Our sister publication, The Armenian Weekly published this interview with Garo Yalic, a politician from Marseille, France, and one of the writers of the French law criminalizing Armenian Genocide denial, which passed in the French Senate on Jan. 23. The interview was conducted before the passage of the Senate bill. It is translated from its original Turkish.
BY ARIS NALCI
Several weeks have passed since the law criminalizing genocide denial passed in the French National Assembly, and later the French Senate. Since then, it has become a very special topic on Turkey’s foreign policy agenda.
The dominant topic in Turkish newsrooms has been the reaction of the Armenian community in Turkey, which has formed a hostile bloc against France. The bill has made the massacres of Uludere, and the arrests of hundreds of journalists and their prosecutions seem almost insignificant.
Yet, Armenians in Turkey have, through their writings and comments, attempted to avoid becoming the whipping boys of Turkey’s foreign policy at all costs.
The following interview with Garo Yalic aims to better understand the Armenian Diaspora. I met Yalic a few years ago. He knows Turkey well, and travels to Istanbul and Van as much as he can. He is Armenian, and a very sociable person. He was forced to migrate to France, and is now a fellow of French MP Valérie Boyer, with whom he drafted the law criminalizing denial.
His words, below, are full of instructions and initiate a common path for Armenians and Turks.
ARIS NALCI: Can you tell us about your work and your involvement in the French political system?
GARO YALIC: I’m a member of the UMP [Union for a Popular Movement]. I’ve been in politics since I was 17. I started at the RPR [Rally for the Republic] and then moved to the UMP. At present time, I am the Urban District Adviser for the 13th/14th Urban District of Marseille with Boyer.
A.N.: You participated in the preparation of this law. Can you give us more details about that process?
G.Y.: First, I’d like to say that there is a total lack of information or misinformation on the Turkish side. They don’t understand at all what we wanted to do here. And on the French side, some deputies and politicians close to Turkey say nothing and anything. Some historians, on the other hand, think that this law is against freedom of speech. In reality, it is only aimed at ensuring public order.
We’ve all been sensitive about the law when it was rejected by the Senate a few months ago because of its possible unconstitutionality and potential annulment by the Supreme Court.
Valérie Boyer and some people close to her—including myself—continued the work started by a lawyer in Marseille, Mr. Krikorian, regarding the transposition of a European Council-framework decision. We worked on the basis of the Council-framework decision 2008/913/JAI on combating certain forms and expressions of racism and xenophobia by means of criminal law, which was adopted by the Council of the European Union on Nov. 28, 2008.
What does that directive say? Article 1 of the Council-framework decision says the following are punishable by means of criminal law: intentional conduct in or publicly condoning, denying, or grossly trivializing crimes of genocide, crimes against humanity, and war crimes as defined in Articles 6, 7, and 8 of the Statute of the International Criminal Court, directed against a group of persons or a member of such a group defined by reference to race, color, religion, descent, or national or ethnic origin when the conduct is carried out in a manner likely to incite violence or hatred against such a group or a member of such a group.
Furthermore, Article 3 declares that each member-state shall take the necessary measures to ensure that the conduct referred to in Article 1 is punishable by criminal penalties of at least between 1 and 3 years of imprisonment.
In France, several national texts already define and punish genocides, war crimes, and crimes against humanity: On Jan. 29, Law Number 2001-70 implemented the official recognition by France of the 1915 Armenian Genocide. On May 21, Law Number 2001-434 established the recognition of slavery and slave trade as a crime against humanity. The law we are talking about today is only the punitive part that is necessary for the law to have real legal value.
To conclude, we are only complying with European directives on the basis of the aforementioned Council-framework decision. That law [criminalizing genocide denial] has been carefully thought through and it will be adopted because it constitutes a protection of the social peace.
We wanted to remind all countries that come to recognize the genocide that they also have to do that compliance work, no matter which genocide we are talking about. Some people think the law will not pass, but that would be an aberration, as it is complying with a European directive. And we thought very much about it: It is in our national interest and in the interest of social peace in the fight against discrimination and hatred based on race.
A.N.: The passing of this law seems precious to the Armenian Diaspora. As a diasporan yourself, what does the law represent to you?
G.Y.: I was born in Turkey, but I am French with Armenian origin, so I first think about my actual country: France. Of course, this law is significant for French people with Armenian origin. Nowadays, you cannot tell the difference between a French-Armenian and a French-French, especially if s/he does not have a family name ending with “ian.” As the Turkish prime minister has reminded us, there are also about a million French people of Turkish origin that will show their weight in the electoral balance. But that declaration will not change parliament’s position, as the law unites all the political movements of the majority and of the opposition.
