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Traces no. 13 January-March 2001

France’s vote on Armenian genocide mars relations with Turkey

France’s decision to recognise the ‘Armenian genocide’ represented a major success for the French-Armenian diaspora lobby, but threatens to disrupt relations between Turkey and France, as well as interfere with negotiations for Turkey’s EU membership. 

France joined those countries officially recognising ‘the Armenian genocide of 1915’.  The vote on January 18 the lower house of the French Assembly was unanimous. Although it did not refer to Turkey by name, the Turkish government was furious at the implication that there had been an organised campaign of extermination of Armenians in the last years of the Ottoman Empire.  A significant campaign of economic and diplomatic reprisals quickly followed the vote, and was stepped up when President Chirac signed it into law two weeks later. Turkish Prime Minister Bulent Ecevit stated that ‘lasting damage’ had been done to relations between the two countries.   And less than two weeks after the law came into effect Kocharian embarked upon a five-day visit to France, during which he met President ChiracH

The Assembly’s decision was the result of a long and intense campaign of lobbying by France’s large Armenian community.  It is alleged that between 1915 and 1923, some 1.5 million Armenians died, by a combination of violence, starvation, disease and deportation from eastern Turkey to modern-day Syria and Iraq.  Turkey states that there were fewer deaths and that there were multiple causes, including the Russian occupation and internal fighting.  It points out that Armenians also carried out massacres.  The campaign involved many Armenian exile organisations, including the Defence Committee for the Armenian Cause.  Its President, Ara Krikorian, stated that he hoped that denials of the Armenian genocide would now be prosecuted in the same way as denials of the Nazi Holocaust.  The law may also expose Turkey to lawsuits from French-Armenians demanding compensation.

France has the largest Armenian community in Europe, estimated at between 500,000 and 700,000; there are thought to be one million Armenians in the USA and 400,000 in Canada.  They first arrived in France as merchants in the seventeenth century, and then thousands fled the violence of 1915.  In recent years, Armenians born in diaspora have also move to France.  Most live in Paris, Marseille and Lyon.  The largest single concentration is in Alfortville, southeast of Paris, where one in six residents are Armenian.

Fewer than ten per cent of the Assembly’s members were actually present for the vote, and many claimed that it was not directed against Turkey.  The bill was not supported by either President Chirac or Prime Minister Jospin, although the former did sign it into law.  But Turkey instigated minor but symbolic sanctions against France, with the threat of more serious moves in the future.  A deal worth $176 million for French satellite technology was cancelled and French firms were barred from bidding for defence contracts.  When the bill passed into law on January 30th, a $250 million contract to upgrade Turkey’s military planes was scrapped.  There were demonstrations in the streets of Ankara and Istanbul, where crowds called for tougher retaliation against France.  French wines and foods were removed from menus and the French flag was burned. The government was criticised in the press for being slow to react and ineffective in combating the diaspora’s lobbying.  Some politicians demanded the end of flights to Armenia and sanctions against the country.  The Mayor of Ankara announced plans to build a monument to Algerians killed by French soldiers in that country’s revolution.

A spokesperson for Turkey’s 80,000-strong Armenian community, most of whom live in Istanbul, called France’s action ill-conceived and badly-timed.  It plays into the hands of those forces in the country resisting EU membership and political reform.  Part of the requirement for membership will be an improvement in the country’s human rights record.  Reformers were dismayed by the French Assembly’s action, which will reinforce the impression that the EU does not really want Turkey as a member.

France is the first large Western country to pass such legislation, although it has been debated elsewhere. The vote was welcomed in an official statement by the Armenian government.  The US Congress failed to enact a similar declaration in October 2000 following President Clinton’s persuasion that it would harm relations within NATO.  The EU Parliament, the Belgian Senate and the Russian Duma have all called upon Turkey to acknowledge the genocide, but have not done so themselves.  The Greek Parliament nominated April 24 as a day to remember the genocide. Relations with the UK government were strained by plans to include representatives of the Armenian diaspora at the official ceremony marking International Holocaust Day.

Outside Washington, Armenian-Americans have been busy lobbying the Maryland Assembly to pass a vote on the genocide and include it in school textbooks.  Their lobby is countered by some members of the Turkish, Azeris, and Jewish communities in the state, but supported by some Greel-Americans.  Maryland is important because any vote there will affect two major defence companies, Lockheed Martin and Northrop Grumman, based there.

