Turkey Pulse

Restricted Freedoms Weaken Turkey’s Hand in Dispute with France

Article Summary
Western academics and intellectuals agree with Turkey that the French Parliament’s recent bill condeming denial of the Armenian genocide is senseless, but only because they oppose the limit it represents on freedom of opinion and expression. Turkey’s own restraints on freedom of opinion leaves it weak in a weak position to criticize France, writes Semih Idiz.

Many Western intellectuals, researchers and journalists agree that the French Parliament’s recent [passage of a law criminalizing denial of the Armenian genocide] was ludicrous. [However], these individuals are quick to add that this is not because they do not believe that the Armenians were victims of a genocide. They oppose the law criminalizing the denial of the Armenian genocide because it threatens “freedom of research and opinion.” Turkey, which does not have a clean slate with regards to freedom of opinion, should not expect much help [from these individuals].

Turkey is now debating how best to retaliate against France. But in a couple of weeks the same issue will come before the US Congress, and other countries will follow suit. Will Turkey recall its ambassadors and reduce its dialogue with those countries too? In short, we [in Turkey] are stuck in an absurd predicament.

The bottom line is that no matter what they say in Turkey, most of the world believes that the Armenians suffered at the hands of the Turks in 1915. Here we are not talking only about the West. The grandchildren of the Armenians deported in 1915 live, and have grown up, in Lebanon, Syria, Egypt and even Iran.

If Turkey had nurtured greater freedom of opinion [within its own borders], we would now have a stronger hand [to play] against France. Yesterday, Prime Minister [Recep Tayyip] Erdogan said, “this is a French massacre of freedom of opinion.” Given the state of freedoms in Turkey, isn’t that a bit hypocritical?

Moreover, haven’t we already shot ourselves in the foot in the diplomatic arena?

Turkey‘s hand would be stronger had we implemented the Zurich Protocols signed with Armenia [in 2009]. [But] we just couldn’t do it.

As retired ambassador Yalim Eralp recently said on CNN Turk, Ankara chose to shelve these protocols - negotiated so tediously with Yerevan - instead giving into Azerbaijani pressures [Azerbaijan, which has a long history of conflict with Armenia, successfully pressured Turkey not to ratify the protocols]. In the end, Azerbaijan has not even supported Turkey against France.

In a similar manner, Ankara burned all of its bridges with Israel for the sake of Hamas, weakening our position in relation to the US. Wasn’t our diminished standing in US public opinion illustrated by the recent episode where Texas Governor Rick Perry stated that “Turkey is governed by Islamic terrorists?” The stupidity of Rick Perry is shared by others.

[Furthermore,] did we ever really punished Israel for the attack [on the Freedom Flotilla in 2010]? According to official statistics released yesterday, trade with Israel actually increased by 29% in 2011, rather than decreasing.

It is high time that we consider the drawbacks of a diplomacy built on religion, ideology and subjective preferences. In sum, Turkey’s hand against France is weak and it is doubtful that much would be achieved by taking France to court.

The only way to improve our standing [for these kinds of negotiations] is through development, democracy, human rights and freedom of opinion. There must be a more rational course of action open to Turkey.

Found in: zurich protocols, turkish-french relations, turkish-armenian relations, rick perry, human rights, french law on armenian genocide denial, freedom of expression in turkey, freedom of expression, freedom flotilla, erdogan, censorship in turkey, censorship, armenian genocide

Semih Idiz is a columnist for Al-Monitor's Turkey Pulse. He is a journalist who has been covering diplomacy and foreign policy issues for major Turkish newspapers for 30 years. His opinion pieces can be followed in the English-language Hurriyet Daily News. His articles have also been published in The Financial Times, The Times of London, Mediterranean Quarterly and Foreign Policy magazine.


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