By Edmond Y. Azadian
Paris is in turmoil and the entire continent of Europe is similarly agitated in the aftermath of a terrorist attack on the editorial offices of the satirical magazine Charlie Hebdo, leaving 12 people dead, among them editorial director Stephane Charbonnier and other major cartoonists.
An outburst of calls for solidarity with France spontaneously erupted around the world and more than one million people marched in Paris, led by 40 heads of state and many more diplomatic representatives. It was an exemplary demonstration of support for freedom of speech.
The Jihadist terrorists had targeted the newspaper because of its irreverent presentation of the Prophet Mohammed in its cartoons. Our hearts go out to the innocent victims whose lives were snuffed by those barbaric acts of violence.
The act hits an especially sensitive chord with the Armenians who were the victims of jihad at the beginning of the last century.
Every time a disaster causes the loss of human lives, Armenians instinctively look for names ending in “Ian.” This time around, by a lucky turn of events, the Armenian name that emerged was that of a young cartoonist, Mathieu Madenian, who had been recently hired by Charlie Hebdo. He had missed work that day and his life was spared.
While France declared a national day of mourning and the glittering lights of the Eifel Tower were turned off, in another part of the world, people are being killed in droves by the same terrorists and they are being buried unceremoniously. The latter are falling victim to terrorist acts because their stable governments were destroyed in Iraq, Libya and Syria. One wonders who will turn off the lights for those victims?
Forty heads of state rushed to Paris to lock arms with President François Hollande and march in the streets of Paris. Armenia was represented by Foreign Minister Edward Nalbandian. The US kept a low profile, represented on the ambassadorial level.
The show of force was solidarity for freedom of speech and against terrorism, but it also had political fallout in France domestically.
If the deaths of the 12 victims is to mean anything, it needs to drive home the message that terrorism is a double-edged sword: it cannot be used against your enemies and not boomerang against you. When Osama Bin Laden was bringing down Soviet MIG fighter planes in Afghanistan with American-supplied shoulder held Singer rockets, he was been hailed as a freedom fighter. As soon as he turned his guns against the West, he became a terrorist.
By the same token, the US and the European Union are defending and supporting medieval kingdoms on the Arabian peninsula and an Islamic sultanate in Turkey, little realizing that those countries are the breeding grounds for an assortment of extremist groups — Wahhabis, Salafis, ISIS, etc., which will one day blow up in the faces of their benefactors.
The US and Turkey armed and supported terrorists in Chechnya until the same terrorists detonated their bombs in Boston. All other overt and covert terrorist plots carry the same risks. The moral of the story is: beware of nurturing terrorist to do your dirty work.
While watching the Paris march, people could not miss the presence of an odd couple: Prime Ministers Ahmed Davutoglu of Turkey, and Benyamin Netanyahu of Israel. Their participation was out of place and hypocritical, because they both carry some responsibility and culpability for this disastrous situation. While Davutoglu was marching in Paris against terrorism, he was allowing the girlfriend of one of the terrorists, who herself allegedly took an active part in the attack on the Jewish deli in Paris, Hayat Boumeddiene, safe harbor in Turkey and later into Syria. When the case was brought to the attention of the Turkish authorities, they blamed French intelligence agencies that had not alerted their Turkish counterparts. Turkey in the past has boasted that its intelligence service, with the enviable acronym based on its Turkish name, M.I.T., they can detect a fly crossing over their border.
Turkey is a safe haven and training ground for ISIS terrorists and Davutoglu’s participation in the march is disingenuous if not cynical.
Armenians have natural empathy for the Jewish people who have suffered the same genocidal fate during the last century. But that empathy does not translate into endorsing the Israeli government’s treatment of the Palestinian people. The European Union has begun to understand the difference and while paying compensation to the people of Israel, it has begun to exercise sanctions against its government’s treatment of Palestinians.
The origins of this huge political divide goes back to the pogroms of Der Yessin, Sabra and Shatila camps and the killing fields in Gaza, which have infuriated the once-powerless Muslim world and the antagonism has mushroomed into a clash of civilizations, where the Muslim world fights the West and Mr. Netanyahu and his predecessors pose as innocent bystanders. Journalists and politicians of Jewish extraction are in synch with the European Union and they have been advising the extremists to opt for a more rational solution to the ongoing tragedy.
As we mentioned above, the carnage had also its impact on local French politics. Hollande’s poll numbers were falling drastically and he was being rated as the weakest president of the country since World War II.
With the sagging economy and disarray in his own Socialist party, Hollande was heading towards a defeat in the next presidential election. But during the crisis, he demonstrated resolute leadership, which enhanced his profile.
One decision, which he made, had a controversial impact. He failed to invite the leader of the ultra-right-wing National Front party, Marine Le Pen, who is gaining momentum in the polls. During the last election, the National Front received 30 percent of the electorate, banking on the weak economy and liberal immigration policies. Marine Le Pen has presidential aspirations and has vowed to withdraw France from the European Union and undo the deeds and the dreams of Gen. Charles De Gaulle and Valery Giscard d’Estaing, who were architects of the European Union.
Traditionally, every time the National Front gains momentum in the presidential elections, even the Socialists abandon their party affiliation and rally around the UMP and they elect a conservative for the Elyse post. It is this prospect in mind that former President Nicholas Sarkozy and the head of the UMP has thrown his hat in the presidential ring this early.
When the French marchers were holding banners with the slogans “Je Suis Charlie” (I am Charlie), much like when marchers in Istanbul carried the slogans “I am Hrant Dink,” after the latter’s assassination, Marine Le Pen’s father, Jean-Marie Le Pen, founder of the National Front, announced, “I am not Charlie. I am Charlie Martel.”
Those familiar with French history will grasp the double entendre and the political significance of the statement. After the Moors had overrun the Iberian Peninsula, they invaded the French territory and Frankish King Charles Martel defeated the Muslim Umayyad forces headed by Abdul Rahman, stopping the Muslim advance on the European territory. And since then, one can read the following verse in European history books: “In 732, Charles Martel at the battle of Tours defeated the Moor.”
Therefore, what Mr. Le Pen was referring to was to stop Islamic penetration in Europe or at least in France.
We hope this tragedy will serve as a sobering lesson for all those who count on terrorists to score political goals against their adversaries and also close ranks among the leaders of civilized nations to say “no to terrorism” and thus save the right for the freedom of thought and freedom of speech.
When Turkey’s Islamist extremists silenced the Armenian journalist, Istanbul streets were flooded with marchers holding placards with the writing “I am Hrant Dink.” Today, the same extremists have hit Charlie Hebdo and the world is crying, “I am Charlie.”
As victims of extremism and jihads, Armenians have all the right reasons to join the world chorus and stand for justice.
The Armenian Mirror-Spectator, Editorial 1-17, 2015