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French press review 24 April 2015

The French press takes on a duty of remembrance as Armenians mark 100 years since the Ottoman World War I genocide.  Francois Hollande is in Yerevan but the guest list is scanty due to pressure from Western ally Turkey.  

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The Armenian genocide is the main front page story as the papers recall the extermination of up to 1.5 million people by the Ottoman Empire between 1915 and 1917. Modern Turkey, the successor state to the Ottomans, rejects the term "genocide," arguing that 300,000 to 500,000 Armenians and as many Turks died during the war.

L’Humanité looks back down the “long Armenian road” through massacres, deportations and exile as well as the “hard denial by Turkey which has lasted one century”.

Le Figaro reports that the vast majority of Armenians were murdered for supporting a foreign enemy, or allowed to die from starvation and disease during deportation to Syrian camps. Hence its conclusion that it was a well-orchestrated plan against a population perceived as an internal threat in a period of war with foreign enemies.

As the battle for remembrance keeps stumbling on Turkey’s policy of denial, Le Figaro hails the Armenian Church for conferring sainthood to all the victims of the Ottoman massacre. The ceremony in Yerevan on Thursday is the biggest canonisation ceremony in history, according to the paper.

“Armenian genocide: 100 years of solitude” headlines Liberation. The left-leaning newspaper criticises the rather scanty international presence at the centenary commemoration in Yerevan. Only French President Francois Hollande and his Russian counterpart Vladimir Putin were expected to attend the event, while the rest of some 23 countries which recognise the genocide were shying away for fear of upsetting Ankara, according to the left-leaning newspaper.

US President Barack Obama has reportedly sparked the outrage of American Armenians when he described the World War I massacre as "terrible carnage". Some papers relay the outrage of Armenians Americans at Obama's “linguistic gymnastics” and their warning that people of good conscience will never “allow their history to be swept under the rug”.

Some papers post comments about Turkey’s hosting world leaders at a commemoration of the centenary of the World War I battle of Gallipoli. Thousands of lives were lost on both sides in a grinding nine-month battle between the German-backed Ottoman forces and Allied forces.

These included Australian, British and New Zealand troops trying to capture Constantinople and knock the Ottoman Empire out of the war. Le Monde reports that fallen Ottoman and Allied sides lie close together in separate cemeteries on the Gallipoli peninsula on the western edge of Turkey, in what has long been seen as a powerful symbol of reconciliation between former enemies.

Hence Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan’s decision to invite World War I Allies, including Prime Minister Tony Abbott of Australia, New Zealand Premier John Key and the heir to the British throne, Prince Charles and his son Harry.

Despite Turkey’s systematic refusal to recognise the killings as genocide, Le Monde says taboos are fading. There has been a gradual freeing of Turkish speech on the genocide thanks to the courageous work of intellectuals, according to the publication.

The issue also includes a review of several books which helped “contradict the culture of denial” entertained by Turkey. One is Duty of Truth by renowned French author Marc Dugal. He tells Le Monde that the plan of destruction of Americans was the “irrational response of the Ottoman elite to the equally irrational conviction that Europe was bent on destroying them”.

Young people in Turkey, he argues, are now keen to disassociate themselves from the reputation of violence and schizophrenia haunting the country over the 1915 genocide, according to Le Monde.

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