At a meeting of the Armenian Organisations of France Coordination Council (CCAF) he attended on February 6th 2019, French President Emmanuel Macron declared April 24th to be the day for commemorating the alleged “Armenian Genocide”. Turkey did not waste time in reacting, and a statement by Presidential Spokesperson İbrahim Kalın presented a tough response to Macron’s announcement. Kalın underlined that the decision was “void” for Turkey, by stating the following:

 

“Allegations of so-called Armenian Genocide are a political lie that has no legal basis and that contradicts historical facts.   They are void as far as Turkey is concerned. Those who fled from the call by President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan to establish a Joint History Commission to shed light on the facts are trying to manipulate historical events.”[1]

 

While unfounded claims of genocide have found place in Macron’s electoral manifesto and are being used as a political tool within France and a point of pressure against Turkey, the Khojaly Genocide which was perpetrated by Armenians against Azerbaijanis 27 years ago, on February 26th 2019 still awaits justice being served. While an attitude that manipulates history through Armenian diaspora propaganda continues in France, it is time to remember what the French press had written about Khojaly. The March 14th 1992 issue of the famous French daily Le Monde noted the following about what happened in Khojaly, where 613 people, 106 of them women and 83 of them children were killed:

 

“Members of the press in Aghdam saw three people who had been scalped and whose nails had been removed among the women and children killed in Khojaly. This is not Azerbaijani propaganda but fact.[2]

 

Despite the years passed, Khojaly still awaits justice. French President Macron’s “April 24th” announcement not only misrepresents historical facts but has an impact on processes that continue at present.

 

Violation of the Neutrality of the Minsk Group

 

France is one of the co-presidents of the Organisation for Security and Cooperation in Europe’s (OSCE) Minsk Group that was established for a legal solution to the Karabakh issue that is a “frozen conflict” between Azerbaijan and Armenia. Just a few months ago, in November 2018, the so-called President Bako Sahakyan of the occupation government in Karabakh visited France, causing great discomfort in Azerbaijan. The meeting of the leader of a separatist regime established on land that legally belongs to Azerbaijan with French MPs presents a contradiction to France’s status as a co-president of the Minsk Group, according to Matt Bryza who formerly served as the president of the group.[3] In keeping with previous French decisions and steps, Macron’s recent announcement shows once more that France is no longer neutral and raises doubts as to any conclusions that can be obtained through the Minsk Group.

 

A Hazardous Threshold: Threatening the Freedom of Expression

 

A history of the policies followed by France regarding the so-called genocide shows that France accepted the Events of 1915 as “genocide” in 2001. This has led to challenging the freedom of expression, one of the fundamental values of the European Union of which France is a member. The French National Assembly and Senate have accepted a proposed bill that makes it a punishable crime to deny the so-called genocide. This was brought before the French Constitutional Court with Turkey’s initiative and the court ruled in early 2017 that the law presented a “disproportionate assault on the freedom of expression.” An event that took place in 2013 in the French National Assembly, which not only hurt the country’s relations with Turkey but also its legal norms by ratifying the “denial law” shows that the Armenian diaspora in France can openly turn to violence in order to cover up what happened in Khojaly. During a meeting of the National Assembly, Tashnak organisation member Armenians had attacked Mirvari Fataliyeva and Vusal Huseynov, who reminded those present that it was the anniversary of the events at Khojaly and the two people barely escaped with their lives.[4] This is a clear indication of how denial of unfounded allegations of genocide can be made a punishable crime while not a word on the genocide in Khojaly is allowed and is a sign of the dangerous threshold France has arrived at.

 

The Convention on the Prevention and Punishment of the Crime of Genocide was accepted by the United Nations in 1948. As per the general legal principle of non-retrospectivity, events that took place in 1915 cannot be assessed in terms of the 1948 law.

 

Brothers in Victory and Sorrow: Turkey and Azerbaijan

 

It must be said that Azerbaijani society has also reacted strongly to anti-Turkish decisions being taken in France and the necessary steps have been taken at the state level. The President’s Office has announced that the “denial law” is wrong and that it would negatively affect French-Azerbaijani relations, a letter was sent to the French Senate signed by all MPs in the Azerbaijani National Assembly after a special session and the foreign ministry has also reacted. Azerbaijan has stood together with Turkey at the social level throughout this process. Non-governmental organisations in Azerbaijan have held protests outside the French Embassy in Baku. In 2012, the 20th anniversary of the Khojaly Genocide and the year in which the law violating freedom of expression as described above was accepted in France, Zarife Guliyeva, who lost 22 relatives, including her father at the genocide in Khojaly when she was still a baby sent an open letter to French President Nicolas Sarkozy, the relevant section of which is given below:

 

