After the setback of the Switzerland vs. Perinçek verdict at the European Court of Human Rights this past October, it was most refreshing and reassuring to hear a major leader in Europe stand up for the Armenians. Indeed, the president of France, François Hollande, delivered a powerful speech in Paris on January 29 at the annual banquet organized by the Coordinating Council of Armenian Organizations in France (CCAF) and solemnly pledged to introduce a law in the French Parliament criminalizing the denial of the Armenian Genocide. (See related story on page 1.)
Incidentally, unlike the US, Armenian lobbying groups in France cooperate under one umbrella, despite the traditional differences and animosities plaguing their political parties. The ARF (Dashnagtsoutiun) has strong ties with the ruling Socialist party and the ADL (Ramgavar) and other groupings and individuals are affiliated with RMP, the right-leaning party.
The CCAF annual banquet has become a tradition where movers and shakers in the community congregate. Therefore, any president or politician may miss the opportunity at his or her own peril. This time around, among the participants were legendary singer Charles Aznavour, Paris Mayor Anne Hidalgo and Armenian-American Sorbonne Professor Mark Moogalian, who wrestled a terrorist on a Paris-bound train from Brussels. The last two, incidentally, received awards at the banquet.
The highlight of the evening was the appearance of the French president, who delivered a well-crafted speech outlining the cause of justice presented by the recognition of the Armenian Genocide within the framework of French values and policies. He proudly said that he had visited Yerevan to participate in the centennial commemoration of the Genocide, representing not only the audience gathered at the banquet and his country France, but also in order to support the international struggle for justice.
While delving into the current crises in the world, especially the refugee problem, he indicated that today’s refugees come from the same locations where the Armenian Genocide took place, Der Zor and Aleppo.
The French president discussed both phases of Armenian Genocide recognition at the French legislature: In 2001, the French parliament adopted a resolution recognizing the Armenian Genocide. However, in 2012, the French constitutional court struck down another law criminalizing the denial of the Armenian Genocide. He was dignified enough not to put the blame on his predecessor — and opponent — President Nicholas Sarkozy, who was the actual culprit. Indeed, following the adoption of the law at the parliament, there was a time window when the president could sign and finalize the process, but Sarkozy, who had pledged to the Armenian community, with tearful eyes, that he would ratify the law, through deliberate procrastination allowed its opponents to gather enough votes at the Constitutional Court to annul the parliament’s vote.
The French president painfully remembered the Perinçek case and he qualified another defeat at a further point not only a loss for the Armenian Genocide, but also a loss for France.
France has already a law on the books (Loi Gayssot) criminalizing the denial of the Jewish Holocaust. But legal experts can perform any manner of hair splitting to demonstrate that there exists a “difference” between the two cases.
The audience received the president’s announcement that he has commissioned the former president of the European Court of Human Rights Jean-Paul Costa, who incidentally was in attendance, to draft a law “within a short time” to criminalize the denial of the Armenian Genocide in such a way as to stand up to any challenge, with a standing ovation.
In his concluding remarks, Hollande indicated that Armenia was ready to join Europe like its neighbor, Georgia. Perhaps the French president should have remembered that Armenia deserved to be part of Europe since World War I, when it stood by France and its allies, and by means of the Armenian Legion and soldiers in the Russian army, contributed to the Allied victory.
However, Mr. Hollande’s predecessors reneged on their pledges to provide home rule to the Armenians in Cilicia under French protection. Had the Cilician plan survived, Europe would have extended all the way to Asia Minor, and today the West would not be obliged to beg Turkey to use Incirlik Airbase, which is at the heart of Cilicia, in Adana.
Perhaps Mr. Hollande’s pledge to pass the new law represents the revenge of history. Great powers do not let remorse play a role in decision making, no matter what the cost is for another player.
Now that Armenia does not have too many friends which can stand by her on the international political stage, we have no choice but to be grateful to France for this new initiative. But at the same time, we need to remind them that this afterthought constitutes the minimum reprieve for their historic treachery in Cilicia, when the French troops, after reassuring Armenians of their protection, evacuated Cilicia stealthily, leaving the unarmed Armenian population at the mercy of the Kemalist forces.
Although Hollande reassured his audience that his pledge is not tied to any elections, politics in Europe have witnessed many trials and tribulations, especially when it comes to issues related to the Armenians.
The French-Armenian activists deserve our appreciation. This is not the first time that they have been able to bring the president of the country to an Armenian function. In the US, with all fanfare possible, Armenians were able to oblige Vice President Joe Biden to attend a benign prayer service in Washington in May, during the centennial commemorations. That participation does not add up to a political endorsement. Perhaps, working together in the US we may be able to mobilize and politicize larger numbers of citizens, to have more visibility on the political radar.
At this point, let us welcome the second coming of Mr. Hollande and wait with anticipation for him to make good on his pledge.