Sarkozy Angers Turkey Over Law Punishing Denial of Armenian Genocide
French President Nicolas Sarkozy warned on Friday Turkey that soon the denial of the genocide of the Armenians committed by the Ottoman Empire in 1915 could be considered illegal in France. This comment was made by Sarkozy in Armenia, where he is visiting as part of a tour in the Caucasus area. The French president, who is asserting himself as a strong political figure at international level ahead of the presidential elections next year, advised the Turkish leaders, who are themselves asserting themselves as the new leaders of the Middle East, to make a “reconciliation gesture” and recognize the killings of the genocide.
He went on and threatened the Turks with retaliation if they continued to deny the genocide, saying that the legislation could be amended in a brief period to penalize the denial of the genocide.
France is one of the countries that oppose the admission of Turkey to the European Union. During the Libyan intervention, Turkey and France had different approaches within the NATO bloc.
Sarkozy proposed that Turkey be given observer status by the EU in stead of full partnership, which drew an intense Turkish criticism. The officials in Ankara consider that the incumbent president of France is the embodiment of European prejudice toward a Muslim nation. They never seize to remember that the relations between Turkey and France were excellent during the presidency of Jacques Chirac.
Sarkozy’s words did not go unanswered. Turkish Prime Minister Ahmet Davutoglu said that “France has no right to teach us a history lesson or call for Turkey to face its history.”
He went on to accuse France of a multi-centennial colonial history, for being one of the countries that treated the people in the colonies as second-rank human beings.
Armenia claims that some 1.5 million Armenians were killed in 1915 by the Ottoman army in what they call “the Great Crime,” and the world has come to know as “the Armenian Genocide,” or even “the Armenian Holocaust.”
“The Armenian Genocide” is said by the Armenian historians to have happened during and following the WWI, and to have been realized by the Ottoman army by systematically destroying the Armenian population by massacres, deportations, forced marches until death. Other ethnic communities are believed to have suffered similar treatment.
Historians file this event under the first modern genocide in the history of modern times, and the second-most studied one after the Holocaust during WWII.
It is considered that the genocide started on April 15, 1915, when some 250 Armenian intellectuals were arrested in Istanbul (Constantinople). The process that followed intended to uproot the Armenian population from its homeland as the population was forced to cross the desert in what is today Syria while being deprived of food or water and with sexual abuses being reported to have been commonplace.
These tragic events have caused many Armenians to flee the Ottoman Empire and establish abroad in what is called now the Armenian diaspora.
The Republic of Turkey, one of the countries established on the territory of the Ottoman Empire has always denied the idea of “genocide” against Armenians. However to the date 20 countries have recognized the existence of a genocide against Armenians in 1915: Argentina, Armenia, Belgium, Canada, Chile Cyprus, France (by an act of the Parliament in 2001), Greece, Italy, Lithuania, Lebanon, the Netherlands, Poland, Russia, Slovakia, Sweden, Switzerland, Uruguay, Vatican and Venezuela.
As for the United States, 43 US states have recognized the Armenian Genocide, with seven more who have not acknowledged it. President Ronald Reagen deemed the event as “genocide” in 1981. In 2008 Obama, then Senator of Illinois, said “I shared my firmly held conviction that the Armenian Genocide…”
A very important position is that of the Kurds, as the Ottoman army has used them as a tool in realizing this alleged crime. Many of the modern Kurds recognized this event and apologize to the families of the people who die on behalf of their ancestors.
Turkey has denied the genocide by saying that there was no planned extermination of Armenians, and that what happened was a fallout of war.
However, in 2008 there were Turkish intellectuals that created an initiative known as Özür Dileriz! (“We apologize!”). The site that hosted the petition gained 10,000 signatures within days, and prompted the president of the Republic to defend its existence based on the freedom of speech.
Turkey has always admitted that the Armenians were killed as a result of the WWI but they argued that the term “genocide” was not apropriate because the condition of willingly planning to exterminate the Armenian was never met. The Republic of Azerbaijan also denies the reality of the Armenian genocide.
Why is Sarkozy risking to anger Turkey? Because he may need the votes of some 500,000 Armenians in France as the new elections come. He needed them in 2007. Then, he is about to travel to Georgia and Azerbaijan, two energy-producers, and such a speech could help him get the a leverage in negotiations with these Caucasian partners.
Sarkozy is asserting himself as a peacemaker in the region jolted by the conflict between Armenians and Azers in the mountain region called Karabakh, which claimed the lives of 30,000 people. “Armenians, Azeris and Turks. You must choose this path… it is the path of peace,” the presindent of France added.11