French Senate Passes Measure Making Genocide Denial a Crime

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PARIS (AFP) — French senators have passed a bill outlawing the denial of the Armenian Genocide in 1915, with a seething Turkey slamming the move and warning of consequences while Armenia hailed a day “written in gold.”

The French Senate on Monday, January 23, approved, by 127 votes to 86, the measure which threatens with jail anyone in France who denies that the 1915 massacre of Armenians by Ottoman Turk forces amounted to genocide.

French President Nicolas Sarkozy, whose right-wing UMP party put forward the bill, must now sign the bill for it to become law.

Turkey furiously denounced the move, with Justice Minister Sadullah Ergin telling CNN-Turk television that it was “a great injustice and shows a total lack of respect for Turkey.”

“We strongly condemn this decision which is… an example of irresponsibility,” the Turkish foreign ministry said in a written statement, adding that the government would not hesitate to swiftly implement retaliatory measures.”

When France’s lower house passed the bill last month, Ankara froze political and military ties with Paris.

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Armenia meanwhile praised the vote, with Foreign Minister Eduard Nalbandian saying: “This day will be written in gold not only in the history of friendship between the Armenian and French peoples, but also in the annals of the history of the protection of human rights worldwide.”

The vote “will further consolidate the existing mechanisms of prevention of crimes against humanity,” the statement said.

Catholicos of All Armenians Karekin II has addressed a letter of gratitude to French President Nicolas Sarkozy. “From the Mother See of Holy Echmiadzin we welcome and bless you, the state officials of France, our friends, the French people, and express the deep gratitude of our church and world-spread Armenians for passing the Armenian Bill at the Senate,” he wrote.
“The voice of justice was again heard from the French Senate: our people have been waiting for its victory for a century. The passed law proves your devotion, the devotion of the French state and people to democratic principles, universal values, the fixing of which will rule out the violations in the world and the tragic crimes against humanity,” he concluded.

France has already recognized the killings as a genocide, but the new bill would go further, by punishing anyone who denies this with a year in jail and a fine of 45,000 euros ($57,000).

Earlier Turkish Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoglu, who cancelled talks with European Union foreign ministers in Brussels on Iran’s nuclear drive, to deal with the crisis, said Ankara had already prepared its response.

“We have previously determined the steps to be taken if the bill is finally adopted. No one should doubt it,” the state-run Anatolia news agency quoted Davutoglu as saying.

Davutoglu said Saturday the law would trigger “permanent sanctions,” arguing that it goes against European values and would not help Turkish-Armenian relations.

Trade between France and Turkey was worth 12 billion euros ($15.5 billion) in 2010, with several hundred French businesses operating there.

Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan accused France of hypocrisy and Sarkozy of pandering to France’s estimated 400,000 voters of Armenian origin, three months ahead of a tough re-election battle.

“I hope the Senate will not make France a country contradicting its own values,” Erdogan said. “This is a debate which is entirely against the freedom of thought. This is merely a step taken for the upcoming elections.”

Erdogan had closely followed the debate and had met with Davutoglu to put final touches on the measures Ankara could take, according to media reports.

The Turkish media showed intense interest in the vote, with many Turkish news channels broadcasting the session live.

Turkey’s deputy prime minister Bulent Arinc warned that Ankara could ask Europe’s top rights court to denounce Paris if the legislation is adopted, a move he said would be a “historic shame”.

Around 15,000 Turks from France, Belgium, The Netherlands and Luxembourg rallied peacefully on the streets of Paris on Saturday to protest the law.

Several hundred Turks and Armenians separated by riot police demonstrated outside the Senate as the debate began.

Gendarmes were deployed within the chamber, checking the identities of those going in, a rare precaution. Dozens of foreign media, particularly Turkish, filled the press gallery.
France has already recognized the killings as a genocide, but the new bill would go further, by punishing anyone who denies this with a year in jail and a fine of 45,000 euros ($57,000).

Armenia’s president thanked his French counterpart Tuesday after France’s Senate approved a bill.

“France has reaffirmed its greatness and power, its devotion to universal human values,” Armenian President Serge Sargisian said in a letter to French leader Nicolas Sarkozy.

“This day is exceptional for all those who are struggling for the protection of human rights, for the condemnation and prevention of crimes against humanity,” Sargisian wrote. He said it was “a historic day for Armenians all over the world.”

Several hundred young political activists and students also gathered outside the French embassy in Yerevan to express their gratitude, bringing flowers and candles and waving French and Armenian flags.

Some carried placards with slogans like “France is a guarantor of historical justice,” while others chanted: “Long live Armenia, long live France, long live the Franco-Armenian friendship!”

“We came here to say thank you to the French ambassador and ask him to convey our huge thanks to President Sarkozy, the senators and the French people,” one of the rally’s organizers, Artur Kazarian, told AFP.

“France has shown once again that it places human values higher than economic and military interests,” he said.

Armenia and its large diaspora around the world has long campaigned for international recognition of the mass killings by Ottoman Turks during World War I as genocide, despite strong denials from Turkey.

The issue, which inspires intense feelings among Armenians, has poisoned relations between the two neighbors whose mutual border remains closed.

(Armenpress contributed to this report.)