05 April 2007

1569) French Socialists Pledge To Pass ‘Genocide’ Bill In 2007

 This content mirrored from TurkishArmenians http://armenians-1915.blogspot.com © pix The French Socialist Party (PSF) vowed yesterday that a bill criminalizing the denial of Armenian genocide claims would be passed in Senate this year if the party wins in the upcoming elections.

The bill, already approved by the lower house of the French Parliament last year, has angered Turkey, which categorically refutes . . charges that Armenians were victims of a genocide campaign at the hands of the late Ottoman Empire.

PSF Secretary-General François Hollande, speaking at an election campaign meeting with French-Armenians in Paris, said that his party would introduce the bill to the Senate for final parliamentary approval in October if it emerges victorious from the elections. Hollande also said that in order to become a member of the EU, Turkey must recognize the alleged genocide.

Segolene Royal, the PSF presidential candidate, said she was opposed to parliaments writing history, but nonetheless insisted on Tuesday that the bill criminalizing the denial of the alleged genocide must definitely become law.

Reminded at a press conference of the divided position among French historians on the subject, Royal declined to comment and referred similar questions to Jean-Louis Bianco, her right-hand man and leader of her election campaign.

Bianco said Royal was not taking sides by taking an affirmative position on the parliamentary function of writing history, but he added that she was looking forward to the referral of the "Armenian genocide" issue to the Senate.

"We are facing up to the process of denial, despite the efforts from a group of historians, both Turkish and Armenian. We cannot accept what happened in the past. And there are people who are denying historical facts in France," said Bianco. He further claimed that nobody had the right to speak falsely. Recalling the Gayssot Act, Bianco said the act had been put in place in order to punish those who denied the Holocaust.

Leading names from the PSF say that opinion on the bill is divided among members of their party. Jacques Lang, former minister of education and a leading figure in the party, said there has not been enough discussion of the issue during the election campaign. Lang, who opposes the bill, said he would do anything to stop it from getting approval in the Senate.

Another with concerns about the draft is Jean-Marc Ayrault, president of the PSF parliamentary group, who said the Parliament was unwilling to make decisions on a matter of history.


French Fight Against PKK Just Beginning
Contrary to what is widely assumed to be the case in Turkey, a French investigation into the outlawed Kurdistan Workers' Party (PKK) has not come to a close and is in fact deepening.

"The real operation has just now started. If it finishes well, it will be the first decisive move made in Europe against the PKK," French sources close to the investigation said.

The French investigation, dubbed "Imrali" -- a reference to the island off Istanbul where PKK leader Abdullah Öcalan is serving a life sentence -- began last July when two members of the terrorist group were captured trying to change 200,000 euros into dollars at an exchange bureau in France. It later culminated into a crackdown on the group in February when the French police detained 16 people, including some suspected to be the senior leaders of the group in Europe. But initial contentment in Turkey later subsided, to be slowly replaced by disappointment when each and every one of the suspects detained as part of the crackdown, including a few sought on Interpol "red bulletins," were eventually released.

French sources indicate it could be too early to lose hope. "Though circles watching this terror group in Turkey think the operation here has finished already, it has not. It is continuing and deepening," said one source. The same sources noted if the PKK members were brought to trial and convicted, it would also be the first time in Europe that the PKK had been punished, something that would set a precedent for the continent.

According to the French sources, the questioning of the PKK members, including senior figures Riza Altun, Nedim Seven and Canan Kurtyilmaz, has started anew in recent days. The PKK members remain free pending trial for the moment, though they are forbidden from traveling outside of Paris. They have also been officially forbidden from meeting with one another and from going to Kurdish group meetings.

As part of the deepening investigation, a French delegation will also be traveling to Turkey. The delegation will have meetings in Istanbul, Ankara and Diyarbakir. Sources report the investigation also has active contacts in Germany and other EU countries.

Ankara had already requested the French government extradite to Turkey some of the PKK members caught in Paris. There have been no developments, however, on this front, which sources note is ultimately connected to “political will” in France and the interior minister may be moved to make a decision on this matter. Investigators and judges can only make suggestions on the matter of extradition.

Decision to let them go free was surprising

The unexpected freeing of the 16 suspected PKK members in France led to questions on whether this controversial decision was tied to political pressure in connection with the upcoming elections in France.

The decision by the Paris Appeals Court to free the PKK members caught at the end of an eight-month-long special operation by anti-terror units was of the greatest surprise to the anti-terror commissioners directing the investigation. The three commissioners and one prosecutor who appeared in court all requested that the PKK members remain imprisoned. At this point, anti-terror unit members in France had characterized the court’s decision as “inexplicable” and as a “baseless decision.”

In the case presented before the court, it was pointed out that not only is the PKK on the list of terror groups kept by EU countries, but some of the suspects arrested in the operation were at that time being sought by Interpol “red bulletins.”

A top level authority from the French Ministry of Justice, who did not want his name to be revealed, said the freeing of these suspects centered around two separate reasons. The most important reason for the freeing of the 16 was the disclosure, following the arrests, that the PKK had relations with the French domestic intelligence agency, the Direction de la Surveillance du Territoire (DST). It was similarly revealed that during the investigation PKK members had met at least once a month with the DST and offered information about their activities. Authorities note that PKK lawyers “played” this secret cooperation between the DST and the PKK “very well” while in court. Interestingly, this connection, a topic in the French press, was never officially denied by the DST.