During the debates in the National Assembly, a deputy argued for the necessity of the law by relating what had happened in his district, in Sarcelles: A French-Turkish association was preparing a public demonstration to defend the murderer of Turkish-Armenian journalist Hrant Dink, but it was forbidden in order to prevent public disorder. That kind of demonstration cannot take place in France, and the law reaches its full potential by preventing that kind of propaganda on our territory.
A.N.: In Turkey, we have received very different information about the content of the law. It already passed once in the French Senate, but it didn’t cause such a big emotional uproar before. Why has it become such a big issue this time?
G.Y.: The over-blown reactions of the Turkish leaders show two things to me. First, Mr. Erdogan wants to attract his population’s attention against France, as he did in the case of Israel. Second, I think this law is essential for Turkey if it wants to be included in the European Union tomorrow, since it will have to adopt these kind of laws. The aim of the law is to prohibit incitement to hatred.
A.N.: During the French National Assembly vote [on Dec. 23], you were in Paris, as were many Turkish officials who were there to prevent the passing of the law. You know many of them. When you left the Assembly, you said you experienced a very uncomfortable moment. What did you mean?
G.Y.: I don’t want to go into details, but you know my point of view. I want that law for several reasons, but first for the sovereign interest of France and of Turkey. Also, politically, I think it’s time for Turkey to accept France’s position about the genocide. I’d like the relations between the Armenian Diaspora and Turkey to become more peaceful. The recent declaration by the prime minister of Turkey regarding the events that took place in Dersim gives me hope that Turkey will act the same way regarding the 1915 genocide.
A.N.: According to some, this law taken center stage because Sarkozy is trying to get Armenian votes in France. What do you think? How many French citizens from Armenian origin are there in France? Do the Armenians have such a strong influence on French politics?
G.Y.: I was telling you to watch the TV debate with Mr. Eric Raoult, the deputy in Raincy, where there are more Turks than Armenians. Mr. Raincy has voted for the law and some of our deputies really defend the republic’s values, while the president has just reminded us that there is a penal and legal hole in our laws regarding the law of 2001: “France publicly recognizes the Armenian genocide.” There is a legal and penal hole that we have to fill in.
Ok, there are more Turks than Armenians in France, officially. But we are not able to know who is from Armenian descent in France, as they started to arrive in the 1890’s and early 1900’s, and with all the mixed-marriages, we are not able to know their exact numbers… Take [Helene] Segara, [Patrick] Fiori, [Charles] Villeneuve, [Pascal] Legitimus, etc., as examples. They are of Armenian origin, but from such a long time ago…
A.N.: Why do Turks living in France not have as big an influence as Armenians in France?
G.Y.: I don’t think it’s a Turkish problem, even if they are involved in the political life. Today I’m like you. The UMP has voted the law, and tomorrow at the Senate, it will be the PS [Socialist Party]. So, I’m asking you: Are you going to tell the Turks to not vote for Sarkozy or not vote for [Francois] Hollande? Or, are you going to tell them to vote for the FN [National Front] because they adore Turkey, like Mrs. [Marine] LePen does? … As [Charles] Aznavour said, “We are 100 percent French. Show us if there are Turks who died for that country. But we also carry Armenia in our hearts…”
A.N.: Lastly, how do you feel about Turkish reactions to the passing of the law?
G.Y.: Let me finish by saying one thing: I love Turkey. I have plenty of Turkish friends that I adore. But I think that Turks deserve a better leader than Mr. Erdogan, who thinks that he is at a football match by [his language as he] talks about our president and trying to legitimate the genocide. It’s not politics anymore! I just want to tell him: ‘Mr. Erdogan, you are putting your intellectuals (like Mr. Zarakoglu) in jail, your journalists, more than 5,000 Kurds, you have that 301 Article [of the Turkish penal code], and let’s not talk about the Hrant Dink case, etc.”
There is a big dynamic in Turkey, but Turkey has to pay attention and not jeopardize its population’s life. There are more than 100,000 people working for French organizations. Each year, French tourism in Turkey brings in more than one million euros. Each year, there are more than one million euros in aid from France to Turkey… Turkey forgets to talk about that…
So, I think that if we don’t send electric shocks about that question, Turkey will never have the courage to take a look back and view its history honestly. Together, we have to build up the future. Almost a hundred years of denial—it’s enough. Neither Turks nor Armenians deserve this.