Friday, 23 December 2011


Motivated primarily by pre-election politics and secondarily by a measure of anti-Islam sentiment, a new French law (22 December 2011) calls for the recognizing the 'Armenian Genocide' as a reality and the refusal to acknowledge its existence as a crime punished by one year in prison and $60,000 fine. Will this law translate into French-Armenian votes for Sarkozy and votes away from Marine Le Pen's right wing party and in favor of Sarkozy's conservatives?

Is there nothing that Sarkozy can do to defeat the Socialists and distract French public opinion from economic and social issues, given that 2012 will mean economic contraction for France? Why stop there for votes from the right? What about criminalizing anyone who states that: the Cambodian and Rwandan genocide; and French imperialism in Algeria and Indochina that resulted in genocide, at least in thorough exploitation of people and resources on a sustained basis? And what about the crimes of the Vichy regime?

If it was worth for Sarkozy to criminalize the denial of the Armenian genocide, was it worth it for large French corporations to have their contracts in jeopardy because the Turkish government feels the French politicians who voted on the Armenian genocide are anti-Turk and anti-Islam? What if Turkey passed a law criminalizing anyone who denied that France was and remains a country pursuing imperialist policies at the expense of weaker nations, especially in Africa? Would that be denying freedom of speech, or asserting a moral stance toward human rights by exposing an imperialist aggressor? 
From the outbreak of WWI until the Treaty of Lausanne (1923), it is estimated that Turks massacred 1 to 1.5 million Armenians, and hundreds of thousands were forced from their homes as part of massive pogroms. Along with Armenians, Assyrians and Greeks met with a similar fate, though the numbers of casualties for the latter groups are not nearly as dramatic as the Armenians. Scholars who have studied holocaust and genocide in the 20th century argue that there are differences, though the end result is about the same.

Students of Turkish history know that the Ottoman Empire had become extremely weak in the 19th century, losing its provinces and retreating to Anatolia, all under corrupt and backward imperial regimes that young Turkish intellectuals and military reformers resented for allowing the former glorious empire to be exploited by European and Russian imperial powers.

As nationalism had intensified in the Balkans, Western Europe, and the Middle East, it did so in Turkey as well after the "Young Turk Revolt" (1908), and the counter-coup of 1909 when Islamic elements tried to impose religious law and attacked Armenians in Adana. Against the background of Islamic zealots and reformers trying to Westernize the country, foreigners, who enjoyed some of the most privileged socioeconomic positions in Turkey, became the target of nationalist fanatics who were caught up in the broader international wave of nationalism leading to the Balkan Wars and WWI.

Besides the Greek minority well entrenched in the upper echelons of the Turkish economy, Armenians made up a substantial segment of notables and businessmen that reformers and Islamic zealots saw as the root cause of society's failure to strengthen under a strong Turkish identity. Turkey established 25 concentration camps, it tortured thousands, and left the international community questioning the legality of Turkey's treatment of Armenians. The US became active in the Armenian question, after Arnold Toynbee published a documentary work in 1916 about the situation.

It did not help that Turkey was on Germany's side during the war, for it was part of the group of nations punished by the Allies crafting the Treaty of Versailles. When the Greeks decided to expand their territory and restore the old Byzantine Empire by attacking Turkey during the Asia Minor War (1919-1922), nationalism was at its peak and that translated into extreme prejudice toward not only against Greeks, but Armenians. Turkish nationalist saw as Greeks and Armenians as the enemy exploiting the country from within and trying to undermine it with their Western connections.

It is true, as Le Monde points out, that Turks cannot admit that the Armenian genocide took place because so many of the country's modern political heroes were involved in some manner. But if France is really interested in genocide victims, why not extend to their descendants an affirmative action policy for government jobs, establish cultural programs to promote inter-ethnic cooperation, etc.? Why pass a law that divides and reinforces ethnic resentment?

Turkish Prime Minister Tayyip Erdogan responded that the French are guilty of genocide in Algeria in the 1940s and 1950s when they eliminated 15% of the native population. Erdogan made the announcement after he ordered the interruption of all diplomatic, military, and cultural ties with France, and a halt to new economic relations involving Turkish government contracts. Turkey's decision comes at the worst possible time for France's large corporations that need the contracts from a country whose GDP has been growing at rapid rates and whose economy has experienced very healthy growth in the last ten years.

Erdogan had no choice to respond in the manner that he did, given that France under Sarkozy has expressed repeatedly a policy that has been less than friendly to Turkey, especially on the issue of EU membership. The question is whether either Erdogan or Sarkozy gain anything from this temporary political-economic conflict, if it is indeed temporary or part of a broader European anti-Turkish trend buried beneath the even larger anti-Islam trend. French businesses are the losers from this conflict, given that Turkey can easily secure other markets; French geopolitical interests are at risk, given that the vote on Armenian genocide only pushes Ankara farther from the West, perhaps closer Eurasia, China, and Iran, all with which relations have been expanding. 

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Quite a simple maneuvering strategy where diversion might cause the race to be to the swift, and the losses incurred believed to be worth the gain.

Erdogan's response indicative of having taken the bait. The gong and drum sounds getting all eyes and ears on the past vs the condition of the land and people today, where neither the brave or the coward proceeded alone.

The spirit of anger might pervade whole groups making for keen awareness due to the Sarkozy strategy evidenced by Erdogan's response; and with it, utter defeat promised when anger waxes and wains. Spirit is the most important influence at such a juncture with so many people to consider. The first drum has been sounded.

Mental equilibrium and a good breakfast is a must.