“I would like to believe that you and the Union for a Popular Movement, which you lead, will initiate discussion of a law on the recognition of the Khojaly Genocide in the French Senate. By doing this you would be able to change the latest impression, formed in Azerbaijan, about you and refute talk about your direct dependence on the Armenian diaspora and lobby in the French Senate. You left this impression on the Azerbaijani people especially after you initiated the adoption of the draft law on the arrest and punishment of those who do not consider the 1915 incidents during the Ottoman Empire as genocide against Armenians. Presidents come and go, but it is the politicians who leave their names in history through their actions. Your personal initiative on a fair assessment by the French Senate of those who committed genocide against the civilian Azerbaijani population in Khojaly would be a good opportunity for your name to remain in the history of Azerbaijani-French relations.”[5]

 

Zarife Guliyeva’s demands were not met in France and it does not appear that they will be met soon. Looking at developments from the perspective of Turkish-Azerbaijani ties, it can be seen that the two fraternal countries that celebrate their victories together as was the case in the ceremonies marking the 100th anniversary of the liberation of Baku last year, can share their sorrows and stand shoulder to shoulder against injustice. The Grand National Assembly of Turkey has held special sessions on what happened in Khojaly and the Commission on Foreign Affairs has most strongly condemned the massacre of Azerbaijani Turks perpetrated by Armenians. In addition, many local administrations and non-governmental organisations have taken decisions to recognise what happened in Khojaly as genocide and exhibitions, conferences and symposiums were held in every city in Turkey to recount the human suffering in Khojaly. Beyond this, initiatives were taken for the diaspora of member states of the Turkish Council to act together and a decision was taken at the Fifth Meeting of the Diaspora Contact Group of the Turkish Council held in Baku in February to mark the Khojaly Genocide with more attention drawing events around the world. At the meeting, Fuad Muradov, President of the Republic of Azerbaijan State Committee on Diaspora Affairs said that the victims of Khojaly were commemorated every year around the world, especially in countries speaking Turkic languages and that these activities should be prepared in cooperation.[6] At this point, the participation of Turkish citizens in the Karabakh Rally held in Brussels this year was an important development for better advocating for Karabakh before the European public and policy makers.

 

Evaluation

 

Criticism of Turkey by France, which has caused much blood and tears to be spilled through its imperialist policies, as in Algeria and Rwanda, over allegations of genocide is completely unreasonable. On the other hand, this attitude by France makes the solution of the Karabakh issue more difficult. As the most important capital the Armenian diaspora has is “opposition to Turkey”, this group’s initiatives will continue. There have also been and there will always be politicians willing to sacrifice historical accuracy to their political ambitions. What matters is how Turkey and Azerbaijan convey their theses to the world. To this end a “three-dimensional approach to history” needs to be adopted. In addition to an academic approach based on historical documents, human stories need to be brought forward to convey the suffering that was inflicted, while cautionary and action plans need to be formed to guide political activities. Azerbaijani efforts to get what happened in Khojaly accepted as genocide around the world, which has been a prominent point in foreign policy since 2011, are an example to the political action plans. Political measures can be taken to prevent decisions against Turkish theses and the international law, as in the example of France. Coordinated cooperation in the activities of Turkey and Azerbaijan is significant for the more effective communication of historical facts. It is known that the representatives of the two states act together. Ensuring that the diasporas act together too will yield to better results than at present.

 

(This article was published in the March 2019 issue of The Diplomatic Observer.
For Turkish version: http://turksam.org/macronun-yalani-ve-hocali-gercegi)

 

[1] Official website of the Office of the President of Turkey, 6 February, https://www.tccb.gov.tr/cumhurbaskanligi-sozculugunden/1695/101854/cumhurbaskanligi-sozcusu-buyukelci-ibrahim-kalin-in-fransa-cumhurbaskani-macron-un-sozde-ermeni-soykirimi-anma-gunu-ilani-hakkinda-aciklamasi (Accessed: 20 February 2019)

[2] Le Monde, 14 March 1992.

[3] Bryza Says French MPs’ Meeting Sahakyan Would Contradict Paris’s MG Co-chair Status, News.az, 17 November 2018, https://news.az/articles/politics/135265, Accessed: 21 February 2018.

[4] Paris’te İki Azeriye Hocalı Dayağı, İnternet Haber, 27 February 2013, https://www.internethaber.com/pariste-iki-azeriye-hocali-dayagi-507968h.htm, Accessed: 20 February 2018.

[5] 3 Generations 1 Genocide in Karabakh, TÜRKSAM Publications, 2014, pp. 32-33.

[6] Turkish Council Official Website, 9 February 2019, http://www.turkkon.org/tr-TR/uye-devletlerin-diaspora-kurumlari-arasinda-tecrube-degisimi-programi-ve-turk-konseyi-besinci-diaspora-temas-grubu-toplantisi-8-9-subat-2019-tarihlerinde-baku%60de-gerceklestirildi/54/5101 (Accessed: 21 February 2019)