The French Constitutional Council, France’s Highest Court, has upheld the Gayssot Act, a law criminalizing Holocaust denial, rejecting claims that Holocaust denial should be protected free speech. Allying themselves with a known Holocaust denier, French Armenian groups had joined a challenge to the law, maintaining that since the French Court had previously ruled that questioning the Armenian allegation of genocide was a proper exercise of free speech, so should be questioning the Holocaust. In the alternative, the Armenian groups argued that the Holocaust and the alleged Armenian genocide were historical equivalents and, therefore, that denial of both ought to be criminalized.
The French Constitutional Council disagreed with the Armenian groups on both counts. The Court emphasized that since the international law had established the Holocaust as a genocide, its denial can be punished. This is in stark contrast to the Armenian allegation, which has never been upheld by a court. The Court enunciated a sensible rule: that an event cannot be considered a genocide unless it is established as such by a court of law and that parliaments or governments cannot declare an event a genocide. This is in keeping with the United Nations Genocide Convention, which renders all accusations of genocide subject to a thorough trial of the evidence before a neutral judicial body.
The Association for Objectivity in Teaching Turkish History, a French Turkish organization, had joined the case on the side of upholding the Gayssot Act. Welcoming the Court’s decision, the organization expressed newfound hope in being able to freely discuss and debate late-Ottoman history without being accused of genocide denial.
The French Court’s decision parallels the recent decision of the European Court of Human Rights (ECHR), which ruled that a similar Swiss criminal statute could not stand because it violated the freedom of expression of a Turkish politician who had expressed doubt about the Armenian allegations. The ECHR similarly distinguished the Holocaust from the Armenian allegation, finding the former an indisputable fact and the latter a subject of genuine historical controversy.
TCA concurs that neither politicians nor the media should pre-judge the Armenian case. Rather, the contested events should be freely examined by all historians using all existing historical documents. TCA therefore restates its demand for the opening of Armenian archives in this country and in Armenia.