Another important aspect to this operation underscored by French officials is the statement made by US Ambassador to Ankara Ross Wilson, following the raids in Paris, when Wilson asserted that the US too had played an effective role in the operation. This, according to French officials, “had a negative effect” on the operation. Authorities involved in the investigation note that there was an attempt by PKK lawyers, following the US ambassador’s comments, to assert that the operations had occurred because of pressure from the US. This, they say, was an attempt to “politicize” the matter. They note that at the time the US knew nothing time about the operation, which had begun in July of 2006, saying, “These statements left us in a difficult position in front of the court.”

Meanwhile, Ministry of Justice sources say that PKK lawyers “tried to pull the case out of the arena of terror and into the political arena by asserting that the questioned PKK members were working for the Kurdish cause in Turkey and that all Kurds in Turkey supported the PKK.”

Sources also indicate that in the coming days, certain political names and state authorities who had been quoted in this case may be called to “give testimony.” After the PKK arrests, it was noted in the press that presidential candidate Nicolas Sarkozy’s right-hand man, ethnic Armenian politician Patrik Devejian, had had long standing contacts with certain Kurdish groups in France.

‘Schizophrenic’ view

French authorities assert that the entire problem at this point stems from contradictions in the stance shown by EU countries toward the PKK as a whole. The PKK is in fact on the official EU list of terror groups. Despite this, most EU countries continue to ignore PKK activities within their own borders. What the EU has made clear is while this terror list is important for political and symbolic reasons, it holds no legal value. France, which has signed this list, has already given Riza Altun, a leading member of the France-based PKK group, the legal right to residency. It was only with Altun’s capture that it was discovered that he had an illegal status. Perhaps it is due to all this that one top level French official referred to the current situation involving the PKK as “schizophrenic.”


When France Says ‘No’
Not long ago, an American political analyst compared France’s loss of influence in Europe following its “No” vote in the 2005 referendum on the EU constitutional treaty with France’s surrender in 1940. A provocative analogy, but is it apt?

The collapse in 1940 revealed the fragility of France’s democracy and its loss of confidence in the country’s capacity to face outside threats. In rejecting the European constitution, France expressed its fear of, among other things, globalization.

A better analogy for the No vote was the rejection in 1954 of the treaty to establish a European Defense Community (EDC). In both cases, a major historical mistake was made. France had to a large extent initiated both treaties, had managed to get them accepted by its European partners, but in the end vetoed its own undertakings.

Why, in both 1954 and 2005, did the French - in one case the National Assembly, in the other the electorate - reject proposals that France itself had conceived? Both projects sought to construct a genuinely supranational Europe. The EDC would have created a European army, in which even German troops would have been included. The proposed defense treaty was also to be buttressed by plans for a European political community whose main features were to be defined by a constitutional commission made up of members of national parliaments. In effect, this commission would have been the precursor to the 2003-2004 Convention for the Future of Europe, which, presided over by former French President Valéry Giscard d’Estaing drafted the constitutional treaty.

The political community of the 1950’s that France had persuaded its five European partners to accept was supposed to absorb both the European Coal and Steel Community and the EDC. It was to have both diplomatic and military powers, as well as a legislative assembly much like today’s European Parliament - just as the 2005 EU constitutional plan would have extended the European Parliament’s powers and created a European minister of foreign affairs.

But now, as back then, fear and doubt won the day. Political parties and others who mobilized opposition to the EDC feared a remilitarized Germany and a threat to France’s sovereignty. Today, those in France who opposed the EU constitution succeeded in stigmatizing “Europe” as the threat. They trumpeted France’s invasion by “Polish plumbers,” calling into question Europe’s two principal achievements: the introduction of a single market, which has undeniably boosted the French economy, and EU enlargement, which has done so much to foster democratic transition in new member states.

But the failure of the referendum in France carries more serious consequences than the EDC’s rejection. Back in the 1950’s, the founding nations’ foreign ministers promptly turned to their Belgian colleague, Paul-Henri Spaak, for fresh proposals. After intensive discussion among the six, and especially between France and Germany, the Treaty of Rome was drawn up and signed within two years of the EDC debacle.

By contrast, two years after the French and Dutch No votes, there is no sign of a Plan B, despite the claims of the French politicians who helped mobilize the No vote. Europe’s Franco-German locomotive has broken down and ratification has stopped, even though member states that had yet to ratify the treaty could have completed the process of ratification.

France’s loss of influence in Europe is no longer at stake today, because the notion of influence presupposes that the overriding preoccupation of EU member states is to advance their own national interests. If Europe were only about gaining the upper hand, it would generate perpetual conflict. The reality is that Europe does manage to move ahead, but step by step through mutual compromise.

The real question has more to do with France’s credibility and its capacity to remain a driving force in Europe. A journalist recently expressed the view that France’s special role in Europe was due to its “centrality,” meaning that the French are, in equal measure, both open to the world and attached to their nation. They also participate successfully in a market economy while seeking to preserve an egalitarian social model.

The No vote sullied this image of a balanced France. Indeed, the French themselves are among the first to lament their bleak situation, inventing a new concept - “la déclinologie” - to describe this loss of self-confidence.

Moreover, the No vote has given a new legitimacy to euro-skepticism in other member states. To be sure, the rise of populism in Europe was not caused by the French; nationalism is deeply rooted in Europe’s history and has many causes. But France’s referendum result fueled other European governments’ fears that any new proposal they might put forward to re-launch the EU constitution would fail in the face of domestic and Europe-wide opposition.

But reducing European aspirations to the goals of Realpolitik is no answer to today’s crisis. Europeans need to recognize that strength lies in unity, and that Europe’s integration cannot be guaranteed without a common constitutional framework that promotes a common identity. Until we think in terms of European sovereignty, rather than fret over risks to national sovereignty, the present crisis cannot be overcome. © Project Syndicate / Europe’s World, 2007

*Noëlle Lenoir is France’s former Minister of European Affairs.



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