One of the constant issues on Armenia’s foreign policy agenda, especially for the Diaspora, is genocide recognition. Currently, 21 states in the world recognize the Genocide with countless sub-national entities (e.g. US states). To Armenians, the minimal recognition is the equivalent to state-level Holocaust Denial and must be corrected immediately.*
The big limiting factor on recognition is the pressure from Turkey. Turkey criminalizes recognition of the Genocide and fines people that speak only about it. Turkey is also a populous state, geographically strategic, a NATO ally, a regional powerhouse, growing economy, supporting the West’s view on the Syrian conflict and generally is a state you’d rather have on your side than against it. In contrast, Armenia is a tiny corrupt landlocked country that doesn’t even have a domestic violence law.
While the US is still disappointing Armenia, there has been movement in France and Israel on recognition.
In December 2011, the French National Assembly passed a bill that would criminalize the denial of officially recognized genocides, which includes the Armenian Genocide. This was the second time that the National Assembly took on this topic. In 2006, the National Assembly passed a similar bill but it died in the Senate. This time, the Senate also passed the bill. In response, Turkey suspended military cooperation and threatened to pull out of joint economic deals. Much to Turkey’s pleasure the French Constitutional Court struck the bill down.**
Round two began with the Socialist Hollande promising to bring back the bill in March and Hollande winning the presidency in May. After his election, Hollande promised that the genocide law is on the table but it faced “constraints.” At the same time, Hollande is opening a “new page” in Turkey-France relations by being the first French President to visit in 20 years. In response, Turkey dropped their sanctions and resumed military ties with France. While the Armenian community in France is quite vocal, it’s unclear how much Hollande will pursue the law when it comes with such high geopolitical costs. There are still members of the National Assembly that are working on passing the law, but it’s unclear if they’ll need or have the president’s outspoken support. [Update from July 7: Looks like the law is dead. Update from July 9: Now it looks like the law might make a come back.]
The other state where things are moving is Israel. Israel’s Knesset spent a session discussing whether to recognize the Armenian Genocide. As with France, Israel hasn’t wanted to strain relations with Turkey, but after the Gaza flotilla raid, those relations are already pretty strained. While it may seem natural for the Jewish state to recognize another genocide, the Anti-Defamation League didn’t recognize the Armenian Genocide until after protests in 2007 and is still against official American recognition.
Also important for Israel is its relationship with Azerbaijan and Armenia’s relationship with Iran. Israel and Azerbaijan are close and recognition will undoubtedly anger Azerbaijan (I apologize for the link to a blatantly anti-Armenian website). At the same time, Armenia is never ever going to do anything that could anger its ally Iran. With such little geopolitical benefit and much cost, it’s not surprising that Israel hasn’t and likely won’t recognize the genocide anytime soon.
* Please note that I have no interest in engaging in a historical discussion about whether or not there was an Armenian Genocide.
** For the record, while I am in favor of official recognition of the Genocide, I’m very hesitant to apply criminal sanctions to speech. The American approach of absolute protection of speech protects an excessive amount of socially detrimental speech including genocide denial. The American logic is that good speech can’t be separated with the bad and that no one should be able to judge what is good or bad speech. This, in my opinion, is too cautious of an approach and protects too much detrimental speech for the amount of positive speech that is protected.
Legitimate good-faith attempts to better understand history, which can include challenging core beliefs if those beliefs aren’t supported by evidence, should be protected. My worry is that criminalizing certain speech could stifle too much of this good-faith speech. A more balanced approach is to not criminalize certain speech but not to protect it (e.g. hate speech can be unprotected but not criminal).