France Senate to Vote on Genocide Bill by End of January

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PARIS (Guardian, Combined Sources) — France is set to vote by the end of January on a bill that would make it illegal to deny that the 1915 mass killing of Armenians by Ottoman Turks amounted to genocide, parliamentary and government sources said on Wednesday.

Lawmakers in France’s National Assembly — the lower house of parliament — voted overwhelmingly in favor of a draft law outlawing genocide denial in December. In response, Turkey has frozen relations with France, recalling its ambassador and suspending all economic, political and military meetings.

The furious Turkish reaction to Paris’s parliamentary vote marked an unprecedented low between the NATO partners.

Erdogan cancelled permission for French military planes to land and warships to dock in Turkey, annulled all joint military exercises, recalled the Turkish ambassador to France for consultations and said he would decide case by case whether to let the French military use Turkish airspace.

He said this was just the start and “gradually” but “decisively” other retaliation measures would be taken against France.

He warned of heavy diplomatic “wounds” that would be “difficult to heal.”

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A majority of the 50 members of parliament present in France’s lower chamber approved the bill which would make denying any genocide — but implicitly the Armenian Genocide — a criminal offence punishable by a one-year prison sentence and a fine of 45,000 euros ($60,000). The bill was put forward by a member of parliament from Sarkozy’s rightwing Union for a Popular Movement (UMP) party, but the issue was supported by Socialists.

“This is politics based on racism, discrimination and xenophobia. This is using Turkophobia and Islamophobia to gain votes, it raises concerns regarding these issues not only in France but all over Europe,” Erdogan said.

French Foreign Minister Alain Juppé said he didn’t want “our Turkish friends” to “overreact.” Earlier, trying to smooth the row with Turkey, he dismissed the bill as “useless and counterproductive.” He said Turkey, “a proud nation,” should work on its issues of history and memory, but threatening French criminal sanctions was not the right way to make them do it.

Strains have plagued the relationship between Paris and Ankara in recent years, in large part because Sarkozy opposes Turkey’s bid to join the European Union. The bill reached the French parliament after Sarkozy visited Armenia in October and urged Turkey, “a great country” to “honor itself by revisiting its history like other countries in the world have done.”

Under Sarkozy, who opposes Turkish entry to the European Union, relations between Paris and Ankara have been difficult. But the NATO allies had been working together on key issues such as the Syria uprising. Erdogan said Turkey was now “suspending all kinds of political consultations with France.”

A Turkish official indicated the freeze would not affect the country’s membership of NATO, and that the withdrawal of military co-operation would be at a bilateral level.

But the Turkish premier called the legislation’s approval “unjust and unfortunate,” adding, “There is no genocide in our history, we do not accept it.”

In addition, Turkey’s prime minister has accused France of having committed genocide during its colonial occupation of Algeria in the latest round of the worst diplomatic row between the two NATO allies in more than a century.

Erdogan said that about 15 percent of the Algerian population was massacred during the French occupation from 1945 to 1962. “They were mercilessly martyred. If Sarkozy doesn’t know there was a genocide, he can ask his father, Pal Sarkozy … who was a legionnaire in Algeria in the 1940s. I’m sure he has a lot to tell his son about the massacres committed by the French in Algeria.”

Pal Sarkozy told French TV: “I was never in Algeria. I didn’t get further than Marseille, I was in the [foreign] legion for four months.”

The main author of a French bill criminalizing the denial of the Armenian Genocide claimed to have received death threats after her website was apparently hacked by angry Turkish nationalists on Sunday.

Meanwhile, the leader of the Socialist majority in the French Senate reportedly demanded that Sarkozy’s government submit the bill to the upper house of parliament “as soon as possible.”

Valerie Boyer, a deputy from Sarkozy’s Union for the Popular Movement (UMP) party, was the main sponsor of the measure approved by the National Assembly and strongly condemned by the Turkish government late last week.

Boyer told the BFMTV station that she, her children and parents have received “extremely grave” threats since then. “It’s totally paradoxical to be the author and the rapporteur of a text which speaks of human rights, human dignity, recognition and protection of the weak, and legislate under threat, be threatened by a foreign state and then be subjected to extremely grave personal threats,” she said.

Boyer added that she will lodge a “complaint” with relevant French authorities but is undaunted by the threats. “This process can only strengthen us in both our beliefs and our resolve,” she said.

An estimated 500,000 Armenians live in France, and many have pressed to raise the legal statute regarding the massacres to the same level as the Holocaust by punishing the denial of genocide.

(Reuters, Radio Free Europe  and the Associated Press contributed to this report.)