Armenia and Turkey have no diplomatic relations, despite Turkey’s early recognition of newly-independent Armenia in 1991.  But behind the scenes there are moves to restore relations, often using Armenian-Americans as informal go-betweens.  The Armenian Church of America has organised a tour of ancient Armenian sites in Turkey for June.  Other links have involved businessmen and government officials.  The main points dividing the two countries are the settlement of the border and the campaign for genocide recognition. In an interview with a Turkish journalist, Armenian President Robert Kocharian claimed that the campaign was organised by the diaspora without active support from Yerevan.  This claim is disputed from within Turkey.  He also asserted that Armenia would not demand reparations from Turkey if it recognised the genocide.

French legislation calls Armenians’ deaths genocide, John-Thor Dahlburg Los Angeles Times 19.1.01; Politicians condemn French parliament vote on Armenian genocide, BBC Summary of World Broadcasts 20.1.01; Armenian consumers to boycott Turkish goods, support French genocide vote, Agence France Presse 23.1.01; Turkey raises stakes in genocide row, Simon Tisdall The Guardian 25.1.01; Armenian issue haunts Turkey's EU aspirations, Leyla Boulton and Jonathan Birchall Financial Times 27.1.01; Turkey and Armenia – that controversial G-word, The Economist 3.2.01; Armenians push hard in Maryland, Turkish Daily News 3.2.01; Turkey cornered in Armenian allegations, Turkish Daily News 5.2.01; Kocharyan’s remarks, Turkish Daily News 6.2.01; France home to largest Armenian community in western Europe, Agence France Presse 12.2.01; Armenian, French presidents meet in Paris for talks, Associated Press 12.2.01; Armenians and Turks Test Climate for a Thaw, Douglas Frantz International Herald Tribune 16.2.01


Military sexual slavery; mixed success for transnational campaigners

 A landmark human rights ruling in the Hague made mass rape and sexual slavery a crime against humanity.  But in Japan, campaigners on behalf of so-called ‘comfort women’ lost two important court cases in their struggle for an apology and compensation.

 The International Criminal Tribunal for the Former Yugoslavia in the Hague ruled for the first time that mass rape and sexual slavery constituted a crime against humanity.  The landmark decision was made in the case of three Bosnian Serbs charged with systematic and savage rape, torture and enslavement of Muslim women in 1992 in the Bosian town of Foca.  Human rights organisations estimate that tens of thousands Muslim women and girls were systematically raped and abused in camps.  The judgement elevates the offences from being a violation of the customs of war, as it was in war trials in Nuremberg and Tokyo, to a crime second only in seriousness to genocide.  The presiding judge, Florence Mumba of Zambia, ruled that rape was used by Bosnian forces as an instrument of terror.  She told the accused that "by the totality of these acts, you have shown the most glaring disrespect for the women's dignity and their fundamental human right to sexual self-determination." Human rights groups had argued that rape was part of a deliberate policy of ethnic cleansing, forcing Muslim women to bear ‘Serbian’ children.  The three convicted Serbians, who received sentences totalling sixty years, were among forces that overran Foca early on in the war.  They held 72 women prisoner in a sports hall then selected victims for rape or forced women into personal domestic service.  Some were sold to other soldiers. 

 The ruling will have implications for war crimes trials being held in Rwanda, Kosovo and East Timor and will offer hope to campaigners for the thousands of military sexual slaves, so-called ‘comfort women’, victimized by Japanese forces in World War Two.  A motion filed on behalf of ‘comfort women’ in a Washington DC court in March was in part based on the Hague court’s ruling.  The motion asked the court to rule that Japan could not claim sovereign immunity as a defence in the case.  The decision represents a victory for international and national human rights and women’s rights groups, who have argued that rape has been too often regarded as just another facet of war.  The proposed permanent international criminal court will be able to apply the ruling to other cases.

 At the same time as the Hague ruling the World Court of Women Against War, for Peace was meeting in Cape Town. Created by Rome Treaty in 1998 and holding meetings in various places throughout the world, the Court cannot redress past crimes.  Nonetheless, it heard evidence from the Asian Women’s Rights Council on behalf of victims of military sexual slavery at the hands of the Japanese Imperial Army in the Philippines.  These victims, known as ‘lolas’ (grandmothers) had filed suit against the Japanese government in Tokyo District Court in 1993 demanding an apology and compensation.  The suit was eventually dismissed by the Supreme Court.  But last year a number of regional Filipino groups came together to form ‘Lolas Kompaneras’ and press the Japanese authorities for an investigative committee into wartime forced sexual slavery.  Some of the women involved, now in their seventies, have travelled to Sarajevo and other places to advance their cause.

