France's Senate has passed a bill outlawing the denial of a genocide that has been recognised by French law, namely the Holocaust or the 1915-1916 massacre of Armenians by Ottoman Turks. Turkey had threatened to impose sanctions if the bill passed.Source: France24
France and Turkey headed for a major diplomatic rift on Monday after French senators ignored threats from Ankara and approved a law outlawing the public denial of genocides.
The draft law passed by the Senate makes it illegal for anyone to deny that the mass killing of ethnic Armenians at the hands of Ottaman Turks in 1915 amounted to genocide.
Under the law public denial would be punished by a year’s jail sentence and a €45,000 fine.
The vote, which came after an eight-hour debate, is now likely to incite the wrath of Turkey who had earlier threatened to impose “permanent” sanctions against Paris if the law was passed.
Reacting to the vote, Engin Solakoglu, a spokesman for the Turkish Embassy in Paris, told FRANCE 24 his country would not tolerate anymore “Turkey bashing” from France.
“It is very sad to see such a law passed by the French Senate,” he said.
“Every time there are elections in France, a kind of Turkey bashing becomes a national sport. We cannot take this anymore,” Solakoglu added, accusing French politicians of meddling with "our history".
Speaking before the vote, Turkey’s Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoglu told FRANCE 24 “permanent sanctions” would be imposed against France if senators sanctioned the bill.
He said the proposed law was an affront to freedom of expression that would make him a criminal for openly discussing an “historical tragedy”.
“If I am asked a question by a journalist, how could I remain silent?” he asked. “This bill would punish me for having an opinion on an historical event. It goes against all European and French values of freedom of expression.”
Davutoglu accused French President Nicolas Sarkozy, who is languishing in the polls ahead of elections in May, of using the bill to gain approval from France’s significant Armenian population of some 500,000 voters.
“The painful history of Armenians and Turks is being used … for political opportunism and against the basic values of politics,” he said.
Reacting to the result, Esra Bulut Aymat, a senior research fellow at the EU Institute for Security Studies, said: "While many French citizens may see this as a principled stand, many Turkish citizens, already wary of President Sarkozy's opposition to Turkish membership of the EU, may interpret it primarily as anti-Turkish pre-electoral populist opportunism.”
Senators did win the backing of some Armenian groups.
“This law will bring the Armenian issue to a different international forum,” said Berge Setrakian, President of the Armenian General Benevolent UNION (AGBU), speaking to FRANCE 24 from New York.
“The major powers will focus more on this issue and hopefully now we can try and find a solution with Turkey. This will be good for Turkey too because they have been in a permanent state of denial about it.”
Setrakian accepted the fallout from the bill could have a detrimental effect on Armenia’s own relations with their neighbours.
“I think it is most likely Turkey will retaliate and render our lives more difficult, but this is a price the Armenians are willing to pay.”
A disputed history
The draft law means any public denial of genocides recognised by the French state would be outlawed, including the Second World War Holocaust and the massacre of ethnic Armenians in Ottoman Turkey in 1915.
France’s lower house of parliament, the National Assembly, had already approved the bill in a vote on December 23, 2011. That vote had prompted Turkey to recall its ambassador for consultations.
France officially recognised the Armenian killings as genocide in 2001. The new bill would punish denial with a year’s jail and a fine of up to 45,000 euros.
President Sarkozy is expected to ratify the bill in February before the closure of parliament in the run up to the presidential elections.
Armenia, backed by many historians and parliaments, says about 1.5 million Christian Armenians were killed in what is now eastern Turkey during World War I, in a deliberate policy of genocide ordered by the Ottoman government.
The Ottoman empire was dissolved soon after the end of World War I, but successive Turkish governments and the vast majority of Turks feel the charge of genocide is a direct insult to their nation. Ankara argues there was heavy loss of life on both sides during fighting in the area.
Thousands of Turks from across Europe demonstrated in central Paris at the weekend and about 200 Franco-Turks protested on Monday in front of the Senate. They waved their French voting cards and banners with slogans including: “It’s not up to politicians to invent history”.
Sarkozy tried to calm tensions before the vote by writing to Turkish Prime Minister Tayyip Erdogan last week saying the bill did not single out any country. He said that Paris was aware of the “suffering endured by the Turkish people” during the final years of the Ottoman empire.