Turkish newspaper Sozcu’s depiction of French president Sarkozy
If you’re wondering why a picture of the (current) French president Nicholas Sarkozy has been Grinch-ified by the Turkish press and, more importantly, why Turkey has threatened to sanction France, then you probably haven’t heard about the French Parliament recently passing the “Armenian Genocide” bill.
Contrary to what it sounds like, the French are not advocating genocide, but rather making it a crime to deny officially recognized genocides, including the pre-WWI Armenian Genocide carried out (although they deny it) by the Ottoman Empire.
So, why are the Turkish so upset at the French? Well, a brief background to get you started:
According to most historians, California state standards for history, the Armenians and — of course — the French, during WWI the Ottoman Empire killed 1.5 million Armenians. This was one of the first documented uses of concentration camps and gas chambers, and the first genocide of the 20th century. After WWI, the Ottoman Empire began to crumble and was essentially divided up by the European powers. The Turkey (country, not bird) we know today has it’s roots in and identifies with the Ottoman Empire, but — after the secularization and Westernization of the country by Ataturk in the 1930s — it’s a wildly different country than the Ottoman Empire was.
However, for Turks the issue of the Armenian Genocide is hugely contentious. Turkey denies that it was a genocide, saying they only killed 500,000 Armenians and not in a systematic way; it is a very, very sensitive subject in the country and horribly insulting to the Turkish. Even today, far away in the US, relations between 2nd and 3rd generation Turks and Armenians still are tense and often violent. (I have an Armenian friend who lies about his ethnicity to everyone because there’s a high Turkish population and he doesn’t want to get attacked.)
Turkey says that the French law is discriminatory, racist and an impediment to free speech and historians should be the ones to decide history, not politicians. France has mostly ignored them.
Why is France being so obtuse in the matter?
There is, of course, the lingering memories in France and the rest of Europe of the Holocaust. Holocaust denials strike a sore spot in Europe (Iran, we’re looking at you).
More importantly, at least to French politicians, the French elections are quickly approaching. With this law, Sarkozy is appealing to the high French-Armenian population in the country, as well as pandering to the country’s “Islamaphobia”— or, rather, the fear of that the country is being “Islamified.” France has never been particularly receptive to foreigners, especially those from the Middle East, because immigrant populations often threaten to outnumber native French citizens. The French, not surprisingly, want to protect their culture and thus are notoriously hostile to any foreign elements. Thus, Armenian genocide bill.
As for Turkish-French relations, well they seem to be going downhill (shock). Turkey has threatened to sanction France and withdraw its ambassador from the country. France is ignoring Turkish protests at this point, and Sarkozy says he plans to sign the bill into law in two weeks time.
Just another “that awkward moment when …”
(Source: The New York Times)