BY HARUT SASSOUNIAN
Flying to Armenia, French President Nicolas Sarkozy confided to his top aides last week: “I am going to toss a live grenade!” He was revealing his readiness to act firmly if Turkey continued to deny the Armenian Genocide.
Shortly after arriving in Yerevan, Pres. Sarkozy courageously declared before journalists assembled at the Armenian Genocide Monument: “The Armenian Genocide is a historic reality that was recognized by France. Collective denial is even worse than individual denial.” When asked if France would adopt a law to prosecute those who deny the Genocide, the French President stated: “If Turkey revisited its history, faced its bright and dark sides, this recognition of the Genocide would be sufficient. But if Turkey will not do that, then without a doubt it would be necessary to go further.”
As presidential candidate in 2007, Sarkozy promised to support the Senate’s adoption of a law criminalizing denial of the Armenian Genocide. The French Parliament had already approved such a bill in 2006. Yet, despite his pledge, Pres. Sarkozy’s ruling party blocked the bill’s adoption last May. While the French government banned denial of the Holocaust in 1990, it did not take a similar action on the Armenian Genocide, even though France had recognized it in 2001.
French-Armenians were incensed by Sarkozy’s betrayal. Singer Charles Aznavour publicly warned him that he would lose the support of 500,000 French-Armenians in next year’s presidential elections. Last month, the ARF of France endorsed the probable presidential candidacy of Socialist Francois Hollande after he promised that his party, which had recently gained majority of seats in the Senate, would vote for the bill banning denial of the Armenian Genocide. Hollande is currently far ahead of Sarkozy in opinion polls.
During his visit to Armenia last week, Pres. Sarkozy conveyed several important messages: He reassured Armenians of his intent to keep his initial pledge on the Genocide denial bill; warned Turkey to stop denying the Armenian Genocide; and indicated his clear sympathy for the Armenian position on Artsakh (Nagorno Karabagh).
The French President’s trip to the three Republics of the Caucasus was clearly lopsided in favor of Armenia — where he stayed overnight, while spending only three hours in Azerbaijan and Georgia. His brief stops in these two countries were simply an attempt to display a semblance of impartiality. Sarkozy’s first ever visit to Armenia was filled with festive events and dramatic gestures of friendship — planting a tree in memory of Armenian Genocide victims; laying a wreath at the Genocide Memorial, where he wrote in the Book of Remembrance — “France does not forget;” warning Turkey to acknowledge the Genocide by the year’s end; uttering the Armenian word “Tseghaspanutiun” (genocide) which Pres. Obama has declined to use; lighting a candle in Etchmiadzin; rejecting Turkey’s membership in the European Union; opening the Aznavour Museum overlooking Mt. Ararat; and donating a priceless Rodin statue to the Republic of Armenia.
Finally, a world leader has dared to put Turkey’s bullying rulers in their place! Turkish Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoglu reacted angrily by telling the French President to confront his country’s colonial past and not to teach Turkey a history lesson. Azerbaijan’s President, Ilham Aliyev, gave a cold shoulder to the French leader during his visit to Baku. An aide to Aliyev declared that his country does not share Sarkozy’s views on the Armenian Genocide. Davutoglu’s condescending words against France could well incite the French Senate into adopting the new Genocide law.
French Armenians are now in a win-win situation. Both leading presidential candidates are committed to supporting not only the law criminalizing denial of the Armenian Genocide, but also backing other pro-Armenian initiatives. No matter which one of the two candidates wins in next year’s French presidential elections, Armenians stand to gain!
However, given politicians’ long trail of broken promises, French-Armenians should not trust their word. They should make it clear to both candidates that Armenians would support whoever helps pass the genocide denial bill BEFORE next April’s presidential elections. It would be ideal if both candidates instructed their party’s Senators to vote for the bill now, leaving the French Armenian community with the pleasant dilemma of choosing between two supportive candidates in the presidential elections.
French-Armenians and American-Armenians may want to reverse the long-established but failed approach of supporting candidates first by trusting their promises, hoping that they would come through after the election. The new strategy should be: Once the President is elected and carries out his promises, only then the community would reward him with its support.