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French National Assembly. Photo: Jacques Brinon / Associated Press
French National Assembly. Photo: Assemblée Nationale / Renan Astier

The story of French recognition of the Armenian genocide dates back to 1915, when the French Foreign Office issued a joint declaration (with Great Britain and Russia) to the Turkish authorities. The declaration condemned the widespread massacres of the Armenians in Turkey:

"For about a month the Kurd and Turkish populations of Armenia have been massacring Armenians with the connivance and often assistance of Ottoman authorities. Such massacres took place in middle April (new style) at Erzerum, Dertchun, Eguine, Akn, Bitlis, Mush, Sassun, Zeitun, and throughout Cilicia. Inhabitants of about one hundred villages near Van were all murdered. In that city the Armenian quarter is besieged by Kurds. At the same time in Constantinople the Ottoman Government ill-treats the innocent Armenian population. In view of those new crimes of Turkey against humanity and civilization, the Allied governments announce publicly to the Sublime-Porte that they will hold personally responsible [for] these crimes all members of the Ottoman government and those of their agents who are implicated in such massacres."[41]

In the wake of the genocide and the collapse of Armenian statehood, tens of thousands of Armenians fled to France. Armenians arrived in Marseilles, Valence, Grenoble, Nice, Lyons and Paris. Subsequent waves of migration – from Turkey (1956), Lebanon (1975) and Iran (1979) – swelled the ranks of the diaspora even further. French Armenians such as Charles Aznavour rose to prominence by the middle of the century.

Following Armenian independence (1991) and the ensuing economic crisis the number of Armenians resident in France almost doubled, reaching 400,000 and making the French diaspora one of the biggest and most influential worldwide.

The French National Assembly held debates on the Armenian genocide topic since the mid 1990s. One of the strongest supporters of recognition has been M. Patrick Labaune of the Union for a Popular Movement (UMP). Rhone Aples, the district that Labaune represents, has a large Armenian constituency, having been home to many survivors of the 1915 genocide. In August 1994, during a parliamentary debate with the French Foreign Minister, Labaune made a series of extremely harsh statements about Turkey. Referring to the upcoming 80th anniversary of the Armenian genocide, he thundered:

"This odious crime against humanity, this first genocide of the 20th century, still remains unpunished. On the contrary, in Turkey monuments are erected and boulevards are baptized in the name of the Turkish Hitler, Talat Pasha […]. Let's remember that Turkey, encouraged by this impunity, occupies Armenian territories, has invaded and occupies a part of Cyprus, exterminates the Kurdish people, has been organizing a blockade of Armenia for five years, driving three millions of Armenians to hunger, and uses dams on the Euphrates as blackmail against Syria."[42]

It was the French communists who emerged as the biggest advocates of recognition. In 1995, M. Paul Mercieca[43] raised the issue during a parliamentary debate. The Minister, Herve de Charette, replied by noting that the Genocide Convention was non-retroactive and that the French government wanted to support normalization of relations between Yerevan and Ankara.[44] In 1997, M. Francois Asensi from the district of Seine-Saint-Denis, himself also a member of the Communist party, argued in favour of genocide recognition in the National Assembly.[45]

The debate was not taking place in a vacuum. A March 1996 survey conducted by the Institut Louis Harris showed that 69 percent French respondents knew of the "Armenian genocide, which is to say the massacres in 1915 committed in Turkey against the Armenian people", while percent agreed that "it is the time that the French authorities should officially recognize the genocide the victims of which were the Armenians."[46]

In 1997 a proposal for a French National Assembly Law on the recognition of the Armenian genocide was made by Roland Blum of the UMP. In politics since the 1970s, Blum represents one of the country's largest electoral districts, the Bouches-du-Rhône (Marseiiles), home to a sizeable French Armenian community.

A year later, a similar proposal was made by socialist Didier Migaud, secretary of the France-Armenia Parliamentary Friendship Group. A report by René Rouquet (a Socialist), based on Migaud's proposal, gave a detailed picture of the Armenian massacres, starting in the Hamidian period and culminating in 1915. It also described Turkey's denial campaign and cited a number of French ministers who referred to the events as genocide. The draft went on to say:

"The Republic of France recognizes that the decision by the government of the Young Turks to exterminate the Armenian people in 1915 and the ensuing massacres between 1915 and 1922 in the territory of the Ottoman Empire constitute as a crime of genocide".

François Rochebloine (New Centre) and Roland Blum tabled amendments to the draft law to the effect that:

  • "The accession of the Turkish Republic into the European Union cannot be realized until it has recognized the reality of the Armenian Genocide"
  • "The Government will assure that every year on April 24 our country will commemorate the Armenian genocide."
  • "The Government takes responsibility to work internationally for the recognition and reparation of this crime against humanity."[47]

On 29 May 1998, the French National Assembly adopted a resolution recognizing the Armenian genocide. The text did not, however, include any of the recommendations proposed in the reports. It merely stated:

"La France reconnaît publiquement le génocide arménien de 1915" (France publicly recognizes the Armenian genocide of 1915).[48]

The Senate adopted the resolution on 7 November 2000.[49] On 29 January 2001, the text was signed into law by the President and the Prime Minister of the Republic.[50]

 


[42] National Assembly of France, Hearing on the Armenian Genocide, August 8, 1994

[43] Paul Mercieca is an honorary mayor of Vitry on Seine, home to the MAFP, the Movement of Armenians in France for Progress.

[44] National Assembly of France, Hearing on the Armenian Genocide, June 29, 1995

[45] National Assembly of France, Hearing on the Armenian Genocide, April 21, 1997; Seine Saint Denis hosts the building of the Armenian Cultural Center and the Nevart Gulbenkian Armenian school.

[48] 29 mai 1998 Proposition de loi adoptée par l'Assemblée Nationale en première lecture, relative à la reconnaissance du génocide arménien de 1915

August 2009

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