French legislators voted unanimously on January 18 to recognise the alleged genocide of Armenians by Turks in 1915. At the same time the British government published plans for a memorial day on January 27 for genocide victims worldwide, designed mainly to commemorate the Jewish holocaust and Armenian genocide. In Washington a deal has been signed for the compensation of Jewish victims of Nazism in Austria during the second world war, and Bill Clinton lifted economic sanctions against Yugoslavia despite its war-crimes against Bosnian Muslims, while opposing the end of UN sanctions against Iraq. In all this, no mention was ever made of genocide in Chechnya or of compensation for its victims, and western leaders and media continue to woo the man responsible for it: Russia’s president, Vladimir Putin.
The text on the Armenian genocide, now approved by both houses of the French parliament, reads: “France publicly recognises the Armenian genocide of 1915.” Bulent Ecevit, the Turkish prime minister, ordered home his ambassador to France within an hour of the vote in the French assembly. He said: “This development could create a serious crisis in French-Turkish relations. So-called genocide claims should be left to the objective assessments of historians.”
The sheer hypocrisy of France’s recognition of the so-called Armenian genocide is underlined by its recent refusal to recognise its own record of torture and war-crimes during the Algerian war of independence, despite widespread public agitation for such recognition, or at least an independent investigation. In November, retired generals described in newspaper interviews how they had tortured and executed Algerian fighters with the full knowledge and backing of their superiors. Some, such as Paul Aussaresses, have said that they would do it again and oppose any enquiry.
As a result of the ensuing furore and debate in the media, the French Communist Party has called for a special commission to investigate incidents of torture. The commission was to propose repentance for France and compensation for its victims. But both the conservative president, Jacques Chirac, and the socialist prime minister, Lionel Jospin, resisted the debate as well as the calls for investigation. Jospin flatly rejected the idea of the commission, while insisting that he wants the truth to come out. Such is his hypocrisy that he argued for the matter “to be left to historians”, a sugestion that he refuses to accept from Ecevit in relation to the Armenian genocide.
An article in the French daily Le Monde signed by Claire Trean asked why the generals who committed the war-crimes and tortures were not being brought to trial. It said: “How is it possible to proclaim, in wonderful speeches, that mankind is on the right track, that it is going to acquire an International Trial Court to impose sanctions on whoever establishes crimes against universal conscience as a real method of government or combat, and at the same time refuse to deal with the troubles of one’s own back yard?”
Could the answer to this question be that the democratic and civilized French could not have committed the crimes attributed to them; that, at any rate, the victims were only Muslims and that, therefore, it is unacceptable to damage France’s good reputation simply to pay compensation to them? If so, both the question and the answer could also apply to the Russian president’s recent visit to Paris.
Putin was in France because France held the presidency of the European Union at the time. He held talks with president Chirac and other EU leaders at the end of October, calling for an unprecedented war against ‘Islamic fundamentalists’ bent on establishing a ‘United Islamic State’ from the Baltic to the Black Sea. He also appealed for EU help in suppressing Chechen ‘terrorists’, vowing that he would not negotiate with people “who had blood on their hands”.
Putin received from the EU leaders a public pledge that the EU and Russia would engage in strategic cooperation. He also secured a recognition that Chechnya is a Russian territory. This is hardly surprising, although the Chechen people’s right to self-determination is guaranteed under the UN Charter, and the right to self-identity as a separate religious and ethnic group is recognized by the EU Human Rights Convention. The EU leaders’ pledge to engage in strategic cooperation with Russia in its fight against Chechens — and the global Islamic movement — is apparently justified by the assumption that these rights, and the rules against genocide, need not be enforced on a Christian European country battling against the Muslim hordes.
The assumption is not confined to politicians and is also shared by the media. For instance, Will Hutton, a columnist of the so-called ‘liberal’ Observer in London, published an article before Putin’s visit to Paris, calling on the West to back him, and on the British to support prime minister Tony Blair’s warm friendship for him; he also attacked the Chechens into the bargain. Putin, whom Hutton said he admired, was “constructing” an honest “state... in a country of more that 100 ethnic groups, some of whom, like the Chechens, do not accept any authority or legitimacy beyond their ethnic boundaries”.
So blame the Muslim victim and back the war-criminal. NATO and the UN are now chasing ethnic Albanians to ‘protect’ Serbians, the original ‘ethnic cleansers’; the west holds the Palestinians responsible for Israel’s war on them; and Serbia must not pay any price for its genocide against Bosnian Muslims, while economic sanctions against Iraq must remain in place although half a million Iraqis die each year as a result.