For those who enjoyed a country childhood beyond the reach of a reliable TV signal, entertainment often consisted of watching two farmyard animals headbutting each other to the point of unconsciousness. Typically, two young bullocks would square up to one another in the way the Turkish donkey and the French ass are doing today over the Armenian genocide, the collected crimes of French colonialism, the headscarf, the French insistence that it is their liberal duty to publish every Muhammad cartoon ever drawn, and any other raw nerve within reach. Stupider breeds of sheep can keep this up for hours.
It is pretty poor sport, and one that must take a toll on the limited reasoning capacities of the creatures involved. Which is why it makes it all the harder that the supposed excuse for this release of political testosterone is one of the great forgotten tragedies of the last century: the massacre – or what some call the genocide – of around one million Armenians in what is now eastern Turkey. “Who remembers the Armenians?” Hitler remarked before he set his own Holocaust in motion. Sadly, few did, even in France.
The answer, Gibbons argues, is not to submit to collective amnesia, but to champion those who are slowly uncovering the uncomfortable truths of the past:
…the taboo about even mentioning the Armenians has been slowly broken over the last four years, helped along by the brilliant and the brave, chief among them the novelist Orhan Pamuk. He has been prosecuted for “insulting Turkishness” by claiming that a million Armenians died. What irony that the same Turkish nationalists who wanted to lynch him then will today be celebrating his Nobel prize win. Pamuk’s right to freedom of speech was yesterday on the lips of the French parliamentarians who voted through the bill that would jail for a year anyone who questions the use of the word genocide for the killings. No one seemed to have heard that Pamuk himself, in common with all Turkish liberals, had condemned the bill. It is of course a cynical exercise to harvest the sizeable Armenian vote, but so out of touch are the Parisian elite with their suburbs that they fail to realise the size of the Turkish minority. Officially, of course, it is illegal to count them, as everyone is French and nothing else.