Hold on for a minute: is this still December 2011 (just) or are we already in April 2012? Before anyone assumes that I have taken complete leave of my senses, I am asking this question merely because of a recent hyper-inflation of stories in both the official media and blogosphere that are linked to the Armenian genocide of 1915.
This trend usually occurs nearer the annual anniversary date of 24 April and not at the end of the year when politicians are far more eager to rush back to their constituencies and rest after all the rampant mess they have caused over the past year.
However, December 2011 was somewhat different in that it was characterised by two key Armenian events - one in France and another in Israel. In France, the National Assembly - the lower house of parliament - approved a draft law that would criminalise the denial of the Armenian genocide.
Nonetheless, the Senate - the upper house of parliament - still needs to ratify the bill before it can ever become law. In fact, Bernard Accoyer, Speaker of the National Assembly, stated that such legislation was unlikely to be adopted by both houses of parliament before the forthcoming presidential elections.
The Turkish reaction to the vote was both disproportionate and vengeful when hackers crashed the website of the Senate in Paris. The site ended up showing a black screen signed by Iskorpit - allegedly the trademark of an infamous Turkish hacker who claims to have hijacked numerous websites under a Distributed Denial of Service (DDoS) attack in which thousands of hijacked computers bombard a website with demands for information, swamping it and effectively shutting it down. On the same day, the website of Valérie Boyer, the parliamentarian from President Sarkozy’s ruling UMP party who was the primary sponsor of the ‘genocide draft law’ was also hacked and started showing a black screen with a Turkish flag.
Hot on the heels of the vote in the French National Assembly, the Commission on Education, Culture and Sport in the Israeli Knesset [Parliament] also debated whether Israel should mark April 24 as a memorial day for “the massacre of the Armenian people”. Although a similar proposal had been rejected by the Knesset in 2007, Zahava Gal-On from the left-leaning Meretz party suggested that the colder diplomatic climate might mean that the measure could gain support this time round whilst the Knesset speaker Reuven Rivlin stressed that the issue was not a political one.
Apart from France and Israel, Milorad Dodik, Head of the Serbian Sector of Bosnia from the Serbian Independent Social-Democratic Party, also requested the Parliament of Bosnia and Herzegovina to discuss a bill prohibiting denial of the Armenian genocide. Nevertheless, there is little likelihood for the adoption of such a bill since the Serbian Social-Democrats have only 8 out of 42 seats in the Federal Parliament of Bosnia.
Let me posit four key points that I would argue are germane to the ongoing discourse over the issue of recognition.
• The timing of the debates in France and Israel reek of sheer political expediency. In France, President Sarkozy is anxiously courting the Armenian French votes in order to outdo François Hollande’s Socialist Party in the presidential elections of April-May 2012. In Israel, the resurgent enthusiasm toward the Armenian genocide is meant more as a potential threat - a red flag if you will - to Turkey ever since bilateral relations chilled following the Mavi Marmara flotilla incident of June 2010. Given the incontrovertible historical authenticity of the genocide, coupled with a strong collective anamnesis, should Armenian nationalism and faithfulness to their identity accept their ‘cause’ to be crassly marketed with such animated toadying in a political bazaar that debases the memory of their murdered ancestors? Is it not clear that the Israeli Knesset or the French Senate will not deliver the goods? Even the Serbian proposal is more a spike against Croats and Bosnians than any real solidarity with Armenians.
• Given the strategy pursued so far by many Armenians, what is the long-term objective of those recognitions? Armenian and Turkish emotions vacillate every time this issue comes up, but have the 21 state recognitions to date achieved any discernible or concrete result in a geopolitical sense? Is it not perhaps time to think more laterally?
• All the bluster from Turkey’s irascible Prime Minister - with his comparisons to Algeria or his diplomatic sanctions against France - claim a fury with the French for daring to criminalise the denial of genocide. However, the blatant irony and dubious double-standards lie in the fact that Turkey itself has already criminalised genocide recognition in its Penal Code and has wantonly gaoled those who have referred to the Armenian experience as genocide.
• Almost a century after this genocide, should Armenians go down the road of muzzling freedom of expression - a fundamental right that the whole Middle East and North Africa population is dying for these days? Should one encourage legislating thought and thereby accepting the limits of freedom of expression? Mind you, given the horrific scale of the crime, this sensitive issue becomes laden with profound moral, ethical, legal, political and psychological implications. Is it perhaps not wiser to rely upon oneself and adopt a pan-Armenian strategy that uses a sharper national compass?
In a nutshell, should recognition not pass directly and unfailingly through Turkey rather than meander hither and thither?
© Harry Hagopian is an international lawyer, ecumenist and EU political consultant. He also acts as a Middle East and inter-faith advisor to the Catholic Bishops’ Conference of England & Wales and as Middle East consultant to ACEP (Christians in Politics) in Paris. He is an Ekklesia associate and regular contributor (http://www.ekklesia.co.uk/HarryHagopian). Formerly an Executive Secretary of the Jerusalem Inter-Church Committee and Executive Director of the Middle East Council of Churches, he is now an international fellow, Sorbonne III University, Paris, consultant to the Campaign for Recognition of the Armenian Genocide (UK) and author of The Armenian Church in the Holy Land. Dr Hagopian’s own website is www.epektasis.net