BY HARUT SASSOUNIAN
Armenians in France and throughout the world reacted with utter indignation against the Constitutional Council’s scandalous decision rejecting the Genocide denial bill.
The National Assembly and Senate recently adopted a bill that would set a penalty of a year in jail and $60,000 fine for anyone denying the genocides recognized by the French government. France officially recognizes the Jewish Holocaust and the Armenian Genocide.
Even though the bill did not specifically mention the Armenian Genocide, the Turkish government did everything short of declaring war against France to undermine its adoption, thereby identifying itself as the perpetrator of one of the two genocides. After failing to block the adoption of the bill by the two chambers of the French legislature, Turkey and Azerbaijan, its junior partner in the crime of genocide denial, left no stone unturned to have the law declared unconstitutional.
Turkey applied all kinds of pressure on French legislators to collect the necessary 60 or more signatures needed to appeal the adopted bill to the Constitutional Council. Ironically, while the Turkish government was announcing a boycott of French companies, a Turkish group was hiring a high-powered French lobbying firm to assist in the hunt for signatures. Azerbaijan joined in this sinister lobbying effort by inviting six French Senators to Baku to collect their rewards for having signed the appeal! By hook or crook, the Turkish authorities and their French surrogates succeeded in enticing 142 of over 900 members of the French legislature to file an appeal with the Constitutional Council on January 31, 2012.
Clearly, this was an unacceptable intrusion into France’s domestic affairs. Rather than allowing the Turkish Ambassador to pressure members of the legislature to sign the appeal to the Constitutional Council, France should have expelled him for violating his diplomatic mandate! Turkey should not be permitted to dictate French laws!
The Constitutional Council is a hodge-podge of 11 retired individuals of various backgrounds. It includes two French Presidents, two judges, three legislators, and four government officials. A major controversy erupted when a French newspaper revealed that several members of the Council, including its Chairman, had serious conflict of interest problems in reaching a fair decision. Some had made prejudicial statements on this issue while serving in the legislature, others have business ties with Turkey, and most shockingly, one of them, Hubert Haenel, is a member of the Bosphorus Institute — a French-Turkish “think tank” that lobbied against the genocide denial bill!
Under such scandalous conditions, most Council members should have disqualified themselves from sitting in judgement on this issue. After these embarrassing disclosures, two Council members withdrew from deliberating on the genocide bill, and former Pres. Jacques Chirac was reportedly too ill to attend the session.
The Constitutional Council’s eight remaining members ruled on February 28, 2012 that the bill penalizing genocide denial approved by the Parliament and Senate was unconstitutional because it violated French laws on freedom of speech!
This was a shocking decision for two reasons: 1) Several members of the Constitutional Council violated the law themselves by sitting in judgment on an issue in which they had a clear bias or conflict of interest; and 2) They ruled the genocide denial bill to be unconstitutional supposedly because it restricted free speech, while leaving intact another law that penalized denial of the Holocaust. The Council members failed to explain why penalizing denial of the Armenian Genocide was a restriction on freedom of expression while penalizing denial of the Jewish Holocaust was not! All genocide victims merit equal protection under the law. There should be no double standards!
Unlike the United States, France has several laws that restrict freedom of expression. Why is that when it comes to punishing deniers of the Armenian Genocide, the Council members all of a sudden become staunch defenders of free speech?
French Armenians should take up all legal and political measures to reverse the Council’s unfair and illegal decision. They could file a lawsuit with the European Court of Human Rights against the Constitutional Council as well as introduce a new bill in the French legislature.
Since the two leading French Presidential candidates have pledged to bring up this bill again after the upcoming elections, this issue will not go away until a law is adopted penalizing Armenian Genocide denial. Turkey must not be allowed to export its denialist policies to European shores!