 The victims of military sexual slavery suffered a blow in Japan following the dismissal of a case brought against the Japanese government by forty Korean ‘comfort women’ by a Tokyo district court.  The plaintiffs were represented by the Association of Pacific War Victims and Bereaved Families, led by Kim Jong Dae.  In a further blow, the High Court in Hiroshima overturned a decision ordering the central government to pay three women compensation.  The earlier ruling, made by the Shimonoseki branch of the Yamaguchi District Court in 1998, had been challenged by the Japanese government.  On appeal the judge decided that the government was not legally obliged to apologise or pay compensation in connection with the use of prostitutes by the military.  The Shimonoseki decision had been the first and only ruling in favour of ‘comfort women’.

 But the government claims that all compensation for wartime damages was settled in 1956 as part of a bilateral agreement with Korea.  It set up the Asian Women’s Fund in 1995 as a private group to offer small amounts of compensation, but no apologies. By asking for funds from private sources the Fund avoids any implication of state responsibility.  It has provided 340 million yen in financial support to 170 wartime victims in Korea, Taiwan and the Philippines.  But others have refused the funds as too small or meaningless without an apology.  In January the AWF revealed that it was short of necessary funds, and launched an appeal among businesses and trades unions for support.  With other NGOs, the AWF participated in a ‘mock tribunal’ on sexual slavery in Tokyo in December.  It ruled that Japan’s Imperial Army had violated international laws in force at the time.

Another ten similar suits are still in the Japanese courts.

According to historians, some 200,000 women were forced into sexual slavery before and during the Second World War.  Most were from Korea, but others came from the Philippines, China, Indonesia and Taiwan.  In March, relations between these countries and Japan were inflamed by a Japanese cartoon book portraying ‘comfort women’ as willing volunteers and not sex slaves.  The book is part of a series of manga (cartoons) produced on behalf of the Society for Writing New History Text Books offering a revisionist view of Japanese history and defending the Imperial Army and its actions.  It sold 240,000 copies between publication in November and March 2001.  The author, Yoshinori Kobayashi, was banned from entering Taiwan, although the restriction was later lifted.  An aide to the Taiwanese President was forced to apologise after being quoted in the book.  The President of South Korea warned Tokyo not to try to rewrite history and China’s President Jiang Zemin asked Japan not to approve it as a school textbook.

 Comfort women group to seek donations from businesses, unions, Kyodo News International 8.1.01; Asia's former comfort women seek justice from Japan before it's too late, Jenny Tumpelmann Deutsche Presse-Agentur 8.2.01; Mass rape ruled a war crime, Andrew Osborn The Guardian 23.2.01; Rape is a war crime, The (Montreal) Gazette 24.2.01; Forum on comfort women opens in Tokyo, Japan Economic Newswire 1.3.01; Former ‘Comfort Women’ Ask Court to Rule that Japan Has No Sovereign Immunity for Systematic Sexual Slavery During World War II, Business Wire 5.3.01; 'Comfort women' hope for justice, Perla Aragon-Choudhury BusinessWorld 9.3.01; Asian fury over claim that comfort women were 'volunteers', Colin Joyce Sunday Telegraph 18.3.01; Taiwan allows entry of Japanese cartoonist, Agence France Presse 24.3.01; Former Korean soldiers, sex slaves lose suit in Japan, Deutsche Presse-Agentur 26.3.01; Japan quashes World War II comfort women's compensation. Kiriko Nishiyama Agence France Presse 29.3.01; High court reverses ruling favoring 'comfort women', The Daily Yomiuri 30.3.01; 'Comfort women' lose war pay-out, Ken Hijino Financial Times 30.3.01

Cuban exiles look to Bush; Iraqis and Armenians also.

Diaspora lobbies within the United States were hopeful of changes in the country’s foreign policy following the election of President George W. Bush.

