Today's Zaman, Turkey
Jan 1 2012

Sarkozy lives in a glass house and shouldn't throw stones

by Othman Ali*

Last Thursday the French National Assembly passed a bill that
criminalizes any disagreement with the Armenian claim of a genocide
having been committed against them by the Ottoman Empire.
The passing of this resolution has had many implications throughout
Europe and will adversely impact the freedom of expression in France
and sets a bad precedent for others. Turkey's relation with the EU
will also witness tension at a time when the West needs Turkey to
channel its positive input on the historic developments that are
taking place in the Muslim world and the Middle East in particular.
This move on the part of the French government has a multitude of
reasons: the fanning of Islamophobia for electoral purposes, the
influence of the pro-Israeli lobby on French politics and the alarm
with which some circles in Europe are viewing Turkey's rising
political and economic power.

It is ironic that of all European powers France, which has an alarming
record of genocidal policies on several continents in the past, chose
to lead the crusade against Turkey. It is more ironic that Europe,
which remained silent on this particular issue when Turkey was
governed by malfunctioning military dominated regimes, raised the
issue at a time when Justice and Development Party (AKP) government is
in power, a party that helped the country make significant inroads to
establish democracy and uphold human rights to meet the Copenhagen
criteria. Besides, there is a serious self-examination in progress,
including attempts to correct the many wrongdoings of the past, and
Turkish officials, more than at any time in the past, have signaled
Turkish readiness to address the wrongs done to the Armenians,
including a readiness to give unlimited access to Ottoman archives and
holding open debates on the matter on a national and international

An effort to gain more votes

Analysts tend to attribute French President Nicolas Sarkozy's sudden
attention to the Armenian issue to his efforts to gain more votes in
the upcoming national election and be re-elected for a second term.
Among French politicians Sarkozy has a well-known record for his
indifference in the past to the plight of Armenians. The sudden
conversion on the part of Sarkozy comes as result of his concern to
win over the votes of the extreme right and the 500,000-strong
Armenian community in France. Sarkozy, who faces a tough challenge
from a rejuvenated far right in next year's presidential elections,
has decided to reach out to Catholic voters. Recently, he courted the
Christian voters and visited many symbolic Christian places of worship
in France. Opponents accused the leader, who is struggling in the
polls, of stirring up racial and religious divisions in a bid to win
votes from the far-right National Front (FN), now gaining ground under
Marine Le Pen, daughters of its founder Jean-Marie Le Pen. Sarkozy
appears to be returning to the fray. In January 2011, he declared that
multiculturalism had been a `failure.' In order to appease the far
right, he targeted Roma last year to have them expelled from France.

Islamophobia is another tool that Sarkozy has been continuously
utilizing to win the votes of the rising extreme right for his
center-right Union for a Popular Movement Party (UMP). This is what
gained him notoriety and fame at the same time when he was minister of
the interior. Consequently, this made him the rising star of the right
in France, and eventually earned him the French presidency. The
powerful pro-Israeli lobby in France is very much annoyed with the
rising influence of the 5 million French Muslims in French society and
politics, and has been stirring the extreme right against Muslims. On
Nov. 29, 2009, in a Swiss referendum in which 53 percent of the
electorate voted, 57 percent of voters voted to ban the building of
minarets in Switzerland, a country of 7.5 million with some 400,000
Muslims and just four mosques. French Foreign Minister Bernard
Kouchner reflected the general public opinion in Europe and elsewhere
when he said he described himself as shocked and affronted by the vote
and called for the ban to be reversed. Days later (on Dec. 9), French
President Sarkozy wrote a column in the Le Monde daily defending the
vote. The recent call by Sarkozy's UMP for a national debate on Muslim
religious practices in France, raising the banner of Islam's threat to
secular French values, and the ban on the Muslim veil are all
indications that Sarkozy is utilizing Islamophobia to get re-elected
as president for a second term, using the tragedy of the Armenians in
the Ottoman Empire a century ago as a part of this hypocritical but
dangerous game.

The English saying that people in glass houses shouldn't throw stones
could not be more applicable to Sarkozy's France. The country has an
infamous record of genocide, committed by both the French monarchical
and republican regimes. It suffices to say in this regard that the
colonial French power was an equal partner of the British Empire in
the genocide that was committed against the indigenous population of
America. This well documented genocide reduced the pre-16th century
population of 30 million to only 500,000 in 1908. The French colonial
power has committed more genocide in Southeast Asia and Africa than
any other European power. This led to the death and enslavement of
millions of native people in those regions. French colonial policy was
particularly known for its brutality and attempts to uproot people
from their lands and for pursuing policies of cultural and physical
genocide to turn the natives into cultured French people, eliminating
those who resisted.

Taking a look at Algeria from 1830-1962

A close examination of French policy in Algeria during the years
1830-1962, for example, proves that it fits well into the definition
of genocide as mentioned in the Convention on the Prevention and
Punishment of the Crime of Genocide of 1948: It is the deliberate and
systematic destruction, in whole or in part, of an ethnic group.
During the four decades of their colonial rule no less than 70 percent
of Algerians were either killed, uprooted, maimed or forcibly
assimilated, and 90 percent of the land was confiscated and given to
French settlers and collaborators, comprising no more than 10 percent
of the population. Had it not been for the Algerian resistance and the
external aid coming from Gamal Abdel Nasser of Egypt and the Soviet
bloc, Algerians would have suffered the same fate as Native Americans.

While French leaders enjoy lecturing Turkish officials on the
necessity of recognizing the alleged Armenian genocide, they, for the
most part, refuse to recognize the genocide in Algeria. In February
2005, France's ambassador to Algeria, Yves Colin de Verdière, formally
apologized for the Sétif and the Guelma massacres in which 45,000
Algerians were slaughtered in only a few days, calling it an
`inexcusable tragedy.' It was the most explicit comment by the French
state on the massacres. This apology contains the word `tragedy,' not

President of Algeria Abdelaziz Bouteflika has described the Sétif
massacre as being part of a wider campaign of `genocide' perpetrated
during the Algerian War by the French occupational forces. This was
swiftly denounced by the French government and by various French
historians. On July 5, 2011 the Algerian Minister of Mujahideen (war
veterans) Mohamed Cherif Abbes urged the government to introduce a new
law for criminalizing French colonial practices in Algeria. This
debate in Algiers infuriated the French government, which threatened
to take far-reaching measures against Algeria. The government in
Algiers was forced to withdraw the bill

The most appropriate action that the Turkish government needs to take
is not cutting commercial and other ties with France as this will
create tensions in Europe that will only play into the hands of
Sarkozy. It would be most appropriate to host an international
conference on the French genocide in Algeria. Many French and Algerian
scholars would be glad to attend. The recommendations of this
conference may serve to address the issue in other forums.

* Dr. Othman Ali, Ph.D., is the head of the Turkish-Kurdish Studies
Centre in Arbil, Iraq.

From: Baghdasarian