769) What happened to the Armenian bill? What should we do now?

Only a few weeks ago the French Parliament was preparing to sentence those who denied that the Armenian genocide took place to one year's imprisonment and a fine of 50,000 euros. Then we just forgot about it. What spurred the French Parliament to drop the matter? What should we do now?

I would like to start with a reminder.

In May the French Socialist Party introduced a bill proposing one year in jail and a fine of 50,000 euros for people who denied the so-called Armenian genocide. The French Parliament had accepted the Armenian genocide in 2001 but had not made its denial illegal. This bill was the next step.

The bill, coming before the 2007 presidential elections, was not expected to encounter too much opposition. The 250,000 votes of the French Armenians were attractive to all parties.

The bill would have been very harmful to Turkish-French relations. If it was passed, relations would have been at an all-time low.

Hopes for its rejection were decreasing with every passing day, with tension on the rise.

A meeting was held on May 10 before a vote on the bill.

The expected failed to happen and the bill was shelved.

Leading Armenian politician Patrick Devecian said, ?The bill is dead and buried.?

What happened? What's more important is what we can do to avoid facing the same type of situation again.

France couldn't sacrifice Turkey:

Two issues were of paramount importance in the process of preventing the passage of the bill. One was the opinion that Turkish-French relations were more important than any domestic vote considerations. Moreover, the contradictions within the bill itself mobilized a considerable portion of French society.

1. The Elysee Palace and the government were openly critical of the bill. A statement made by the foreign minister of France influenced most of the deputies from the ruling party. The French president and the government noted that history should be assessed by historians, adding that such a bill would cause an even further deterioration of relations between Turkey and Armenia while seriously harming the 10 billion euro trade between Turkey and France.

2. The second important fact was the mobilization of the French business community. Companies with huge investments in Turkey and French banks took action. This group, led by Turkish-French Trade Association President Yves Marie Lalouenan, the Foreign Economic Relations Council (DE?K) and French investors did not cause much of a commotion, quietly explaining the facts to French parliamentarians. They persuaded them that what they were trying to do was wrong.

3. Turkish nongovernmental organizations, led by the Turkish Union of Chambers and Commodities Exchanges (TOBB) and the Turkish Industrialists and Businessmen's Association (TÜS?AD), placed advertisements in French newspapers. They sent delegations to Paris to explain Turkey's stance. Ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP) and Republican People's Party (CHP) deputies also told their French counterparts what they should not do.

4. The Turkish government, unlike what had been done up until now, tried to influence the proceedings from behind the scenes. Ankara and Turkey's Paris embassy implemented very clever tactics. Most importantly, no one said, ?If you do this, we'll respond like that.? Everything was done quietly while respecting the other side's sensitivities.

5. French intellectuals were not silent. Famous names like Abel and Alexandre Adler wrote articles that noted the dangers of passing such a bill. The French media, probably due to such initiatives, did not support the bill. It distanced itself from it.

The bill was actually postponed. It wasn't put to a vote. It was shelved. It may come up again in November, but that seems unlikely.

However, there are things that we must do to prevent a repeat of this nightmare. If we say our job is done, we will face a similar scenario once again in the future.

What must be done next?

This Armenian bill in France was very important. If it had been put to a vote and passed, there would have been more to come. Soon after this bill was submitted to the French Parliament, similar initiatives appeared in Belgium and Holland.

The bill is shelved for now, but if we think this is the end of it, we're very very mistaken.

The matter is far from closed. It will continue to create trouble in the future.

If we want to resolve this matter, or at least ease the pressure imposed on Turkey, there are things we must do.

1. Turkey needs to continue to back its proposal for the founding of a historians' commission. It needs to knock on doors and exhaust all possibilities to make this happen. It needs to seek supporters. The proposal has already attracted some interest. The Armenians should be prevented from running away from such a commission. Don't forget the fact that the Armenian diaspora knows the commission findings will harm its efforts and that's why they are doing all they can to ignore this proposal.

2. Measures to boost relations with Armenia need to be considered. A new stance towards that country should be taken. To act as if nothing happened, like we do now, doesn't benefit Turkey at all.

3. The extent of Turkish-French business relations needs to be promoted. Politicians and the media fail to see the importance of such relations. Let's not forget the fact that France is the key. Winning over France will allow us to reach the rest of Europe.

Friday, June 9, 2006
Mehmet Ali Birand


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