Marking 20 years since France "upheld the truth" and recognised the Armenian Genocide

·4-min read

On 18 January 2001, France's parliament passed a bill recognising the massacres of Armenians living under Ottoman rule during World War One as genocide. The move prompted a swift reaction from Ankara at the time, and Turkey still denies the genocide claims put forward by survivors of the killings and their descendants.

It was 20 years ago this day that France became the first major Western power to recognise the massacre of 1.5 million Armenians by the "Young Turk" government between 1915 and 1917 as genocide.

Turkey, however, has long maintained that the total figure of those killed amounted to around 300,000, both Armenian and Turkish, in what Ankara refers to as a "civil conflict".

In the wake of France's move to recognise the massacres as genocide, Ankara recalled its ambassador to Paris, and Europe braced itself for a political and economic backlash from Turkey, which never actually materialised.

RFI's David Coffey spoke to Vartan Kaprielian, President of the Chamber of Commerce of Armenia in France, who is currently in Yerevan, and asked about the historical importance of France's position with regards to Armenia's suffering at the end of the Ottoman Empire.

"It was very important for us. Imagine that you're in a cage - we were waiting for this moment - not only in France, but worldwide, we were begging countries, politicians, societies to understand that we have passed through atrocities [over the past century], and one day, the international community started to understand that something terrible had happened. And this is about our families."

"So you understand our suffering, not only from being massacred, not only having lost our country, but also not having the possibility to say to people that what we went through was horrible."

Turkey plays a deft hand between East and West

In the past two decades, Lebanon and Sweden have been countries of note who have recognised the Armenian genocide, although many major Western powers still haven't given full recognition to nature of the Ottoman-led massacres a century ago. So has Turkey's strategic and economic importance in the region eclipsed the legacy of the past?

"You got it right. The problem is that we are facing a country which is huge in terms of military power. In terms of economic possibilities. In terms of geographic strategic positioning.They really know how to maneouver between the East and the West.

"And they showed the Western countries how it would be very difficult for them to acknowledge and recognize the Armenian Genocide with the consequences would could be economic or strategic or military, like their participation in NATO, the membership of Turkey and NATO, or its positioning in the Middle East.

"Everybody was scared to harm these relations between each of those countries and Turkey. But the experience showed us that when France recognized the Armenian Genocide 20 years ago, the economic and trade relations with Turkey did not really suffer... those countries need Turkey, but [Turkey needs] each of those Western countries."

Of late, Franco-Turkish relations have been at an all-time low. There is no love lost between President Macron and his counterpart Recep Tayyip Erdogan. But with recent events between Armenia and neighboring Azerbaijan, the flare up in the decades-old conflict over the Nagorno Karabakh enclave, would it be right to say that the silence coming from Western powers over that conflict was deafening? Was the world reluctant to take a stand, treading on eggshells with Ankara?

"The whole world was deaf regarding this conflict. I would not say a conflict. It was a very atrocious war that happened there. Can you imagine in a few days, more than 5000 young Armenian soldiers were dead."

"It was a fifth generation war [that has never happened anywhere in the world] that happened on this territory. Many parts of Nagorno Karabakh were occupied by Azerbaijan. Many, many thousands of people were displaced from their homeland. This was a big war. It was a big catastrophe with very big consequences not only for Armenians, but also for civilized Western countries."

Impunity over Armenian Genocide enabled the Jewish Holocaust

"We will see this in the coming decade why the deafening silence of these nations will have a boomerang consequence for them. Although President Macron had been the only president who made a clear stance about the responsibility of Azerbaijan in this war. But globally, we can say that nothing really was [done] to stop the war."

"But as we know, Azerbaijan did not respect the ceasefires twice. And finally, France and the United States as co-presidents of the Minsk group, were not able to do more."

"If the 1915 genocide had been recognized at the time... if Turkey was punished, at that time... First, the Jewish Holocaust would not have taken place, then other genocides would not have taken place.

"All criminals would think twice before making any such step of eliminating other people and nations or groups in the world."

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