Today's Zaman
Dec 28 2011

Let us start with France. It is impossible that the recent legal
moves in this country will result in the political and ethical goals
they seek. The political outcomes of the draft bill proposed out
of Sarkozy's concerns over re-election will be inconclusive as long
as the bill is supported by all political parties and the Socialist
candidate to the presidential elections, Francois Hollande.

Targeting the votes of the French citizens of Armenian descent through
legislative action assumes that these voters shape their preferences
in reference to considerations and sensitivities shown by politicians
toward Armenians. Alas for Mr. Sarkozy, the vast majority of French
Armenians cast their votes out of social preferences rather than the
sensitivities of their hypothetical community. There is no such thing
as ethnic lobbies in Europe, contrary to the US, and it should be Mr.

Sarkozy who knows this before anyone else.

The third point concerns the double standards of the Sarkozy
administration during the legislative process. The EU Framework
Decision of Nov. 28, 2008, which constitutes the basis of the Boyer
Act, is far more comprehensive. For instance, it covers the Tutsi
genocide in Rwanda, which France fails to recognize. That the final
version of the French bill is restricted to the denial of the Armenian
genocide points to a double standard of the legislation and undermines
its legitimacy and strength. Moreover, the bill will never stop the
denial in France like the Gayssot Act, which penalizes the denial of
the Shoah but never persuaded French deniers to stop challenging the
very fact.

Getting back to Turkey, the vote in the French National Assembly
revealed some basic truths and realities. Above all, it became
evident that a defensive approach that determines the stance of
the state vis-a-vis the issue has never worked and that the entire
strategy, which consists of 'lobbying, persuading and threatening,'
has manifestly failed.

Secondly, the official history that has been promoted by the state of
what happened to Armenians and the other non-Muslim communities of
these lands in the past should be revised and reconsidered. Former
American envoy to Turkey Morton Abramowitz, who knows the country
quite well, once told the Turkish deputies who were heading to the US
to lobby against a draft bill in the House of Representatives that
Turkey had lost the war over history in the US long ago, implying
that criminalizing denial has no impact in the US or elsewhere.

Thirdly, Turkish society has been experiencing a healthy process
of remembering the past over the last decade. Cultural, academic,
religious, public and individual memory and information on Armenians
and Assyrians who were almost eliminated during the process of nation
building, the Greeks who were exchanged for Balkan Muslims, the Kurds
and Alevis who have been denied their fundamental rights, the Muslims
whose presence in the public sphere has been made illegal, in short,
almost the entire population of these lands is now being remembered.

It is critical to promote these works and initiatives and to make
sure that the process attains unhindered progress for the sake of
the country and its democracy.

Fourthly, neither the legislation in the French National Assembly
nor the hyper-emotional reactions to it would facilitate the
above-mentioned memory recall. Alongside the nationalistic rhetoric,
dogmatic denial has resurfaced after the French vote. It is likely
that the government's over-confidence will raise these reactions to
a far more critical level. Additional measures that will be taken by
the government if the draft bill is adopted in the French Senate in
January should be read from this perspective.

Finally, the freedom of expression and speech has been debilitated
in both countries by the draft bill. The main objection in Turkey
focused on freedom of expression. It was not convincing for Turkey,
where freedom of expression has been grossly undermined, where
thousands of citizens, including writers, politicians, lawyers,
students, academics and journalists are in jail, to criticize France
for failing to honor the freedom of expression. On the other hand,
even though it is no longer a taboo to speak of genocide in regards to
the fate of Anatolian Armenians, legally speaking, the idiom is still
outlawed. In France, however, it is now becoming impossible to deny the
genocide under the draft bill. Though it is possible to insult Islam,
as evidenced constantly in cartoons depicting the Prophet Muhammad,
and not get convicted.

It is understandable from an ethical perspective to not include
religious and spiritual symbols within the scope of the freedom of
expression, but there should be no hierarchy of tragedies and beliefs.

Because it means war otherwise...