Sassounian: Sarkozy Says ‘Tseghasbanoutyoun,’ a Word Obama Has Yet to Utter

Flying to Armenia, French President Nicolas Sarkozy confided to his top aides last week, “I am going to toss a live grenade!” He was revealing his readiness to act firmly if Turkey continued to deny the Armenian Genocide.

Shortly after arriving in Yerevan, and before journalists assembled at the Armenian Genocide Monument, Sarkozy courageously declared, “The Armenian Genocide is a historic reality that was recognized by France. Collective denial is even worse than individual denial.” When asked if France would adopt a law to prosecute those who deny the genocide, the French president said, “If Turkey revisited its history, faced its bright and dark sides, this recognition of the genocide would be sufficient. But if Turkey will not do that, then without a doubt it would be necessary to go further.”

As a presidential candidate in 2007, Sarkozy promised to support the Senate’s adoption of a law criminalizing denial of the Armenian Genocide. The French Parliament had already approved such a bill in 2006. Yet, despite his pledge, Sarkozy’s ruling party blocked the bill’s adoption last May. While the French government banned denial of the Holocaust in 1990, it did not take similar action on the Armenian Genocide, even though France had recognized it in 2001.

French Armenians were incensed by Sarkozy’s betrayal. Singer Charles Aznavour publicly warned him that he would lose the support of 500,000 French Armenians in next year’s presidential elections. Last month, the ARF of France endorsed the probable presidential candidacy of Socialist Francois Hollande after he promised that his party, which had recently gained a majority of seats in the Senate, would vote for the bill banning denial of the genocide. Hollande is currently far ahead of Sarkozy in the opinion polls.

During his visit to Armenia last week, Sarkozy conveyed several important messages: He reassured Armenians of his intent to keep his initial pledge on the genocide denial bill; he warned Turkey to stop denying the genocide; and he indicated his clear sympathy for the Armenian position on Artsakh (Nagorno-Karabagh).

The French president’s trip to the three republics of the Caucasus was clearly lopsided in favor of Armenia, where he stayed overnight, while he spent only three hours in Azerbaijan and Georgia. His brief stops in those two countries were simply an attempt to display a semblance of impartiality. Sarkozy’s first-ever visit to Armenia was filled with festive events and dramatic gestures of friendship—planting a tree in memory of Armenian Genocide victims; laying a wreath at the Genocide Memorial, where he wrote in the Book of Remembrance, “France does not forget”; warning Turkey to acknowledge the genocide by year’s end; uttering the Armenian word “tseghasbanoutyoun” (genocide), which Obama has declined to use; lighting a candle in Etchmiadzin; rejecting Turkey’s membership to the European Union; opening the Aznavour Museum overlooking Mt. Ararat; and donating a priceless Rodin statue to the Republic of Armenia.

Finally, a world leader has dared to put Turkey’s bullying rulers in their place. Turkish Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoglu reacted angrily by telling the French president to confront his country’s colonial past and not to teach Turkey a history lesson. Azerbaijani President Ilham Aliyev gave a cold shoulder to the French leader during his visit to Baku. An aide to Aliyev declared that the country does not share Sarkozy’s views on the Armenian Genocide. Davutoglu’s condescending words against France could well incite the French Senate into adopting the new genocide law.

French Armenians are now in a win-win situation. Both leading presidential candidates are committed to supporting not only the law criminalizing denial of the Armenian Genocide, but also backing other pro-Armenian initiatives. No matter which of the two candidates wins in next year’s presidential elections, Armenians stand to gain.

However, given politicians’ long trail of broken promises, French Armenians should not trust their words. They should make it clear to both candidates that Armenians will support whoever helps pass the genocide denial bill before the elections in April. It would be ideal if both candidates instructed their party’s Senators to vote for the bill now, leaving the French Armenian community with the pleasant dilemma of choosing between two supportive candidates in the presidential elections.

French Armenians and Armenian Americans may want to reverse the long-established but failed approach of supporting candidates first and trusting their promises, hoping they come through after the election. The new strategy should be: Only when a president is elected and carries out his/her promises will the community reward him/her with its support.

Harut Sassounian

Harut Sassounian

California Courier Editor
Harut Sassounian is the publisher of The California Courier, a weekly newspaper based in Glendale, Calif. He is the president of the Armenia Artsakh Fund, a non-profit organization that has donated to Armenia and Artsakh one billion dollars of humanitarian aid, mostly medicines, since 1989 (including its predecessor, the United Armenian Fund). He has been decorated by the presidents of Armenia and Artsakh and the heads of the Armenian Apostolic and Catholic churches. He is also the recipient of the Ellis Island Medal of Honor.


  1. Merci Beaucoup Sarkozy!  I hope the French President  will set a precedence of how leaders should tackle the recognition of Genocides, by sending a clear message of zero tolerance for crimes against humanity … Zero tolerance means putting the recognition of Genocides above national interests, strategic partnerships, and economic deals… it means putting humanity first…. The leaders of the other so called leading countries, Britain, US, Israel should be ashamed of themselves…. They don’t even qualify for the title of “world leaders”….. they are more leaders of corrupt morals….

  2. Bravo Katia jan.. absolutely correct ….the top dogs or world leaders as they call themselves should be ashamed of themsleves…. they are embarassment…

    AR jan– you are funny.. but you hit the bull’s eye… we should definintely send the last paragraph to Obama.. that liar… 

  3. We haven’t crossed the bridge yet… Let’s see if eh would forget his promises after the elections. Low life diplomats suffer of amnesia after winning the elections…

  4. We, the diasporans know that very well don’t we AraK jan? it is absolutely sad but i hope Sarkozy keeps his promise or else he will ever lose the victory because Armenians won’t support him…

  5. Get it tight! 
    There is only one word – GENOCIDE – Not Tseghasbanoutyoun or any other substitute word.
    GENOCIDE has legal weight.  Any other word is meaningless.
    Genocide Acknowledgment with Accountability:  Land, Reparations and Restitution.
    Raphael Lemkin, a lawyer of Polish-Jewish descent and Holocaust survivor, coined the word “genocide” specifically to describe the destruction of the Armenians at the hands of the Turkish State.
    Dr. Lemkin explained that the Turks committed genocide with the intent to annihilate; he added, “I became interested in genocide because it happened so many times, first to the Armenians, then after the Armenians, Hitler took action.”
    Genocide acknowledgment (by any other word) without Accountability is hollow and meaningless.

  6. At times, I wonder if the word Genocide is as powerful as it should be… has it
    lost the power/intent content of the word…
    I feel it omits telling of all the  slaughteres, rapes, kidnappings, tortures and worse 
    that the Ottoman Turks pursued and, too, all the subsequent leaderships 
    of a Turkey – against the Christian Armenian peoples and more, the Greeks, the Assyrians, the Pontics… unresolved by the Turk now nearly over more than a 
    century of denials… of lying to the world, of lying to themselves, about stealing the Armenian nation to claim for their own by eliminating the citizens of Armenia via slaughters, rapes, tortures, and worse… In truths, the Turks believe their own lies, yet the civilized nations recognize that the Turks stole the ancient and cultured Armenian lands for themselves… eliminating the Armenians via death marches into the desert for the victims deaths… claiming all that was of the Armenians to belong to the Turks… even today… claiming all Armenian culture as that of the hordes of the Turks who came down from the Asian mountains… to gain an ancient and advanced people’s lands and culture – as if all were of the Turk.
    Somehow, words, such as TURKISH GENOCIDES would be descriptive…. for these Turkish Genocides still continue, the Kurds of today, and too, the Armenians…still!!

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