By Maxime Gauin
The visit of French Minister of Interior Claude Guéant to Ankara was somewhat tainted by the inopportune statements of Nicolas Sarkozy in Yerevan. The visit of Minister of Foreign Affairs Alain Juppé in Ankara was a turnaround. Not surprisingly, Mr. Juppé reiterated the full solidarity of France against PKK terrorism (materialized by a bilateral agreement, signed by Mr. Guéant and his Turkish counterpart). Less expectedly, he nuanced the opposition. The main event, however, washis proposition that France host a joint Turko-Armenian history meeting. Mr. Juppé avoided assuming the unsubstantiated “genocide” label, and more generally, showed a height and depth of analysis which appeared very rarely in the statements of politicians regarding the Armenian question. Only the statements of the British government can be compared to this speech.
Mr. Juppé said that “France has no lesson to teach,” and that “the events of 1915” were “a very painful period for Turkey, for the Turks, but also for the Armenians.” This can be the translation into diplomatic language of the findings made by U.S. investigators Emory H. Niles and Arthur E. Sutherland: “We believe that it is incontestable that the Armenians were guilty of crimes of the same nature against the Turks as those of which the Turks are guilty against the Armenians.” He repeated the approbation by France of the idea to create a historical commission on the Turko-Armenian conflict, and added: “if Paris could welcome such a meeting to at least start the dialogue, I think it would be an extremely important step.”
Unexpected due to his importance, Mr. Juppé’s intervention is actually not so surprising. In the 1990s, as an emergent leader of the French right and center-right, Mr. Juppé fought tirelessly against the alliances negotiated in the 1980s with the National Front (co-governance of cities, regions, and counties, mutual support for the legislative elections), and even obtained, in 1998, the exclusion of leaders who had saved their position thanks to the support of the National Front. Contrary to a legend forged by some of his supporters, Jacques Chirac was initially not excited by the idea of breaking the alliances between the moderate right and the National Front. As a result, Mr. Juppé even had to fight against the reluctance of the leader who launched his political career. Mr. Juppé is still continuing to fight against the infiltration of extremist ideas, in a difficult context.
So, the Minister of Foreign Affairs is more or less accustomed to defending—with a certain success—dissident and more reasonable views, instead of following the mainstream. There are other reasons with which to explain this initiative. Having graduated from two of the most competitive superior schools of France, Mr. Juppé knows and likes Turkey since the 1970s, and he has had experience in international relations since then, and already assumed his current position from 1993 to 1995. His experience has few things in common with the one of Mr. Sarkozy, who came from Neuilly-sur-Seine, the second-wealthiest city of France where any conservative candidate would be elected, to the presidency.
It is not for politicians to decide what the appropriate label of a past event is—it is the job of historians. Since the Armenian issue was politicized since the very beginning, in 1965 by the joint action of Soviets, Greeks, Greek-Cypriots, and Armenian nationalists, a purely scholarly response is an illusion. So, the role of the political leaders is to protect free speech and scientific research. This is exactly what Mr. Jupppé suggested.
On the other hand, to fulfill such a proposal, it would be necessary to abandon forever the meaningless attempts to legislate history, i.e. to forget the proposition of criminalization and to put the “recognition” bill in front of the Constitutional Council, which would necessarily censor it. The bill of January 2001 is unconstitutional and does not bind the French government—Mr. Juppé’s declaration is new proof of that.
In conclusion, Mr. Juppé’s proposal must be supported, not only by the French citizens of Turkish origin, but also by anyone concerned for free speech, the liberty of historical research, and the preservation of common European interests against ethnic lobbies and the various powers which have agendas other than European unity.
 Georges Vedel, ‘Les questions de constitutionnalité posées par la loi du 29 janvier 2001,’ in Didier Mauss and Jeanette Bougrab (ed.), François Luchaire, un républicain au service de la République, (Paris : Publications de la Sorbonne, 2005), pp. 37-61.