By Suat Kiniklioglu
Foreign Minister Philippe Douste-Blazy of
What puzzles us even more is that of all countries, France – seen by us as the symbol of civil liberties and free speech – would become hostage to a small, if influential, lobby that exploits every electoral opportunity to advance its narrow agenda.
Lawmakers are not historians and their attempt to establish facts about an extremely sensitive and complicated historic event is misguided at best. Further, the proposed bill represents a blow to freedom of expression at a time when European Union member states regularly lecture
Both on grounds of substance and process, the National Assembly's action is deeply offensive and counterproductive. That is why the EU enlargement commissioner, Olli Rehn, and 16 prominent French historians opposed the bill.
Many Turks interpret the National Assembly's action as not just an attempt to appease an active lobby, but also as a populist appeal to the majority of the French public opposed to Turkish membership in the European Union.
In the run-up to what promises to be a very competitive presidential race next spring, both the French left and right seem ill disposed toward a predominantly Muslim country interested in EU membership.
Bound legally by the EU Council's decision to start accession negotiations with
Ironically, this ill-considered action comes at a time when
Last year, in an unprecedented move, Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan suggested that
Turkish-Armenian reconciliation cannot be facilitated by laws passed in foreign parliaments. Such moves only help those who thrive on the continuation of the impasse between Turks and Armenians.
As tempting as gesture politics may be for French politicians, any genuine effort at reconciliation must be based on the recognition that both Armenians and Turks suffered immensely during the fateful years of World War I. To move forward, the focus must be broadened to include common losses and experiences during this period, rather than limited to the question of whether the events of 1915-1916 can be qualified as genocide. Context is critical.
As the British Armenian historian Ara Sarafian eloquently noted, the ultimate irony is that France, which has not faced up to its own genocidal past, dares to pass legislation on Turkey's past.
Thankfully our lawmakers are unlikely to follow that path. After all, we want to remain true to the ideals of Rousseau, Voltaire and the French encyclopedists who inspired us and the European Enlightenment.
Source: International Herald Tribune, October 19, 2006
Suat Kiniklioglu is director of the