Here we go again or “Deja vu”

Posted on January. 25. 2018

The Armenian community of France is planning to once again introduce the issue of criminalizing the denial of the Armenian Genocide into the agenda in 2018, Harut Martirosyan, Chairman of the Armenian National Committee of France told ARMENPRESS. “We are actively working with lawyers. We will definitely find a solution to once again bring the issue to the agenda”.

When I read this statement I could not help myself to say, “here we go again”, due to the fact that this issue of criminalizing the denial of the Armenian Genocide in France has a long history of trials and – failures.

Basically, this issue has been a “confrontation” between the three constitutional branches of the Republic of France. The Legislative and the Executive branches more than once approved laws that make it a crime to deny the Armenian Genocide and each time the Judicial branch, the Constitutional Court, ruled that the laws were unconstitutional.

In 2017 after the French Parliament had passed a law to make it a crime to deny the Armenian Genocide, the French Constitutional Council ruled that the criminalization of denying the Armenian genocide was unconstitutional and against freedom of speech and rescinded the law.

A similar law was also rescinded in 2012 during the former President Nicolas Sarkozy’s term in office again by the French Constitutional Court.

If a similar law is passed again to criminalize the denial of the Armenian Genocide in France, any publicity-seeking Turkish nationalist, or any “historian”,  will challenge it in various courts under the pretext of an “attack against freedom of speech” and have not only all the publicity he/she wants, but also become a “hero” in Turkey as well.

A case in point is a Turkish nationalist politician Dogu Parinchek’s case started around 2007. At the time he was a member of the Turkish Parliament and the leader of a nationalist Turkish Party. He denied the Armenian Genocide in Switzerland fully aware that, he was committing a crime by breaking the law of  Switzerland that banned the denial of the Armenian Genocide. Needless to say, he was convicted in the Swiss court of justice.

After losing 2 appeals in Switzerland he appealed it to the European Court of Human Rights and they ruled that the Swiss law is an  “unnecessary and disproportionate attack against freedom of speech”. Parinchek won.

Swiss government appealed the decision to the Grand Chamber of the  European Court of Human Rights and the Grand Chamber in 2014 upheld the decision and thus he won again.

During this 7 year-long process the case was extensively reported in the media and Perinchek returned to Turkey not only as a “hero” for nationalist Turks but also as a champion of the – freedom of speech that he was not.

Although this case was between the Swiss government and Perinchek, the Armenian government, and at least two Armenian organizations from Diaspora, the Armenian National Comity, and Zoryan Institute, were also involved. They hired and paid for, prominent lawyers to help the Swiss government’s no less prominent lawyers to win the case. They failed and Perinchek won the case again.  The other winners of course were the -“prominent” lawyers with their hefty fees.

All legalities aside, I think we will be wasting our precious time and money “actively working with lawyers to once again bring the issue to the agenda”. Even if the law did get approved this time around (I very much doubt it) it will not help to stop the deniers of the Armenian Genocide to continue to deny the Armenian Genocide.

The best way to stop the deniers is to destroy their credibility with facts. If it is an academic who is denying it, it is up to the qualified academics to destroy its academic credibility within the Academia.

If it is a politician who is denying it, it is up to the politicians and professional journalists to destroy his/her credibility with facts. If it is a “crack head” who is denying it, just ignore him/her and deny them any publicity that they are after.

(President of Armenia on January 24 at the PACE meeting in Strasbourg, discredited the Azerbaijani delegate’s lies with facts, and he did it on the spot so to speak, calmly, and assertively. Mission accomplished. Thank you).

In the past, our campaign against the Turks has been to vilify them on any occasion that avails itself. In retaliation, Turks have done the same thing. There has been hardly any progress between this “Two Close Peoples and Two Distant Neighbors” as late Hrant Dink said and titled his only published book.

Being neighbors is a fact that we cannot change, but we could do something about bringing together the people. I know it is not easy to erase centuries-old hatred between these two peoples. It is a challenge and a big one too.

The governments and their citizens on both sides of the border have to do their part, and the people on both sides of the “fences” in the Armenian and Turkish Diaspora(s) have to do their parts as well, especially so for the new generations.

The process could start by becoming less confrontational and more in a mood of cooperation on both sides of the “fences”. We have to work hard, very hard, to overcome age-old confrontations and hatred and create the ground for a positive dialogue between these two peoples that are destined to live as two close neighbors.

Zohrab Bebo Sarkissian.


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