The Turkish prime minister has said a bill passed by the French parliament on the mass killing of Armenians under Ottoman rule is “racist” and that it has “murdered freedom of thought”. Since most people now know for certain what took place in Armenia in 1915, the claim is bizarre to say the least.
Writing earlier this month, I said that “If Turkey is serious, now is the time for it to acknowledge the errors of its past and to make tangible moves towards reconciliation. Almost a century after the genocide, there is a time to heal.” Unfortunately, the Turkish prime minister has not been reading my blog.
French President Nicolas Sarkozy is expected to sign the bill into law and Turkey has warned him that he will compound “France’s political, legal and moral mistakes” and face retaliatory action if he makes it a crime to deny that the mass killing of Armenians by Ottoman Turks nearly a century ago constitutes genocide. France recognised the killing of the Armenians as genocide in 2001, but at the time introduced no legal penalty for denying it.
Turkey – which sees the allegations of genocide as impugning its national honour – has already suspended military, economic and political ties and in December 2011 briefly recalled its ambassador when the lower house of parliament approved the same bill. Sarkozy’s critics have accused him of pandering to the 500,000 Armenians who live in France in a bid to secure their votes.
The Turkish government did not indicate what further countermeasures it was considering, saying only, “We find it useful to remind all parties that, in case of the completion of the finalisation process for the law, we will not hesitate to implement, as we deem appropriate, the measures that we have considered in advance… Similarly, it must be also known that we will continue to strongly use our right to defend ourselves on a legitimate basis against unfair allegations.”
Supporters of the bill claim 1.5 million Armenians were killed in Turkey under the Ottoman authorities during the First World War in a deliberate policy that constitutes genocide. Many historians agree, but Turkey disputes the term genocide saying that many Turks also died during fighting in the eastern part of the country in 1915 and 1916. Edward Nalbandian, Armenia’s Minister of Foreign Affairs said, “This day will be written in gold not only in the history of friendship between the Armenian and French peoples, but also in the annals of the history of the protection of human rights.”
Human rights are what it’s all about. By denying Armenia moral redress, Turkey is infringing the rights of the thousands killed as well as those of survivors, their families, and the nation as a whole. Reparations are also an issue although Armenia has not issued a declaration regarding land claims since its independence. And clearly there are legal ways for Armenians to reclaim their lost properties with or without Turkish acknowledgement of the Armenian genocide. Many believe that increasing recognition of the Armenian genocide by the international community and its eventual recognition by Turkey will lay a solid basis for the start of the reparation process and healing.