Is Another French Betrayal in the Offing?


By Edmond Y. Azadian

Armenian culture has been favorably impacted by French culture, especially in the West. Armenians have recognized that fact
and have been appreciative of the influence, which dates back many centuries.

There is an inherent affinity between the two nations, as far as culture is concerned. But when it comes to politics, that special relationship disappears. Armenians have incorrectly assumed that the cultural affinity is a substitute for political support or  cooperation, and they have been disappointed bitterly time and again.

The Armenian-French relations go back to the Middle Ages when French conquerors invaded the Middle East with the Crusaders to wrench the Holy Land away from Muslims and claim it in the name of Christianity. The Armenian principalities in Cilicia became  accessories to those European imperialistic invasions, ultimately to their own detriment; when the Crusades failed or faded, the  Armenians were left to their own devices, unable to defend their kingdom.

Indeed, when the Egyptian Mamluk rulers overran Cilicia in 1315 and kidnapped its King Leo VI, ending a 300-year-old kingdom, neither the Crusaders nor the French came to defend their Armenian allies. Granted, France belatedly obliged to pay a ransom to the Mamluks to buy the king’s freedom, hosting him in France until his death, mainly because they considered King Leo VI Lousignan to be of French lineage.

The most blatant betrayal was in the 20th century, again in Cilicia. The Allies — especially the French — during World War I
recruited some 5,000 Armenian volunteers as part of the Eastern Legion, to fight the most crucial battles of Arara, in Palestine,
promising home rule in Cilicia to the Armenians under a French protectorate. But when the Ottoman army collapsed and Cilicia
was liberated, the Armenian volunteers were disarmed and the French government brokered a deal with the emerging Kemalist
movement behind the back of the Cilician Armenians who had returned to their homes after the deportations of 1915. The French
abandoned Cilicia and its population — literally in the middle of the night in November 1921 — and retreated in a cowardly manner.

When former French President Nicholas Sarkozy moved through the French Senate the law criminalizing the denial of the Armenian
Genocide, almost identical to the Gaysot law criminalizing the denial of the Jewish Holocaust, Armenians were tempted to believe
that finally the French were making amends for their monumental betrayal of the Armenians in Cilicia. But that turned out to be
another deception, since Mr. Sarkozy was slow to sign the resolution into law, while the opposition was recruiting members of the
parliament to take the resolution to the Constitutional Court.

Having full knowledge of the gathering storm, he failed to use his prerogative before the measure was brought to the Constitutional
Court, which rendered an unfavorable decision. Mr. Sarkozy did not put his money where his mouth was.

Enter candidate François Hollande — the prospect seemed more promising because he had pledged to use such a tight legal framework
that the resolution would become fail proof.

The pledge is still on the table but there are already ominous signs that his pledge may not go beyond election rhetoric. This column
had already made reference to an interview in the French magazine Express by the new French Foreign Minister Laurant Fabius
who stated that the newly-elected Hollande was searching for a way to balance a policy of accommodating Turkey while keeping his
pledge to the large and loud French-Armenian community.

These days Mr. Hollande and his prime minister are busy dedicating museums and monuments throughout France. On September 21, he was in Drancy, a city north of Paris, which was the site of the major transit camp for Jews being deported to death camps. “Our work is no longer about establishing the truth,” said Mr. Hollande at the Drancy Shoah memorial. “Today, our work is to transmit. That is the spirit of this memorial. Transmission — there resides the future of remembrance.”

In 2005, a larger Holocaust Museum had opened in 2005 in central Paris. A new memorial is being inaugurated at the center of
the Cité de la Muette. Prime Minister Jean-Marc Ayrault inaugurated a similar memorial in Aix-en-Provence last month.

All these memorials demonstrate that the new French president and his government are sensitive to human suffering and loss of life
through the organized actions of brutal rulers. The only thing remains to be seen if the Armenian losses are also counted as human suffering.

Mr. Hollande went further than his predecessors in defending the dignity of human life; former President François Mitterrand
had acknowledged a general French role in the detentions and deportations of the Jews during World War II, whereas President Jacques Chirac had taken a step further in a speech in 1995 acknowledging “collective wrongdoing.” Mr. Hollande went all the way by admitting “a crime committed by France.”

Most French attribute that crime to Marshall Petin, whose government in Vichy collaborated with the occupying Nazi forces.

(Incidentally, several French-Armenians were leaders and/or fearless members of the French Underground battling the Vichy government and Nazis. The most famous in that group is Missak Manouchian, who led the legendary eponymous group.)

Besides commemorating Jewish losses in France, Mr. Hollande has also demonstrated moral courage to take positive action;
indeed, last August he stripped the British fashion designer and former creative director of Dior, John Galliano, of the Legion of Honor
he had received in 2009. Mr. Galliano was found guilty in 2011 of making anti-Semitic remarks.

All these actions indicate that we are dealing with a statesman of solid moral fiber when it comes to upholding human dignity. The
question remains if those qualities are applied selectively to one group only.

A recent roundtable discussion in Paris casts some doubt, whether those principles are impacted by political tides or considerations.
The discussions were held in Paris by Bosphorous University to analyze the law criminalizing the Armenian Genocide.

Participants of the roundtable included Elizabeth Guigou, president of the Foreign Relations Committee of the French Parliament;
Jacques Lang, former education culture minister of France, and former foreign minister of Turkey, Yasar Yakis.

Any symposium or roundtable discussion may be confined to the level of academic discourse, but when the participants are current
legislators or former statesmen, the format takes a different dimension, with serious political ramifications. Ms. Guigou has stated
that the Constitutional Court has considered the law criminalizing the Genocide denial without legal foundation. She continued her
statement by adding: “Although President Hollande is very sensitive to the issue of this draft law, it is very improbable that he may
take a new initiative since the Constitutional Court has refuted its legal premise.” Mr. Lang also endorsed the same view. The Turkish
representative cautioned against the deterioration of French-Turkish relations. Then, he magnanimously added that the law not
only damages French-Turkish relations, but will also jeopardize Armenian-Turkish relations.

Turkologist Hagop Chakerian, reporting about the above roundtable discussion, in the daily Azg of Yerevan concluded by stating:
“The law may damage French-Turkish relations, but it cannot damage Armenian-Turkish relations, because there are none.”

Since his election, Mr. Hollande has yet to address his pledge on the Genocide law. But all these developments and statements do
not augur well for the prospects of adopting the law. If it is a crime to deny the Holocaust in France there is no easy way to reason in
any other fashion, that it is a crime to deny the Armenian Genocide. Only political expediency, rather than any legal premise can derail
the law against denying the Armenian Genocide.

Only time will tell how extensive Mr. Hollande’s moral fortitude is. Perhaps it is not fair to jump to early conclusions, but all indications
point to a French betrayal in the making, once again.