The French Parliament and the Armenian Genocide: A Stand for Human Rights or Political Opportunism?

The vexed issue of the massacre of the Armenian people at the hands of the Ottoman empire is not in question and most Turks readily acknowledge that a terrible misdeed did occur way back in 1915, when the Christian Orthodox Armenians were driven out of Ottoman Turkey, supposedly for sympathising with Tsarist Russia, then an immediate opponent during the First World War. Whether or not it should constitute a genocide is another matter altogether.

The mainstream argument runs that a policy to exterminate a race or people constitutes genocide. Hence Hitler's Final Solution and the massacre of Tutsi's in Rwanda. Turkey argues that no genocide took place as there was no official policy to exterminate the Armenians-it was basically a communal conflict. Armenia argues otherwise. Turkey views this matter very strongly indeed and has long and vigorously made plain its hurt and displeasure whenever the Armenian massacre is referred to as a genocide. The story on both sides run long and hard, and I did take quite an interest in the matter almost 10 years ago, reading material and watching documentaries on it. Since then I have continued to view the matter with interest whenever it pops up, as it does every now and again. My personal opinion is it was a genocide, but that is not the point of this piece. The point of this piece is to ask whether political opportunism or political necessity has hijacked the truth (as perceived by either party).

As previously noted, Turkey stands strongly against the genocide claim, to the extent that Orhan Pamuk, the recently announced 2006 Nobel Prize in Literature winner was charged with 'betraying Turkishness' (I fail to recall the exact phrase, so it might not be 100% accurate) for daring to call it a genocide. Nothing ever came of it, probably because of European Union pressure as Turkey strives to enter the EU. Neither the USA nor Israel accept the Armenian position, and I argue that this is due to political necessity and/or opportunism. The USA needs a firm Muslim ally and this it has in Turkey (though weakened in the last decade). As such, it has happily foregone human rights in publicly failing to acknowledge the genocide. It needs Turkey as an ally, and to hell with the victims of this terrible crime. Even Israel has said no genocide occurred, but Turkey is one of their closest military allies and is the only Muslim country that it can trust. So the nation built on the back of the Jewish genocide happily ignores the Armenian one, for its own expediency. For this we should not be too surprised as Israel also happily did business with Apartheid South Africa (including co-operating on weapons proliferation)and tightened its relationship with India during the rule of the Hindu fundamentalist (some would say fascist leaning) BJP party.

But is France claiming the moral high ground here? I hope so, but I think that is too optimistic a belief. In the first place, the majority of French (and Europeans as well it must be said) are opposed to Muslim Turkey entering the EU, and believe the EU should remain 'Christian,'at least in its cultural values. Angering Turkey greatly (as has certainly happened)is a perfect opportunity to either make Turkey feel even more unwelcome and re-consider its membership drive or to force Turkey to 'come to the table' and accept abandoning even their core beliefs in order to be accepted as a member of the EU. Could this be political opportunism from the French Socialists who introduced the bill in parliament, to garner votes ahead of the next presidential election?

But it could be less sinister than that. France has a sizeable Armenian minority(the brilliant attacking midfielder and 1998 World Cup winning player Youri Djorkaeff the most famous one of the lot), and votes from them in a tight election could tip the balance in favour of the Socialist Party. However, keep in mind that at the end of the day, this bill must also pass the senate and get presidential approval, so it might never become official anyway.

Those claiming the moral high ground out of political opportunism are no better than those denying the genocide also out of political opportunism. Both sides lack moral authority and care only about benefitting themselves. Whether Turkey or Armenia is right is open to debate, but at least both parties make their point based on their fundamental beliefs about the issue, rather than over political expediency. Hopefully the world can draw its own conclusion on this matter based on the truth, and not military, economic or political considerations. Those massacred 91 years ago demand and deserve their justice.

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