French Parliament Commission Approves Genocide Bill

PRAGUE (RFE/RL/Reuters)–Despite strong objections from Ankara–the Armenian Genocide Resolution is pending at the French National Assembly to recognize officially the Armenian genocide by Turks that took place more than 80 years ago in what was then the Ottoman Empire. The Assembly’s action on a resolution presented by the ruling Left Government will make France the first major European Union country to acknowledge the controversial massacre. Only Greece–Turkey’s long-time adversary–has done so in the past.

The Assembly’s affirmative vote was virtually assured earlier this week (Tuesday–May 26) when its Foreign Relations Commission endorsed the resolution. Commission chairman Jack Lang is a former minister and close associate of the late Socialist President Francois Mitterrand–who himself personally but publicly recognized the Armenian Genocide while in office. Lang drafted the Assembly’s resolution and has been its strongest supporter and guiding spirit. On Thursday–he told Radio France Internationale that its passage "would rectify an historic injustice (and) honor France as well as the Armenian victims."

According to Armenia’s–several contemporary independent observers of the killings and many late historians–Turks systematically murdered more than a million ethnic Armenia’s living in Anatolia between 1915 and 1917–while Europe was preoccupied with World War One. Turkish officials have long denied that any deliberate attempt was made to exterminate the Armenian minority during those years–saying that only 300,000 were killed.

During his interview with French radio today–Lang acknowledged that the Assembly’s recognition of the Genocide would–at least temporarily–upset French-Turkish relations. Last December–the 15-nation EU decided not to grant Turkey the status of a candidate for membership and Ankara immediately cut off all political dialogue with Brussels. Throughout the six months since–France–which–unlike Germany and other EU members–has no large resident Turkish community–has sought to play the role of mediator. Paris has urged the Union to find a way to assuage Ankara’s anger at being made what it calls "a pariah nation" by the EU.

In the past few days–however–the Turkish government’s anger has been directed less at Brussels than at Paris. Earlier this week–President Suleyman Demirel said that passage of the resolution would seriously damage relations between the two countries. on Wednesday–Foreign Minister Ismail Cem said the pending vote would "encourage violence."

Cem did not explicitly say the violence would take place in France–which is now threatened with Islamic terrorist action during the month-long World Cup soccer tournament that begins in two weeks. But he made his remarks at a ceremony in Ankara honoring victims of a 1970s and ’80s campaign by a terrorist organization calling itself the Armenian Secret Army for the Liberation of Armenia.

Turkish spokesman Necati Utkan said Turkish Prime Minister Mesut Yilmaz had sent a letter to his French counterpart Lionel Jospin asking him to oppose the bill introduced by left-wing deputies.

"The Turkish people are extremely sensitive about the use of the word `genocide’ to describe the sad events which occurred during the Great War and they feel unjustly accused of a crime they did not commit during a time marked by great suffering on both sides," the Hurriyet daily quoted the letter as saying.

In preparing for the pending vote Lang–who has an experienced hand for public relations–has worked closely with France’s influential Armenian community–which numbers several hundred thousand and is often represented by the world-famous singer Charles Aznavour.

The demonstrators will include members of the Armenian Diaspora in Belgium–Germany–Italy and other countries–who are being bussed into Paris for the occasion. Leaders of France’s 700,000-strong Jewish community have also expressed their support for the resolution.

None of this has gone down very well at the Quai d’Orsay–the home of France’s Foreign Ministry. Officials (who requested anonymity) there told RFE/RL in telephone chats that Lang persuaded Foreign Minister Hubert Vedrine–another former close Mitterrand associate–to accept the resolution even though it will effectively end France’s EU-Turkey mediation for the immediate future.

Incidentally–Turkey on Thursday commemorated the Day of Fallen Diplomats–to honor victims of so-called Armenian terrorism.

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