Sofia view: A new turn in Franco-Turkish relations


Yesterday the French Conseil Constitutionnel struck down the law criminalising the denial of the 1915 Armenian genocide, on grounds that it infringes the right to free expression. (You can read the decision here.)

The ruling is welcome as it takes a stand in favour of one of Europe’s fundamental values. If I were a Turk I’d envy the French for having a robust constitutional court dedicated to human rights and prepared to push back against political fiat. And also consider that yesterday’s judgment did not reverse the 2001 French recognition of what Armenians call Medz Yeghern (the Great Crime) as an act of genocide.That's also the case of EU members Belgium, Cyprus, Greece, Lithuania, Slovakia  and, hold your breath, a number ofTurkey's friends - Italy, Sweden and Poland. 43 US states have also passed resolutions to the same effect.

Turkish liberals, including the late Hrant Dink, have long claimed that coming to terms with what happened between 1915 and 1922 can also be done internally, not through external imposition, let alone criminalisation. I tend to agree. To give credit to Turkish intelligentsia,  there is a process of soul searching in place. Dink, assassinated by a nationalist youth in 2007, was at the forefront.  For those who want to find out more about how Turkey confronts the skeletons in its closet, do read ProfessorAyşe Kadıoğlu's essay in ECFR's What Does Turkey Think, as well as her interview with the leading Kurdish intellectual and journalist Orhan Miroğlu. There is plenty of Vergangenheitsbewältigung ahead, not least concerning violence in the 1980s and 1990s in the Kurdish-majority provinces (overlapping to the great extent with the areas affected by the 1915 massacres and deportations. For more read an excellent account by the Dutch-Kurdish academic Uğur Üngör). And Kurds, both liberal and nationalists, have apologised forthe central role played by Kurdish tribesmen in the uprooting of Anatolia’s Armenians. When more than 20,000 marched in Istanbul on 19 January to mark the anniversary of Dink’s death, you could see the now-familiar Turkish and Armenian-language slogans “We are all Hrant” and  “We are all Armenians” in Kurdish too.

Europe's friends in Turkey are surely breathing a sigh of relief, although Nicolas Sarkozy has now vowed to introduce a new piece of legislation along the lines of the act annulled by the high court. So expect no breakthrough. Even if a socialist enters the Élysée in May it will be no easy feat to mend the relationship between Ankara and Paris (as current FM Alain Juppé knows all too well, one of the first beneficiary of a positive turn will surely be the Syrian opposition. The EU and Turkey have lots to talk about on this front!). The real test case is whether France lifts its veto on four of the chapters in the EU accession negotiations that it has blocked unilaterally.

To end on a positive note, the Franco-Turkish economic relations continue to thrive, as the only way to cancel those is to break apart the EU-Turkey customs union. 


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