 Cuban-Americans in Florida supported George Bush for President by four-to-one.  Many exile groups anticipate political gains from the new administration and a recovery in fortunes after the Gonzalez affair.  Denis Hays of the Cuban-American National Foundation (CANF) claimed that the community was ‘instrumental in Bush's election’.  In return the CANF expects tougher sanctions on Cuba and more support for the democracy movement on the island.  To achieve these goals they will have to win back support from big business, which has increasingly turned against the embargo.  One route of influence is through the President’s brother, Jeb Bush, who is Governor of Florida and running for re-election.

 Not all the early signs were not promising.  Bush extended a decree issues by Clinton in 1996 prohibiting protests against the Cuban government in a three-mile zone around Florida’s coast.  On the other hand, the US government agreed to the transfer of $93 million in frozen Cuban assets to the families of the men, members of Brothers to the Rescue, shot down by Cuba in 1996.  The money comes from the revenue paid to Havana by long-distance telephone companies and held in Chase Manhattan Bank in New York.

 But relations between the White House and the exile community were strengthened by two appointments to Bush’s cabinet.  Mel Martinez became the first Cuban-American member of a Presidential cabinet when nominated as Secretary for Housing and Urban Development. Martinez was a prominent official from Orange County, Florida, best-known for funding Elian Gonzalez’s trip to Walt Disney World in November 1999.  He left Cuba as a fifteen-year-old in 1962 as part of the Pedro Pan airlift of 14,000 unaccompanied Cuban children.  Bush chose another Cuban-American, Otto Reich, as Assistant Secretary of State for Western Hemisphere Affairs.  His nomination was welcomed by CANF and other exiles’ groups.

 Reports from Cuba suggest the 38-year-old embargo is showing distinct signs of weakening.  Decisions to allow greater foreign investment and the circulation of the dollar inside the country, together with the lifting of restrictions on remittances are bearing fruit.  A UN report indicates that Cuba received $725 million in remittances in 1999 alone.  Nonetheless, the Castro regime has toughened its stance towards opponents at home and abroad.  Two visiting Czech politicians were arrested after meeting with human rights activists.  There were also encouraging signs for the Castro government from Florida.  Evidence of divisions among Cuban exile groups surfaced at the trial of five alleged Cuban spies in Miami.  Testimony revealed strong differences, in particular between the Cuban American National Foundation and the Cuban Democracy Movement, over the 1996 shooting down of two exiles’ aircraft by Cuban forces and the Elian Gonzalez affair (see Traces #9, 10).  Cuban spies or agents are often accused of fomenting such rivalries, as for example during the concert by leading Cuban group Los Van Van

 The new Bush administration also faces important decisions about whether to continue supporting Iraqi exile groups in their opposition to Saddam Hussein’s government.  It was reported that Vice President Cheney favours aggressive support for the Iraqi National Congress, empowering it to launch military operations from within Iraq.  The State Department and Colin Powell favour a mix of sanctions and propaganda.  They are sceptical over the INC’s abilities and claims of support.  In February, leaders of the INC met in Washington DC to discuss the potential for greater UD involvement.

 The new President was also lobbied by Armenian groups over recognition of the Armenian ‘genocide’ (see story this issue).  Armenian media reported that 100,000 postcards were sent to Bush in the first month of office by members of the diaspora.  During the campaign, Bush had guaranteed that as President he would work for recognition, in contrast with the Clinton administration.

 Exiles’ actions under scrutiny. Jose Dante Parra Herrera, Sun-Sentinel 1.1.01; Cuban-Americans see possible resurgence with Bush administration, Agence France Presse 2.1.01; Castro clamps down on critics, Richard Lapper Financial Times 7.3.01; Discord divides Cuban exile groups, Jose Dante Parra Herrera Sun-Sentinel 14.1.01; Little known about Martinez in Cuba besides involvement in Elian case, Anita Snow The Associated Press 18.1.01; U.S. OKs release of Cuban assets to pay families of shot-down pilots, Jay Weaver The Miami Herald 14.2.01; Bush’s foreign policy team is split on how to handle Hussein, Robin Wright Los Angeles Times 14.2.01; Armenians urge US President Bush to keep election promise and recognize genocide, BBC Summary of World Broadcasts 17.2.01; Stay tough on Castro, exiles tell Bush, David Cazares Sun-Sentinel 25.2.01; US-Cuba exile group calls extension of decree ‘very unfortunate’ EFE News Service 28.2.01; Cuban exiles pleased with Bush’s choice for top Latin post, EFE News Service 23.3.01




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