The relationship between the two countries is so deep that France was amongst the first countries to recognise the genocide of the Armenian people at the hands of the Turks, and the National Assembly has just passed a law which makes it illegal to deny the massacre. What does being Armenian mean today in France?
It means feeling like you belong to a millennial people with an extremely rich culture and history; however it also means feeling deeply attached to countries of the diaspora, places where the Armenians have found refuge since the genocide in 1915. We often say that we’re one hundred percent Armenian and one hundred percent French.
How big is your diaspora?
Today over three million Armenians are spread around the world, the same as the number of people who live in the Republic of Armenia. This spread happened in several phases, but it is essentially composed of survivors of the genocide who found refuge in Europe, Latin America, North America and in the Middle East. Over the last decade, after the fall of the Berlin wall and the independence of an ex-sovietic Armenia, there has been an important economical migratory flow, especially towards Russia. However, the Armenian diaspora is more than a series of common national demands for their identity: Turkey’s recognition of the Armenian genocide and the independence of the land given to Azerbaijan (especially Karabakh) by Stalin; it is also a series of values, a language and a common history.
Which cause does your organisation defend?
The Armenian cause is a series of demands which go back to the nineteenth century and which aim to insure the security of the Armenian people and their hopes in deciding their own destiny. This has grafted the foundation for the legal questions related to the lack of recognition, on Turkey’s part, of the genocide perpetrated by the Turkish authorities between 1915 and 1923, and related to current negational state politics. Fighting for the Armenian cause also means defending the independence of Armenia with regards attacks by neighbouring countries: the block of Turkey and Azerbaijan, threats to Armenian minorities in Georgia, controlling the conflict in High Karabakh, the destruction of the Armenian cultural heritage in Nikhitchevan, etc… Finally, I would say that the Armenian cause is also a destined community which unites Armenophiles and defenders of human rights all over the world, so that justice is rendered to this martyred people. If we go back to France at the beginning of the last century, I can think of one example which is the ProArmenia association, whose members included Jean Jaures, Anatole France and Georges Clemenceau.
The French National Assembly has recently approved a law against the denial of the Armenian genocide, which has caused wide discussion especially amongst those who have imposed a limit on the freedom of expression. What are your thoughts on this?
It is a law on civil peace. Legislation already protects citizens against defamation, racism, xenophobia and in the same way, it is logical that it should protect against the worst degradation which can be done to a people, which is denying its own memory and own history. It is not a law which disputes the freedom of expression. It is quite the opposite, in that it protects historians and researchers from attacks by negational groupuscules. Furthermore, I do not think it can be said to be a law which writes history, because the history of the Armenian genocide has already been written by historians and diplomats since 1915. It is not even a law against the Turkish people, but rather, against the denial by the Turkish States, which finances and manipulates centres of misinformation all over the world.
The president of the Republic, Jacques Chirac, was rather against the law, for a question of opportunity towards Turkey. Do you not think that this law might radicalise Turkey’s position on the genocide?
First of all, Turkey has to understand that the movement towards recognition of the Armenian genocide is unmoveable because it responds above all, to justice and to an historical truth universally recognised. In Turkey itself there is a movement of intellectuals who are fighting so that light may be shone on this painful page in history. The Turkish State can continue to blackmail politically, diplomatically or economically, but it cannot stop the road towards the truth. Our only fear concerns the risks which the intellectuals take, as shown by the assassination of Hrant Dink. Here, still, it is Turkey who controls the debate through murder and the stigmatisation of intellectuals and citizens of Armenian origin.
Being a French Armenian, what is your opinion on Turkey joining the European Union?
It might surprise you, but I am in fact in favour of Turkey’s candidacy to joining the European Union. Neither the geographic questions, nor the cultural or religious ones make good arguments for rejecting its adhesion. However, this certainly does not mean that Europe should reject its own values and accept an unconditional adhesion. There are three criteria which will allow Turkey to show Europe that they are able to be part of the European consensus: recognition of the Armenian genocide, regulation of the Cyprus issue and the protection of minorities in Turkey, above all Kurds and Armenians. Moreover, I believe that the keystone for the Turkish is the Armenian genocide: if they recognised it, they could enter the European Union within the next three years.
Translation by Sonia Ter Hovanessian