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Facts and Comments

Retired Ambassador Ömer Engin LÜTEM*
Armenian Studies, Issue 1, March -April - May 2001

 .Gù!°="justify">This article will briefly deal with and comments the events related to the "Armenian Issue" which has occurred within the first four months of the year 2001.

1. The recognition of the Armenian "genocide" by France

The French parliament has adopted a law on January 18, 2001 consisting of this sentence: "France recognizes the Armenian "genocide" of 1915".

This law as a draft has been adopted at first on May 29, 1998 by 29 votes at the French parliament which has 577 seats. Turkey gave a protest note to the French government concerning this issue. On the other hand the Turkish parliament took a decision to invalidate this draft. Moreover the military projects with France were suspended. Turkey’s reactions postponed the final adoption of this draft for about two and a half years by the French senate.

However with the coming municipality elections of March 2001, the senate begun to discuss the draft and adopted it by 164 votes to 40 at November 8, 2001. The Turkish Ministry of Foreign Affairs rejected and condemned this decision by a press release.

The Turkish parliament adopted a similar resolution on January 9, 2001. Despite of this, the draft has been once again adopted by 52 votes at the French parliament on January 18. With the approval of President Chirac, it became affective by January 30.

There are several reasons for the adoption of this law. Contrary to Ter Petrosyan’s period, during the presidency of Kocharian, Armenia cooperating with the diaspora, gave priority to the recognition of the Armenian "genocide". This has put a pressure on France which possesses an Armenian minority. The second reason is the belief that as Turkey needs the support of France for her relations with the European Union, her reaction would not be too strong to the law concerning the "genocide". The third reason is that, as the words Turk or Turkey was not mentioned in the law and as the year 1915 is stated, it was thought that there would be no association made with modern Turkey.

After the adoption of the law the Turkish government has publised a declaration which rejected and condemned it. The President condemned the law aswell. The Minister of the Foreign Affairs has stated that this law may activate Armenian terrorism again and asked for the protection of the Turkish citizens and diplomats in France. There has been contacts with Azerbaijan concerning the role of France in the Minsk Group. Economic sanctions against France has been discussed and according to the press the suspension of the purchase of weapons and military supplies were considered. The Turkish televisions and newspapers have dwelled on that matter and criticized France. The most severe criticism came from the trade unions. Furthermore there has also been some suggestions to cancel the teaching of the French language.

A short while after the adoption of the law the official visit of Kocharian to France, the authorization for a "genocide" monument in Paris, the inauguration of a stele concerning "genocide" at the garden of the building where the Sévres Treaty was signed, the disorders which was created by the French Armenians on March 13, 2001 at the football match of Galatasaray- St Germain in Paris and lastly the release from prison of one of the perpetrators of the Orly "massacre", Varujan Garbisian, just before 24th of April caused further tensions between Turkey and France.

It is obvious that this situation is not in favor of the two countries. Turkey should accept that the law concerning the "genocide" is a fact. As for France the miscalculations she made led to political and economical damages for her. Reconciliation of the two sides depends on the attitude of France. If France will continue to be in favor of Turkey in the European Union’s matters and if she could convince Turkey that the law in question is not concerning modern Turkey, therefore, Turkey should not insist on the economic sanctions.

According to some articles of the Turkish press published after the adoption of the law in question, to claim on French soil that there has never been an Armenian "genocide" would constitude an offense. However in law no penalty is mentioned. A punishment on this subject should require a special article in the French Criminal Law or in "Gaysot" law which concerns the negation of Jewish genocide.

The famous oriental ist and historian Bernard Lewis has been condemned according to the French Civil Law to pay one French franc indemnity for the fact that he denied the Armenian genocide and thus morally damaged the Armenian Community. As the Turkish Civil Law has a similar article on moral damage it should be possible, in principle, to sue in Turkey those who would claim that an Armenian genocide took place.

After the adoption of the French law, the Turkish National Assembly’s Foreign Affairs Commission has prepared a draft of "Law against International Diffamation, Accusation and Manipulations". This draft rejects allegations of Armenian "genocide" and considers these allegations as hostile acts.

2. The declarations of Kocharian: Recognition of the "genocide", indemnity and territorial demand

At an interview on the CNN/Türk, the President of Armenia said that if Turkey recognizes the Armenian "genocide" and apologizes for it this will not create a legal ground for territorial demand or compensation from Turkey.

What was Kocharian’s reason to make this declaration? The recent decisions of some parliaments concerning the recognition of Armenian "genocide" may arouse the opinion that Turkey is ready to negotiate the issue. Kocharian might have thought that if he insists on the territorial demands and on compensation foreign powers would not help Armenia on that matter and under these conditions Turkey will accept to negotiate. To overcome these objections, he most probably thought that in return of a recognition and an apology he will abandon territorial demand and compensation.

One should emphasize on that subject that Armenia has no legal right for territorial demand or compensation. For this reason recognition and apology for the "genocide" is out of the question for Turkey. Furthermore some parliaments recent decisions for the recognition of the Armenian "genocide" has created a very negative impact on Turkish public opinion, making impossible any kind of recognition.

