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The International Criminal Law blog

French Parliament Passes WWI Bill

22 December 2011 by Administrator

A guest blog by Richard Cashman

The French parliament has passed a bill to criminalise denial of the mass killing of Armenians by Ottoman Turks during the First World War.
Turkey is extremely sensitive about the issue, which was last in the headlines in 2010 when US Speaker of the House, Nancy Pelosi, said the US should recognise the killings as genocide.

Armenians claim that up to 1.5 million died in massacres and deportations during the dying days of the Ottoman Empire, mostly in 1915-16. The killings remain a crucial pillar of Armenian identity today and the Armenian diaspora has been singularly successful in its pursuit of recognition for Turkish guilt.
For their part, Turks point out that large numbers of Turks also died in the upheaval, that Turkish government archives on the events are open for inspection while Armenians ones are not, as well as the general unwisdom of rummaging through history to find instances of atrocities to which we can apply our post-Second World War legal constructs.

In substance, Turks also argue that the deportations to Aleppo in Syria (not the desert) were intended to save Armenians from being massacred by Kurds (a Sunni Persian people living in the area bordering Armenia), that the 1.5 million figure is impossible given the entire Armenian population in the region at the time was only 1.5 million, and that there were 100,000 Armenians living in Istanbul then who were not harmed.

Maybe the evidence would still bear out the allegations of genocide. However, there cannot and should not be a tribunal for something that happened almost a century ago, and it is perhaps understandable that Turks are averse to such denial laws that presuppose a guilty verdict in what sometimes seems like a silent trial being carried on in the lobbies of legislatures around the world.

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