By Maxime Gauin
There is a historical trend in the main Socialist leaders of France alternating their attitudes vis-à-vis the Turks, especially if the Armenian question is involved. Jean Jaurès (1859-1914) diffused the Armenian nationalist propaganda in the 1890s, in ignorance, then met the Young Turks and became, until his death, their loyal friend. The first years of François Mitterrand’s presidency were marked by a serious crisis (1981-1984), but it was very quickly resolved and followed by years (1985-2000) of good relations.
However, this is perhaps the first time that the victory of a Socialist provokes both satisfaction and concern, from a Franco-Turkish perspective. For the Turks, the main sensitive points are: French awareness (or lack thereof) of Turkey’s growing importance; the Turkish candidacy for European Union membership; the cooperation against terrorism (chiefly the PKK); the situation of Turkish immigrants in France; and the Armenian question.
Mr. Hollande understands the strategic and economic role of Turkey. He wrote in his book Le Rêve Français (The French Dream, 2011) that negotiations between the EU and Turkey must be “fairly” (loyalement) pursued, until their conclusion. He criticized Mr. Sarkozy several times for his radical opposition to Turkish candidacy. Despite the persistent ignorance of some Socialist leaders about the PKK, there is no reason to fear that the Franco-Turkish agreement against organized crime, signed in October 2011, will suffer. Mr. Hollande was elected on a program of national unity and reconciliation in a rejection of the anti-immigrant demagogy. He even promised to present a reform giving non-EU citizens the right to vote in municipal elections.
Consequently, it is clear that only the Armenian question represents a serious subject of concern, which must be neither underestimated nor overestimated. Turkey and Turks are paying the cost of more than ten years (1997 until the late 2000s) of passivity and ineffectiveness vis-à-vis Mr. Hollande, ten years largely used by the Armenian Revolutionary Federation (ARF) for its proper agenda. Even the staunch support of the ARF for the Nazis, or the terrorist tradition of this party, were not used as an argument for years. Turkey and Turks are also paying for the more than twenty years (from the beginning of 1990s to today) almost without translation of any scholarly work rebutting the “Armenian genocide” allegations into French. Regardless, is it too late? No.
Among the close friends of Mr. Hollande, you have not only members of the ARF, but also several MPs who gave their signature to send the Boyer bill to the Constitutional Council. Mr. Sarkozy tried until the end to prevent these applications from being presented. Mr. Hollande eventually renounced the pressuring the MPs of his party, after a few days. Mr. Hollande’s recent speeches given to Armenian associations, in Marseille and Paris, were published only by Armenian websites, not by his campaign site or by the Socialist Party.
The current situation of both national and European jurisprudence is another reason to be quite optimistic. The decision of the Constitutional Council destroying the Boyer bill was based on the principle of law, not a formal, secondary problem. It leaves very little possibility for a new attempt. The Court of Justice of the European Union decided in 2003 (first instance) and 2004 (appeal) that the European Parliament’s resolution regarding the Armenian “genocide” had no legal value. The European Parliament itself has reversed its views since 2007.
In conclusion, a lot of work remains, but Mr. Sarkozy’s defeat most likely marks the beginning of a new spring in Franco-Turkish relations. A coordinated effort of information and education, which would neglect no issue, is needed and would be very fruitful.
Maxime Gauin is a researcher at the International Strategic Research Organization (USAK) and a Ph.D. candidate at the Middle East Technical University Department of History. This article was first published in Hurriyet Daily News and reprinted with permission.