ISSN 2330-717X

Racist Motives Behind French Armenian Bill: Is Erdogan Right? – OpEd


By Fatma Yilmaz Elmas


Racism, in modern age, is no longer a phenomenon related to the concepts of ‘race’ and ‘race relations’ through which “the others” are on target as biologically inferior. Anyway, already in 1950s and 1960s, following a series of researches and sessions, UNESCO refuted the scientific basis of racism, namely biological racism, indicating that there is no such difference between human races. However, this fact does not, of course, mean that there is no racism and racist behaviors or feelings all over the world. Rather, its current and “modern” version is a sort of covert/subtle racism, occurring in different familiar forms of discrimination.

New racism refers to a social phenomenon and includes so many different components mostly related to cultural differences and welfare distribution. In concurrence with fast-truck changes in the world system and social order, the tangible factors that racism is based on have differentiated in times from the biological to the economic one as well as sociological and cultural ones. In our day, this is why racism is a complex issue and suffers from an exact visibility and lack of data on racist crimes in order to create awareness, especially throughout Europe. Moreover, this is why for example, for some, Islamophobia is a new kind of racism as well as expulsion of the Romas living in France as result of President Sarkozy’s populist policies.

For me, literarily spoken ‘infra-racism’ is the most dangerous one since it is mostly disguised under different behaviors and easy to defend. Opinions and prejudice are more xenophobic and populist than strictly speaking racist or no reference on racial doctrines. Therefore it is not that much easy to figure out the problem. This is why, for some, ‘widespread but often covert racism particularly throughout Europe represents a glass wall that only a few could both see and climb over”.

Sarkozy ‘the Brave’

French President Nicholas Sarkozy of Europe at the 21th century is the one who fits the aforementioned profile via his populist policies in practice which have led to a systemic differentiation of either individuals or groups. Policies such as Roma expulsions and banning the burqa are the results of Sarkozy’s populist mentality other than ethno-cultural sense.

French bill criminalizing denial of the “so-called Armenian genocide” is his last step including populist facts for the upcoming presidential elections and, more importantly, ethno-centric or cultural approach that Sarkozy is never at peace with the Ottoman history. This approach has made Sarkozy search the historical questions in the Parliament and also made him in violation of freedom of expression by the French state itself in opposition to a European Act, i.e. European Convention of Human Rights.


The common sense, e.g. ethicists, historians, and legislators in Europe, have all expressed unease at seeing a parliament create legally binding analyses and definitions of historical events. There challenges to the bill with the view that it is not the business of criminal law to clear the historical facts. This is also what said in Turkey as a reaction to Sarkozy’s bill.

Can Sarkozy really be unaware of the fact that this is an historical issue requiring historical researches on? Also is he so brave to bring such an issue to European trial as a violation of freedom of expression just for the sake of populism to get the votes of Armenian electorates?

Not that simple. It is the xenophobic motives or Euro/Franco-cultural centric approach behind Sarkozy’s bill. Moreover, that is also not simple just to get the votes of Armenians. It is about to attract the attention of overall far-right groups in France where xenophobia is in rise once again due to several socio-economic reasons. This is an emphasis also made by Etyen Mahcupyan, a Turkish-Armenian political columnist.

Then, does Turkish Prime Minister Tayyip Erdogan’s response to Monday’s vote in France for the bill have reasonable enough? To a great extent yes.

Just to remind, after the bill was passed in Senate, Erdogan addressed French politicians, intellectuals and the French people saying that “The vote in the Senate and the bill itself is openly discriminatory and racist and a massacre of freedom of thought in an effort to win votes by playing on anti-Turkish sentiment”.

One Note to Sarkozy

Such a populist approach and far-right tendency mostly serve the French far-right, the real owner of the xenophobic votes. This happened when Sarkozy opened a debate for national identity at the end of 2009 with an effort of getting the vote of far-right supporters. In contrast, in cantonal elections in March 2010, it was not Sarkozy, but Le Pen who got the votes. In other words, the populist debates emphasizing French nationalism brought in votes for Le Pen’s FN, the real owner of this kind of rhetoric.

To sum up, Sarkozy’s populist approach has once backfired in 2010 by letting Le Pen to increase the votes. Most probably the same thing will happen in the upcoming presidential elections. So the thing for Sarkozy is that which one seems more profitable: to short-minded populist idea to get the far-right support, though not exact, or to deadlock French-Turkish relations at the expense of one of the basic European human right values.

Fatma Yilmaz-Elmas
, Pittsburgh/USA
Researcher, USAK Center for EU Studies & Center Associate, University of Pittsburgh, EU Center of Excellence


JTW - the Journal of Turkish Weekly - is a respected Turkish news source in English language on international politics. Established in 2004, JTW is published by Ankara-based Turkish think tank International Strategic Research Organization (USAK).

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