Heather Horn wonders why the French parliament has passed a law that would criminalize denial of the Armenian genocide:
Why risk these kinds of foreign policy consequences? After all, the supposed moral high ground here isn’t particularly pretty: worth it though it may be to insist on recognizing the suffering of Armenians under the Ottoman empire, this bill legislates against free speech.
Let me say first that I regard any law that criminalizes speech to be wrong, and it is an example of the sort of stupid thought-policing that prevails in many Western countries where the expression of certain offensive views can be a punishable offense. This is hardly the only kind of speech that has been criminalized in France. It would be better if France never criminalized any form of speech.
The French are imitating one of the worst aspects of Turkish law, which criminalizes anything that can be interpreted as “insulting Turkishness,” which has often been used against dissidents, journalists, and academics for the purpose of suppressing recognition of the Armenian genocide. Indeed, the murdered Armenian-Turkish journalist Hrant Dink was prosecuted under Article 301 prior to his death, and one part of the tragedy of Dink’s prosecution and death was that the remarks that led to his prosecution had been directed at Diasporan Armenians in an appeal to stop being so fixated on the genocide. It is one thing for other states to acknowledge the Armenian genocide for what it was, but it is something else entirely to answer the Turkish state’s illiberalism on this issue by copying its methods. Scholars who continue to deny that the Armenian genocide was a genocide are wrong, but there should never be legal penalties for such an error. The issue here is primarily one of academic freedom and freedom of speech.
As a matter of French national interest, it seems foolish to risk a rupture with Turkey over this issue, but Turkey has a bad habit of trying to dictate to its allies what their legislatures can and cannot do in their own countries. This French law is a bad one, but it is the French parliament’s decision to make, and I’m sure that Turkish warnings not to pass the law factored into the decision to pass it. The Turkish response to the law’s passage is typically excessive and unreasonable. It should not be the Turkish republic’s concern if other states pass resolutions or laws about this issue. The Turkish republic wasn’t responsible for the Armenian genocide, and it shouldn’t feel compelled to defend the honor of the disastrous CUP government that was.
Horn’s contention that this is simply election-year politicking is a bit misleading. The French National Assembly passed the first version of this bill over five years ago in a non-election year. That doesn’t mean that it isn’t a political statement. On the one hand, it is an extreme form of rejecting genocide denial, and it is a protest against Turkey’s continuing refusal to acknowledge the genocide. Ash’s complaint that all of this politicizes historical inquiry is a bit misguided. Historical treatment of mass atrocities and genocides is inevitably politicized from the start, and it is most often the state responsible for them or its successors and defenders that start the process of politicization. If the Turkish government repealed Article 301 and allowed free debate in their own country on this and other issues, all of these international controversies would go away.