La France face au génocide des Arméniens du milieu du XIXe siècle à nos jours: Une nation impériale et le devoir d’humanité by Vincent Duclert (review)
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Reviewed by
Duclert, Vincent – La France face au génocide des Arméniens du milieu du XIXe siècle à nos jours: Une nation impériale et le devoir d’humanité. Paris: Fayard, 2015. Pp. 435.

In La France face au génocide des Arméniens, French historian Vincent Duclert traces France’s positions—political as well as social—towards the Armenian Genocide. The book has the great merit of analysing France’s official positions, on the one hand, and the various pro-Armenian sentiments, on the other. Most of all, it discerns the reasons behind the latent debates surrounding the recognition of the genocide of the Armenians and the prosecution of its denial in France. [End Page 659]

Firstly, concerning France’s official positions towards the genocide: Duclert argues that France abandoned the Armenians at the time of the “Great Massacres” of 1894-1896. Even as information from Armenia was being communicated to the European embassies in Constantinople, Gabriel Hanotaux, France’s Minister of Foreign affairs, decided against intervention. According to Duclert, France decided to align itself with Russia because, firstly, it feared the uncontrollable development of an Armenian question in the international sphere and, second, because of its anglophobia, which systematically lead it to counteract British diplomacy. This French inaction appalled Paul Cambon, the French Ambassador in Constantinople, who took personal initiative by directly communicating information to the French MPs that incited them to attack the policies of Gabriel Hanotaux’ Government. His initiative was to no avail. In the parliamentary session of 3 November, 1896, Parliament rejected the protest against abandoning the Armenians: “It was agreed that France shall do nothing,” (p. 108), even though the European powers had succeeded in putting an end to the first massacres.

The appointment of Théophile Delcassé as Minister of Foreign Affairs on 28 June, 1898, changed the situation. The Entente Cordiale ushered in a political friendship with the United Kingdom and the Government of Pierre Waldeck- Rousseau adopted a firmer policy towards the Ottoman Empire. In the end, political realisms, however, prevailed over humanitarian duty.

The rise to power of the Young Turks movement in 1908 resulted in a rise in ultranationalism and the development of a powerful current of Social Darwinism. The regime rushed into a crusade against the Armenians. Massacres resumed. Again, the French Government waited, despite its new president, Georges Clemenceau, who was engaged against the Great Massacres fifteen years earlier. Faced with the reaction of public opinion and parliamentarians, Clemenceau decided to send French vessels to pick up survivors from the small coastal town of Kessab. This was followed, on 12 September 1915, by other French and English vessels that evacuated the fighters of Musa Dagh.

During the First World War, the rescue of the Armenians was not an objective of the Triple Entente. Even so, the Entente addressed a declaration to the Young Turk Government on 24 May, 1915, that warned it of its full responsibility for the “crime against humanity and civilisation” (p. 205). The declaration did not dissuade the Young Turk Government from continuing the Genocide. On the contrary, it encouraged it “above all to hide the acts and the evidence.” (p. 208)

The end of the First World War saw France emerge victorious from the conflict, but it also confirmed its abandonment of Armenia. Indeed, the Treaty of Sèvres on 10 August 1920, which raised hope for international justice, was a “stillborn agreement” according to Duclert (p. 267). Turkey took its revenge with the Treaty of Lausanne of 24 July, 1923, which ended the war in the East but enabled the Kemalists to deport the Armenians from Anatolia. In the words of Duclert, “Armenian existence was sacrificed to the interests of Realpolitik.” (p. 309)

Throughout these events, the victims and witnesses of the Genocide gradually drafted a demand for international justice which never materialised, forcing the Armenian diasporas to resort to the “terrorist alternative” (p. 341) beginning in the [End Page 660] 1970s. These victims and witnesses did, however, eventually find support in the form of pro-Armenian commitment in France.

On to the book’s second point. Duclert analyses the way in which France’s abandonment of the...


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