloquent and hypocritical words appear in defense of the murdered and departed. Genocide makes headlines, and people know how to use them for their own advantage.

France’s President Nicholas Sarkozy gains headlines, and mostly for appropriate reasons. He is in the news almost every day – marriage to a celebrity model, leading the charge against dispatched Libyan leader Moammar Gadhafi, whom he befriended months earlier, scuffling with Germany’s Prime Minister Angela Merkel over how to save the Euro and French banks, camera shots with the new baby, and at an October 7, 2011 meeting in Armenia stating that “Turkey’s refusal to recognize the [Armenian] genocide would force France to make such denials a criminal offense.”

Peoples who suffered genocide have the right to solicit compensation for displaced survivors from the guilty government and to seek means to correct the wrong. Others have an obligation to help. Nevertheless, knowing that President Sarkozy’s statement would irritate Turkish Prime Minister Erdogan and force him to reject the bill, there must be more to the French President’s actions and to the French National Assembly December 20, 2011 vote that proposed a year in jail and a fine of $58,000 to those publicly denying the alleged genocide.

Note: The expression ‘alleged genocide’ is used for impartiality. There is neither intention to deny genocide nor assent to a thesis that it did not occur.

What does the bill accomplish for France?

Is denial of an Armenian genocide a polarizing issue in France? Do citizens of La Patria openly debate Ottoman Empire responsibility for an alleged genocide that happened one hundred years ago? Does French jurisprudence need this bill to prevent a significant offense? The necessity to pass a law that makes it a crime to deny the alleged Armenian genocide is baffling. To whom is it directed and what is its purpose?

The bill will not help the victims; after all, they are gone. What happened in the Armenian part of Turkey almost a century ago is not a French issue, and therefore will neither resolve a present or future French problem nor change French life. It is doubtful that many citizens thought about the issue and argued a need for the bill.

The bill will create problems

Old wounds are opened, and with them renewed hatreds will occur. As the western world starts to overcome its prejudices and learns to appreciate the Turkish nation, Sarkozy shakes the world with accusations of criminal behavior by the almost ancient Ottoman government.

Just when Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan has embarked on reconciliation with Armenia and his own Armenian citizens, a challenge interrupts the peace-minded progress. After decades of hostility, Turkey and Armenia signed an agreement in October 2009 to establish diplomatic relations and open their borders. Unfortunately, neither government has ratified the agreement due to the lack of settlement of a dispute between Armenia and Azerbaijan over Nagorno-Karabakh, a territory that was formally inside Azerbaijan and, since a 1990s war, is occupied by ethnic Armenians.

The bill, written one hundred years after an event, makes it illegal for people to rebut accusations that their ancestors initiated genocide and considers them complicit in the atrocities if they defend their elders. The Turks are probably asking themselves: “If this bill is necessary, why aren’t there bills concerning complicity of many western powers in the mass killings of Indigenous populations in the Western Hemisphere, African populations throughout Africa, which includes slavery in the United States, Asians, most prominently in China, India, and the Philippines, and their own populations in Europe?”

Not stopping atrocities, and then criminalizing words that question the extent of the atrocities, smacks of duplicity; an attempt to hide failures by achieving political correctness. Isn’t there something wrong in a democratic nation when opinions can be made illegal and illegal deeds are not prevented?

Why aren’t remaining effects of previous genocides not directly countered?

Existing effects of previous genocides require more attention than bills that punish people for denying genocide. In North, Central and South America, Indigenous peoples who suffered genocide continue to struggle for cultural survival and to maintain their dignity. Inca and Mapuche from South America, Maya from Central America, and Indigenous peoples in North America remain disempowered in trying to regain the land and resources stolen from them and find themselves slowly decimated and slipping into obscurity. Grief still inhabits their faces and squalor is forced upon them.

Disadvantages arising from past actions have been, and always will, impede descendants of American slaves in their progress. While severe disadvantage is not easily overcome, advantage is capitalized and adds to advantage. African Americans deserve a compensation that enables them to overcome the disadvantages in order to achieve an equal status with White America.

Why are these victims of genocide not being properly helped? The answer is simple: the economic capital (a huge amount to right the wrongs done to the African Americans) will not return a positive political benefit. Note that these genocides are often denied with one statement – a natural course of history – and the detractors are not punished.

What motivated a bill that criminalizes denial of an alleged genocide?

Proving hidden motivations for passage of the bill cannot be easily justified or demonstrated. Frame the question in another context: Knowing that Turkish Prime Minister Erdogan would disregard President Sarkozy’s statement and vehemently reject the bill, how will others benefit from a bill that criminalizes denial of an alleged Armenian genocide?

Prime Minister Erdogan has taken independent stances that lead many to regard him his courage. His stances and moral attitude have generated opposition and disturbed those who envy his popularity. The French bill shifts the moral compass from Erdogan to Sarkozy and reduces the impact from Erdogan’s independent positions.

The Justice and Development Party (AKP) has steered Turkey away from the severe nationalist polices of its militarist predecessors. The bill places Erdogan and his AKP Party in a difficult position. Accept the bill and lose favor with a great majority of the Turkish electorate. Reject the bill and give the appearance of following a renewed nationalist policy.

Those who view Turkey as too independent, too large, and too Muslim seek any excuse to keep Turkey out of the European Union. Add to the list Turkey’s unwillingness to recognize the Ottoman Empire’s culpability in the alleged Armenian genocide.

When friendly with Turkey, Israel rejected recognition of the alleged Armenian genocide. Now that the two nations are declared antagonists, is it possible that Israel, whose Knesset held a renewed discussion on recognizing the Armenian genocide, played a role in promoting the bill in order to embarrass Erdogan?

Armenia has an unresolved situation with Azerbaijan over the status of Nagorno-Karabakh. The Armenian lobby consistently works to keep the atrocity alive and direct sympathy to Armenia.

France has a law that calls genocide denial a criminal offense. People are questioning why the law is applied to the World War II holocaust and not to other genocides.

An Armenian lobby and contributors can play a significant role in the coming French presidential election.

The bill might backfire on President Sarkozy and damage French interests.

An injured Turkey, that has become dubious of a wounded European Union, might shift its allegiance and interchange from the western world to Russia, China and India. If that happens, NATO, who relies greatly on Turkey’s geo-strategic position, will find itself engaging a more difficult partner.

Preventing genocide and assisting its remaining victims has highest priority. However, perpetually aggravating hatred rather than pursuing reconciliation and using a genocide for enhancing a personal or national agenda create suspicion. Making criminals of those who recognize atrocities but deny that ancestors deserve to be included as purveyors of genocide is a controversial afterthought and an arm twister: “Say uncle or go to jail.”

Dan Lieberman publishes commentaries on foreign policy, economics, and politics at substack.com.  He is author of the non-fiction books A Third Party Can Succeed in America, Not until They Were Gone, Think Tanks of DC, The Artistry of a Dog, and a novel: The Victory (under a pen name, David L. McWellan). Read other articles by Dan.