Freedom to Argue

This letter, submitted by Taylan Uygun of Santa Barbara, was originally published as an “action letter” in the U.S.A.-based e-newspaper Alaturka.

On January 23, 2012, the French Senate passed a controversial bill, which criminalizes the denial of the so-called “Armenian genocide” allegedly committed in the Ottoman Empire during World War I. The measure, also approved last month by [38 out of 577 deputies (only 45 voted)] in the lower chamber of the French Parliament, mandates a maximum 45,000-euro ($58,000) fine and a year of imprisonment for those who deny the allegations. The French Senate’s approval came after the last week’s decision by its Commission of Laws that the bill was in violation of constitutional rights, including the freedom of expression. Subsequently, tens of thousands of French citizens of Turkish heritage marched through Paris to protest the draconian law.

The WW I era atrocities in Eastern Turkey were never tried under any competent international tribunal; the intent to exterminate Armenians was never established or proven; no court verdict characterizing the events in terms of the 1948 United Nations Convention on Prevention and Punishment of Genocide was issued. The mentioned UN convention is not retroactive and even the major Nazi war criminals were never tried under it, but rather under the Geneva (1864, 1929) and The Hague (1899, 1907) conventions on the laws of war. Hence, the French lawmakers are essentially reinventing the definition of genocide and criminalizing its denial in circumvention of a well established legal process.

Driven by an ethnocentric political agenda ahead of the election season, French lawmakers not only try to mock the International Court of Justice (ICJ), but also imagine themselves as expert historians. In contrast, according to a renowned expert of the Ottoman history, Professor Bernard Lewis of Princeton University, there was no “deliberate preconceived decision of the Ottoman government” to eliminate Armenians and the claim that the inter-communal warfare atrocities were a genocide constitutes only “the Armenian version of the history.” Besides Armenians, over 518,000 Turkish civilians were massacred during WW I in the same region by the armed bands of Armenian Revolutionary Federation (ARF) and the invading Russian forces led by officers of Armenian origin. Obsessed with the utopian ideal of carving a “Greater Armenia” from Eastern Anatolia and the South Caucasus, the ARF zealots sought to eradicate any non-Armenian presence in the provinces, where they were never a majority. None of these historical facts find their reflection in the French legislative bill.

Reminiscent of the medieval Inquisition, this controversial French legislation not only victimizes the liberty in favor of petty ethnic interests, but also threatens to damage France’s international standing. Specifically, along with the United States and Russia, France serves as a mediator of the OSCE Minsk Group on the resolution of Armenian-Azerbaijani Nagorno-Karabakh conflict. But this ethnic bias of French lawmakers convinced Azerbaijanis to start questioning the French mediation in the conflict, which is closely linked to the Turkish-Armenian reconciliation.

Additionally, the law may also become an epitaph to Nabucco gas project and to the dream of Europe’s energy security, in which Turkey and Azerbaijan are the key players.

I join members of the Pax Turcica Institute (PTI), Assembly of Turkish-American Associations (ATAA), Azerbaijani-American Council (AAC), Azerbaijan Society of America (ASA) and all Turkic-Americans to denounce the draconian French law on the “Armenian genocide” as an unlawful attack on the freedom of speech and a disgraceful act of historical revisionism.

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