By Maxime Gauin
The Armenian claims have been discussed in the French Parliament since 1975 (rejected in 1975, 1985, 1987 and 1996, adopted in 1998-2001), but clearly, the discussions and the vote never became so far. What has happened since December could appropriately be called a culmination of stupidity. One senator, Sophie Joissains (UMP), elected from Bouches-du-Rhône, the county with the most vituperative Armenian community of France, even regretted in her statement that the Treaty of Sèvres was never carried out. On the other hand, if in the National Assembly chairman of the Franco-Turkish Friendship group Michel Diefenbacher was a bit alone in maintaining honor by his good speech delivered against the Boyer bill, a significant number of MPs fought the text fiercely in the Senate, accumulating motions of dismissal, amendments of cancellation and speeches to defend their position.
The responsibility falls primarily on Nicolas Sarkozy, who pressured the UMP group to either abstain from voting or vote for the bill. Indeed, the main change in comparison to the vote of May 4, 2011, when the preceding Armenian bill was rejected, is the modification of the votes within the UMP: 19 voted against, but 137 on May 4, 2011; 56 abstained, but only 10 during the preceding vote; 57 voted for, but only 9the last year. The Socialist group was pressured as well, but the results were much more mixed: on May 4, 2011, 21 voted against the bill, 39 for and 55 abstained; on January 23, 2012, 26 voted against, 56 for and 48 abstained. In addition to the courageous fight of the Socialist Chairman of the Law Committee, who presented in vain a motion of dismissal, Chairman of the Foreign Affairs Committee Jean-Louis Carrère, also a Socialist, repeatedly expressed his furor against the bill and voted accordingly. Other examples can be provided.
We have never been closer to a rupture since the Ankara Agreement of 1921. Regardless, paradoxically, the crisis can be perfectly finish by the final collapse of the Armenian nationalism in France. Indeed, the Boyer bill is totally unconstitutional (a violation of free speech, among other rights) and backed by the “law” of January 2001 which “recognizes” the unsubstantiated “Armenian genocide” claims. Article 34 of the French Constitution precisely defines the field of law, and there is no legal value for simple statements The jurisprudence of the Constitutional Council is clear: When two laws are closely connected, and when someone is seized for having violated one of them, the Council can check both; if an article of law is pure rhetoric, it is simply censored. As a result, if 60 senators (among the 86 who voted against) take the issue to the Constitutional Council, the two bills will be destroyed. If not, the first person to be charged would file a Priority Question of Constitutionality; it would take more time, but the result would be exactly the same. In any case, the Armenian nationalist leaders will have to explain to their activists why they vehemently supported the suicidal second bill. The strident hostility of most editorialists, of many historians, jurists, other intellectuals, as well as many ordinary citizens shows that the destruction of these bills will be welcomed.
For the moment, the Turkish government’s reactions are relatively quiet, chiefly because of this constitutionality problem. That is why we can hope that the Armenian nationalists will not completely meet their traditional objective: to create crisis between Turkey and other countries. The Armenian Revolutionary Federation joined the Italian Fascists and Nazi regime in the 1930s not only for ideological reasons, but also with the hope to excite a war with Ankara. The ARF shamelessly joined the USSR in 1972 to participate in the destabilization of a NATO member. Since 1987, hindering the Turkish candidacy to the European Union has been one of the main objectives of Armenian nationalist groups.
On the other hand, it would be totally wrong for the Turkish side to simply wait in hope that the Constitutional Council finishes Armenian nationalism in France. Turkey believed Armenian nationalism was dead in 1923, for example, and it was not. More particularly for the current French case, the pressures on the Socialist group are mostly due to the close relations of ARF leader Mourad Papazian with the Socialist candidate for the presidency François Hollande.
There is no miraculous method through which to seize the current occasion and thoroughly crush the Armenian nationalism in France. However, there are partial and efficient solutions. One of them is to organize, by all legal means, the defeat of a significant number of deputies who voted for the Boyer bill in the National Assembly. Another is to finally translate into French the main scholarly contributions to the Armenian question and other sensitive aspects of Ottoman and Turkish history, published during the last twenty years—the ones of Ferudun Ata, Edward J. Erickson, Yusuf Halaçoğlu, Guenter Lewy, Justin McCarthy and others. More generally, the relations with France (the second-largest investor in Turkey) deserve new, additional, permanent structures, and, in such a perspective, the U.S.-Turkey relations can provide a certain inspiration.
In 1921-1922, the Franco-Turkish alliance was restored, in great part by two Ministers of Foreign Affairs: Raymond Poincaré from the center-right, and Aristide Briand from the center-left. We could have a kind of new Raymond Poincaré with Alain Juppé. A new Aristide Briand is wanted.
This piece was first published in Today’s Zaman.