Think Again: The French turn the leadership tables

The French often are the butt of jokes here, but last month they turned the tables and are teaching our elected officials about leadership. With the support of President Nicolas Sarkozy, the lower house of the French parliament and the French Senate recently passed a bill that makes it a crime to deny the Armenian Genocide.

On a daily basis, the Turkish government and their agents conduct a systematic campaign of denial of the Armenian Genocide in the U.S. and around the world, trying to erase history. It is a history in which 1.5 million innocent people lost their lives in 1915 at the hands of Ottoman Turkish troops simply because of their race.

It is a crime against humanity that has been perpetrated by many governments since then.

Once the French president signs this bill, whoever publicly denies the Armenian Genocide in France will be subject to prosecution and will face monetary penalties or jail. While it doesn’t address the larger issue of Turkey coming to terms with its past and paying reparations to the affected Armenian families, it does take a stand on the side of truth and justice.

Many countries, especially in Europe, have similar laws with regard to denying genocides, including the Jewish Holocaust. France passed a Holocaust denial law in 1990. Like others, the Los Angeles Times editorialized against France’s proposed Armenian Genocide denial law based on the principle of freedom of speech, even at the price of protecting hate speech — a topic worth its own column.

However, if making that argument, then one also must oppose the Holocaust denial law to be consistent. Curiously, the Holocaust denial law was not mentioned in the editorial.

Secretary of State Hillary Clinton advocated for congressional recognition of the Armenian Genocide while she was a senator and as a presidential candidate — similar to then-candidate President Obama, and similar to Vice President Joseph Biden throughout his tenure as a senator. Their position statements could not have been more clear in calling it what it is, a genocide. However, once elected, all three abandoned positions of principle and sold out our national interest and values by supporting and enabling Turkey’s denial campaign.

This administration’s hypocrisy became even more shameful on Jan. 26. During a town hall meeting with State Department employees, Clinton was asked about the French bill. Clinton replied: “I think it’s fair to say that this has always been viewed, and I think properly so, as a matter of historical debate and conclusions rather than political. And I think that is the right posture for the United States government to be in, because whatever the terrible event might be, or the high emotions that it represents, to try to use government power to resolve historical issues, I think, opens a door that is a very dangerous one to go through.”

She continued: “We need to encourage anyone on any side of any contentious historical debate to get out into the marketplace of ideas....”

In 2008, Clinton said the opposite: “I believe the horrible events perpetrated by the Ottoman Empire against Armenians constitute a clear case of genocide … as president, I will recognize the Armenian Genocide. Our common morality and our nation’s credibility as a voice for human rights challenges us to ensure that the Armenian Genocide be recognized and remembered by the Congress and the President of the United States.”

Putting questions of Clinton’s “common morality” to one side, one thing is clear: She is a hypocrite and has successfully undermined our nation’s credibility.

This is not a partisan issue. It’s about our country’s leaders reflecting American values, instead of supporting regimes, like Turkey’s, that demonstrate they are capable of committing the next genocide if it serves their political interests.

France’s leaders aligned themselves with an important national value, differentiating themselves from Turkey on this issue. We must do the same.

ZANKU ARMENIAN is a resident of Glendale and a corporate communications and public affairs professional. He can be reached at

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