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HYPOCRISY IS FRANCE'S GREATEST LEGACY

Semih İDİZ
03 May 2006 - Turkish Daily News
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="justify">The following is a tough and rough commentary. But those who are offended can take it as reflection of the growing sentiment in this country concerning France. Besides, if the French are allowed to have “tough and rough” views about the Turks, surely Turks are allowed the same about them.

¨$e Declaration of the Rights of Man and of the Citizen” (which nevertheless failed to save thousands from the guillotine), Ravel and Matisse, a fine cuisine and, of course, haute couture -- to name but a few.

  They have also left many bad things such as Reynaud de Chatillon, the Osama bin Laden of Christendom, (a milder embodiment of which today is represented by the likes of Holocaust belittler Jean-Marie le Pen, who almost won the presidency, and the right-wing politician Phillipe de Villier).

  They have also left lasting memories with their “mission civilisatrice, ” which caused suffering among millions of people from Southeast Asia to North Africa. Their legacy in addition includes anti-Semitism and Vichy fascism. Some of the principal ideologues of anti-Semitism and fascism – like Maurice Barres and Charles Maurras – were, after all, French. 

  But the one legacy that stands out above all is hypocrisy, which puts the French in the worst light possible and should be considered a national embarrassment, although it rarely is. Take the high-profile commemorations in France of the alleged Armenian genocide.

  I say “alleged” because that is what it is. “Genocide” is a legal term, and the fact of an “Armenian genocide” has not been proven in a court of law, so that I can justifiably use that term.

  Neither is there unanimity among historians as to whether the tragedy of the Armenians was premeditated genocide or the inevitable outcome of dynamics set in motion in the lead-up to World War I by imperial powers – dynamics which also caused millions of deaths in Europe.

  None of this means that I do not abhor the suffering of hundreds of thousands of Armenians in Anatolia -- an indigenous and ancient people who contributed vastly to Ottoman art, culture and architecture and also produced some of the most competent and devoted civil servants of the empire.

  I believe their sad departure has greatly impoverished these lands and would welcome them back as citizens of this country any time.

  They were not, however, the exclusive sufferers in what was then the Ottoman Empire, where 3 to 4 million people died in the brutal environment of World War I -- due also, of course, to the policies of the first fascist government in Europe, i.e., the “Ittihadist Triumvirate” in Istanbul.

  The French, however, have accepted the unproven Armenian genocide by law and now want to criminalize its denial. This is precisely where French hypocrisy rears its head.

  Not only do they vehemently deny any claim that their country committed genocide in Algeria, even though tens of millions of Arabs believe this to be an incontrovertible fact, they also have the audacity to introduce a law that says schools have to teach French colonial history, especially in North Africa, in the most positive light – no doubt due to “pied noir” pressure.

  So, the same France that calls on Turkey to face up to its history is not only denying its own past crimes but is also introducing legislation to consolidate this denial. The debate flared up again a few days ago when Algerian President Abdelaziz Bouteflika said “[French] colonization brought the genocide of our identity, of our history and of our language.”

  Other Algerian politicians have said that 1.5 million Algerians died as a result of French colonialism, and this, for them, amounts to “genocide” for which Paris should pay compensation. The icing on the cake of French hypocrisy was, however, French Foreign Minister Philippe Douste-Blazy's response to Bouteflika.

  “Instead of quibbling over such words [i.e., genocide], it is important for Algeria as well as France to look forward and build a positive relationship,” he said.

  Close your eyes and you might be listening to the Turkish foreign minister responding to the genocide claims of Armenian President Robert Kocharian. How the French fail to see this contradiction is beyond comprehension. One explanation is that they see it but could not care less.

  The simple fact is that an increasingly Islamophobic France is using the Armenian issue to keep Turkey at arm's length from Europe. Otherwise, anyone with a bit of historic knowledge knows that the French are serial betrayers of the Armenians.

  First they incited them “to rise against the unspeakable Turk” – by even establishing Armenian legions in Hatay – only going on to leave them in the lurch by being the first to contact the Ankara government after World War I, once it became clear who was going to be the “Master of Anatolia,” to use Toynbee's words.

  Then they refused to lift a finger for the Armenians during the Lausanne Treaty talks and thus, for all their supposed efforts on behalf of this nation during the Paris peace talks in 1919, dumped the Armenians again.

  Then they dealt the final blow by returning Hatay – under French mandate -- to Turkey in 1939 and caused the final exodus of Armenians from Anatolia. Intelligent Armenians know all this, too, although Dashnak intimidation does not allow them to speak out.

  Put another way, if we are talking about history, there is much to baffle your average Frenchman or woman who has been brought up -- whether by force of legislation or tradition -- on a tales of “French glory.”

  Some time ago, when I mentioned how the French were the first to contact the Kemalists after 1919, a French journalist who had strong and unsavory opinions about Turkey disputed me strongly – and, of course, arrogantly -- only to be corrected by a better informed French colleague.

  “Are you sure, are you really sure?” he kept asking his colleague in disbelief, having been embarrassed in front of a Turk.

  It is clear that time will drown France in its own contradictions. The latest development pointing to such an outcome is the case of leading French historians who came out after the controversial “Teach our kids how well we treated the Algerians” legislation was introduced.

  Realizing the embarrassment this represents for intelligent people, these historians called on politicians to “keep their hands off of history.” This harks back to the good side of France, and there are few who can dispute this justified judgment of “real” historians, as opposed to “history legislators.”

  One can, however, bemoan the fact that these historians did not have the moral courage to come around to this view after the “Armenian Genocide Law” was passed in the French Parliament, or when the highly respected historian Bernard Lewis was found guilty by a Paris court, after a private lawsuit, for “denying the Armenian genocide.”

  Having said all this, though, I am actually looking forward to the criminalization of “Armenian genocide denial” in France because I can already see the kind of ridiculous situations this will land Paris in the future.

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