Turkey wants to establish its relations with Armenia on the universally accepted principles of good neighborliness and respect of territorial integrity.

Armenia’s Human Rights Commission Chairman Paruyir Hayrikian requested on March 9, 2001 the annulation of the Kars Treaty of March 16, 1921 and the annexation of Kars, Ardahan and Nahchivan to Armenia. This declaration caused reactions from the Turkish and the Armenian governments. The spokesman of the Turkish Foreign Affairs said that as long as there are such requests, the Turkish - Armenian relations will not normalize. The Armenian Foreign Affairs spokesman said that these words do not reflect the Armenian foreign policy.

3. Developments of the Karabagh problem

The plans presented to both sides by the Minsk Group from 1997 till the present concerning the Karabagh problem was made public at Azerbaijan on February 21, 2001. The Azerbaijani parliament discussed this matter for two days. The opposition parties which did not participate to the meeting, suggested a military solution for Karabagh.

Aliyev and Kocharian who had a meeting with the participation of president Chirac on March 4-5, 2001 has not reached an agreement.

The Azerbaijan and the Armenia presidents met again at Key West, Florida on April 3-7, 2001 and decided to have further meetings at Geneva in June.

Minsk Group which has been established by OSCE is trying to solve the Karabagh problem. Later the group initiative has passed on to its copresidents consisting of USA, Russian Federation and to France. These countries are more inclined to Armenia then to Azerbaijan. At the USA and at France there are influent Armenian minorities. As for Russia, she is in strategic cooperation with Armenia and has military bases in that country. Therefore the fact that these three countries are responsible to find a solution to the Karabagh problem is not in favor of Azerbaijan. However as for the time being the only international mechanism is the Minsk Group, a balance should be brought to this group. This could be realized by the election of a new co-president who will defend the Azeri views. The only available candidate for the task is Turkey.

On the other hand conditions for a permanent peace should be created. The core of the conflict between Armenia and Azerbaijan is due to their artificial borders. These borders which were established at the time of the Soviet Union intended to have an ethnically non-homogeneous society at both countries. In our opinion the only solution to Armenia-Azerbaijan conflict is to abandon these artificial borders and draw new ones based on ethnicity.

Turkish Minister of Foreign Affairs ?smail Cem, said on February 17, 2001, that a meeting should be held among Turkey, Armenia and Azerbaijan in order to accelerate the solution of the problems between Armenia and Azerbaijan. This proposal, which at first the Armenians did not find convenient, could create a working frame which would unable the discussions of not only the Azeri and Armenian problems but at the same time Turkish-Armenian issues.

4. A new approach to the Armenian issue

Mr. Gündüz Aktan, retired Ambassador and columnist, proposed in his articles and at interviews to the press that the allegation of Armenian genocide should be studied from the legal point of view. The interested sides, that is Armenia and Turkey, may apply to the International Court of Justice in order that the Court determines whether the events of 1915 were considered to be a genocide. Another alternative is for both sides to appeal to the arbitrage. In case of the subject matter is taken to the International Court of Justice or to the arbitrage, it will not be logical for any parliament to take any decision concerning the Armenian "genocide".

5. The countries who refused to recognize the "genocide": Russia, Switzerland and Slovakia

During the period of the first three months of 2001, Russia, Switzerland and Slovakia refused to recognize the Armenian "genocide". However Russia’s Duma had taken in 1995 a decision on the recognition of the Armenian "genocide" which should be still valid.

After many attempts the Swiss parliament discussed on 13 Mart 2001 the Armenian "genocide" issue but refused the recognition by three votes.

In a letter of the Slovakian president’s office received by an Armenian news agency, the characteristics of the 1915’s events should be defined by historians.

6. The message of President Bush

On the occasion of April 24, it is a custom for the American presidents to publish a message. Although the Armenians in the USA put pressure on President Bush in order that he uses the word "genocide" in his message, to their great disappointment, the president did not use the word "genocide" not even "massacres" in his message and he qualified the events as "killings".

7. Strengthening of Kocharian’s situation

After the assassinations of the Parliament Chairman Karen Demirdjian and the Prime Minister Vazgen Sarkisian in the National Assembly’s building on 27 October 1999, Vazgen Manukian and Aram Sarkisian who had both served as prime ministers, became potential rivals of president Kocharian. However at the beginning of 2001 the political strength of them weakened due to some problems within their own parties. The prime minister Aram Manukian has also faced some difficulties in his party. On the other hand Yerkrapah, the Veterans Union’s of Karabagh, which represented the main opposition to Kocharian, after the assassinations of October 1999, had split up loosing much of its influence.

At internal politics level these developments left Kocharian unrivalled. In return at the foreign policy Kocharian begun to be severely criticized especially by the Dashnaks for his stands on Karabagh and on Turkey.

* Director of AVIM -
- Armenian Studies, Issue 1, March -April - May 2001
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