Journal of Turkish Weekly
Feb 2 2012

JTW conducted an exclusive interview with Maxime Gauin on the current
debate regarding the appeal of French senators against the bill
prohibiting the denial of genocide.

Q: Seventy French senators collected the required number of signatures
demanding the repeal of a law criminalizing denial of the so-called
"Armenian genocide." What are the general characteristics of those
seventy senators? Are they generally left wing or right wing? We know
that Jacques Mezard and Michel Diefenbacher spearheaded the appeal
for example but who else?

Maxime Gauin: More exactly, 77 senators and 65 deputies signed two
distinct, albeit similar, applications. For the Senate, this is very
mixed: 22 Socialists, 18 UMP (Nicolas Sarkozy's party) members,
15 Liberals, 12 Centrists, 8 Greens and even 2 Communists. Such a
convergence of senators from all the groups is absolutely exceptional.

The motivations are mainly driven by the respect for constitutional law
and concern for maintaining good relations with Turkey. The relatively
strong presence of MPs of both the left and right from Alsace,
the region of France with, in proportion to the general population,
the biggest Turkish community, is easy to understand. In addition,
the absence on the list of signatures of some senators notoriously
against the bill is explained by the pressures exerted on them. I
think, for the UMP, on people like Gérard Larcher, former President of
the Senate, currently chairman of the Franco-Turkish friendship group;
for the Socialists, on people like Jean-Claude Carrère, Chairman of
the Foreign Affairs Committee, who interrupted speakers many times
during the debate of January 23, saying "Very good!" when a speech
was against the bill or "The argument is specious!" when an address
was in favor of the text.

Jacques Mézard is from the Radical Party, which is now rather small,
but was the main political party in France from its creation in 1901
to 1936 or 1940. There is a pro-Turkish and even more pro-Kemalist
tradition in this secular and humanist party. Mr. Mézard explicitly
placed his stance in this continuity.

In the Senate, two other main leaders who collected signatures were:
Nathalie Goulet (Centrist), supporter of Azerbaijan against the
Armenian occupation and now a vice-chairperson of the Franco-Turkish
friendship group in the Senate; and Bariza Khiari (Socialist), Vice
President of the Senate, who has a very objective approach of the
Turkish issues.

In the National Assembly, it is clearly different. Among the 65
signatories, you have 52 deputies of the UMP or a center-right party
closely allied to it, 11 Socialists and 2 independents. This is clearly
a kind of revolt by the UMP group, where Mr. Sarkozy was actually
never very popular, except perhaps during the first six months of his
mandate. UMP deputy Lionel Tardy said: "This is an atomic bomb for
the ~Ilysée [presidential palace, so Mr. Sarkozy himself], which
did not see anything coming." I join in this appraisal. Mr. Sarkozy
did not notice the shift, and to be even more explicit, the anger in
the UMP bloc of the National Assembly.

In addition to chairman of the Franco-Turkish Friendship group Michel
Diefenbacher, the leaders in the National Assembly were: Jacques Myard,
a member of this group and a politician notorious for his contempt of
the politically correct; and two deputies of Alsace, Jean-Philippe
Maurer and ~Iric Straumann, who even asked the government to use
the urgent procedure, which means the Constitutional Council having
to decide in eight days instead of one month. For Mr.

Diefenbacher and Mr. Myard, the philosophical and foreign policy
reasons are predominant. I loved Mr. Diefenbacher's comment on
his website: "This law is nonsense. [...] France, the 'country
of Enlightenment,' has no vocation to join the exclusive club of
countries where the law imposes upon the citizens a certain way of
thinking. We are not North Korea or Cuba. Liberty, dear Liberty!"

For Mr. Maurer and Mr. Straumann, these reasons exist as well,
incontrovertibly; the presence of thousands of French citizens of
Turkish origin in their districts is probably also a reason.

Q: We know how Turkish officials reacted to the appeal, Prime Minister
Erdogan, President Gul, Foreign Minister Davutoglu and EU Minister
Bagı~_ all hailed the appeal. What about the French reaction?

Maxime Gauin: Mr. Sarkozy said to UMP deputies, with a considerable
understatement: "It did not help me." That is very understandable:
He knows that the law is unconstitutional, but he hoped the
Constitutional Council could be seized only by a priority question of
constitutionality (Question prioritaire de constitutionnalité, QPC),
i.e., an application during a court case. The law would be crushed,
too, by a QPC, but later, after the presidential election. Mr. Sarkozy
even used an unsubstantiated argument: The applications of MPs would
threaten the Gayssot Act. This is false. The Gayssot Act forbids the
denial of the existence of a "crime against humanity" condemned by the
Nuremberg tribunal or by a French court. The qualification of these
crimes is left to freedom of expression. The word "Jews" is never
used. For example, if you deny that the Gypsies were subjected to mass
killing by the Nazis, you can be sued in the name of the Gayssot Act;
if you say that there were gas chambers and other criminal ways to
kill Gypsies but challenge the "genocide" label, nobody will sue you.

The Gayssot Act is backed only by the authority of res judicata and
contains no vague incrimination, unlike the Boyer bill. Such a comment
indicates how embarrassed Mr. Sarkozy--a lawyer by profession--is,
because of his improper initiative.

I did not find any comment on the website of the Socialist Party,
which apparently prefers to speak about economic and social concerns.

Actually, such problems are much more important for most of the
electorate than the limitation of free speech regarding events which
happened nearly a century ago in a foreign country.

Q: How will French-Turkish relations stand after the appeal?

Maxime Gauin: Engin Solakoglu, deputy chief and spokesman of the
Turkish embassy's mission in Paris, stated that the relations, close
to rupture, will ease and the Turkish authorities are now awaiting the
decision of the Council. The applications to the Constitutional Council
are based on a solid argument, and there is no suspense regarding
the fate the Boyer bill, including in the eyes of several Armenian
nationalists. It would only be logical for the Council to censor the
"recognition" of the "genocide" allegation as well, even more since
the application of senators, and as far as I know of deputies as well,
uses Article 34 of the Constitution among other arguments. This article
precisely defines the field of law, and you cannot find any place to
qualify historical events. The MPs were sufficiently clever to avoid
any direct attack against the "recognition" of 2001, but to include
Article 34 in the argument is a barely implicit invitation to suppress
this law as well. Such a suppression would be in perfect accordance
with the jurisprudence of the Council: This institution has for years
considered it perfectly normal, in case of application by QPC or any
other way, to check not only the law charged of unconstitutionality,
but also any other law which is closely connected to it.

If both texts are deleted, excellent prospects will arise. On
the other hand, the Franco-Turkish associations must continue
the movement started during the last weeks and create a structure
comparable to the Assembly of Turkish American Associations (ATAA)
or the Federation of Turkish Associations in the United Kingdom
(FTA UK). These associations should be assisted by all legal means,
too. The decision of the Constitutional Council will be a considerable,
perhaps unprecedented , blow to Armenian nationalism in France, but
will not destroy it completely. For the Turkish side, in every aspect,
it is just the beginning.