Turkey, France, and Armenian Genocide

This past week, the French senate passed a bill which makes it a crime to deny the Armenian Genocide. Most historians consider the slaughter of 1.5 million Armenians, during the last years of the Ottoman Empire, the globe’s first Genocide. However, Turkey, the Ottoman Empire’s successor state, vehemently denies that a genocide occurred, insisting that Armenians were deported from the area in mass and that killings were rare. Turkey insists that the bill is racist and that it steps upon free speech. Also, Turkey insists that French President Nicholas Sarkozy is trying to appeal to his nation’s 500,000 Christian Armenians. In contrast, France says the bill is part of a long policy to stand up against genocide since the Holocaust.

The dispute is straining the relationship between Turkey and France. The relationship was already tense due to France’s belief that Turkey should not enter the European Union. France is Turkey’s fifth largest trading partner. It has threatened economic sanctions including disqualification of French companies from public contracts, and cancellation of military, political, and cultural functions. Turkey recalled its ambassador to France and banned the French navy from using its waters.

On the whole, the Turkey-France dispute raises a variety of issues including: To what extent should state’s water down their values to make an ally comfortable? What is the appropriate retaliatory response to another state’s domestic policies?


  1. I have to agree with Nicola Duckworth, Amnesty International’s Europe and Central Asia Director, that “[t]he real issue at stake with this bill is not whether the large-scale killings and forced displacement of Armenians in 1915 constituted a genocide, but the French authorities’ attempt to curtail freedom of expression in response to that debate.” It’s a peculiar way of forcing (or ending?) the genocide debate, and one that seems counterintuitive and redundant, besides the chilling effect on free speech. The European Court of Human Rights holds that freedom of expression applies to inoffensive idea and “those that offend, shock or disturb the State or any sector of the population;” international human rights law allows for restrictions if necessary and proportionate for certain specific purposes, such as national security, and obliges states to prohibit advocacy of national, racial or religious hatred that constitutes incitement to discrimination, hostility or violence. French authorities claim the law would combat racist or xenophobic speech likely to incite violence or hatred, but it does not actually mention such incitement as an element and France already has legislation that prohibits incitement. So what would this bill really accomplish, other than provoking Turkey?

  2. While the French may be trying to make a point here in outlawing the denial of the Armenian genocide, perhaps the law goes a little too far. Such a law regulating what one thinks and says would, at least in the United States, likely be found to be an unconstitutional infringement on free speech. Although I think it is absurd to deny the genocide, people are entitled to their own views, however far-fetched they may seem. Since Turkey feels differently about the situation, they chose to react in the way that they did. Whether right or wrong, it is within a state’s power to do so. If France wants to take the position that they have, whether it is right or wrong, Turkey will force them to pay a price. The question then becomes is the price worth paying to make a stand against a crime so horrible as genocide?

  3. I whole-heartedly support the French bill to outlaw the denial of the Armenian genocide, though that is easy for me to say given that I do not have to be concerned with diplomacy concerns as a law student. Nevertheless, I applaud French legislature’s courage and resolve in passing the bill. For too long Turkey has been able to shove the stain of the Armenian genocide under a rug so to speak. The international community cannot stand idly by and allow the denial of the genocide of 1.5 million people simply because of concerns about potential fractured relations. In order to prevent genocides from happening again, the international community must speak loudly against genocide in all forms, and definitely not remain silent on the matter.

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