Is France's Armenian Genocide law merely a domestic ploy for votes?
The diplomatic repercussions of the vote in France to criminalize denying the Armenian Genocide have been substantial, but so are the domestic benefits.
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Israel's Jewish majority has a special interest since Adolf Hitler, contemplating the invasion of Poland and already on his way to a “final solution,” is said to have remarked “who today thinks of the Armenian massacre?” However, given Israel's sour relations with Turkey, the timing of the debate has raised questions about its political motivations.
Critics in France note that the issue is particularly sensitive in Europe because it could harm Turkey's European Union accession. Sarkozy has been the most blunt European leader about his opposition to Turkish membership in the EU.
“Politicians on left and right may support the law for electoral reasons,” argues Gilles Manceron, a specialist in Paris on French colonialism. “The Élysées can use the project to pressure Turkey and justify its hesitation to allow Turkey to integrate into the EU.”
For decades, some of the bitterest fights over what the Armenians call their holocaust has taken place in Europe and the United States. Turkish and Armenian lobbies have circled like feeding sharks around school curricula and official declarations.
In 1987, I wrote a piece on a new human rights school curriculum in California that included the Armenian genocide, along with the Khmer Rouge regime in Cambodia, the Ukrainian famine, and Hitler's “final solution.” California's governor at the time was George Deukmejian, who has Armenian heritage. I’ve never received more favorable and unfavorable mail on any story. Entire classes of Armenian school children in California wrote letters of approval, while Turkish groups all over the US sent in criticism.
Prime Minister Erdogan, turning the tables, said last week, “Approximately 15 percent of the population in Algeria have been subjected to a massacre by the French starting from 1945. … This is genocide.”
Many intellectuals, historians, and critics find it a bit rich that French officials are touting the importance of memory and facing history. France spent years denying not only its actions in Algeria, but complicity with the Nazis in Vichy France by helping round up Jews.
After World War II, under a policy by then-President Charles De Gaulle to unify the country, French students were smothered with myths of heroic war resistance – part of what the late British historian Tony Judt calls France’s "tortured, long denied, and serially incomplete memory." The country only started facing these events when foreign historians, such as Columbia University's Robert Paxton did in 1972, began to detail not just the scale to which German policies were carried out, but also the alacrity with which the French did it.