French Senate Passes Genocide Bill

* Senate votes 164 to 40 to adopt measure after four-hour debate.

PARIS (ANCA–RFE/RL–Reuters–Noyan Tapan)–Following a heated four hour debate that lasted until 5:30 Wednesday morning–the French Senate–resisting intense pressure from the Turkish Government–adopted a measure publicly recognizing the Armenian Genocide.

Commenting on the victory–Armenian National Committee of France Chairman Ara Krikorian said–"This is a victory for the French people–the Armenian people and all mankind." The ANC-France and the broad-based April 24th Committee worked together for several years to secure support for this resolution at the national and local levels. At the time of the vote–more than 1,000 Armenia’s were present at a vigil outside the Senate building.

Overcoming strong opposition by the Senate leadership to the scheduling of a vote on the initiative–Senators supporting the recognition of the Armenian Genocide voted to discuss the resolution as part of the "urgent issues" agenda item. This sparked several hours of debate and a flurry of amendmen’s designed to either weaken or kill the resolution. One amendment–which urged that the Armenian Genocide issue be left to historians–was overwhelmingly defeated by a vote of 168 to 54.

Sources in France reported that prior to the vote–President Jacques Chirac phoned all right-wing party senators to urge them to vote against the Genocide bill–but to no avail.

Armenian Genocide bill proponents–Senators Gilbert Charboux–Bernard Piras–Jean Claude Gaudin and Gerard Collomb were among those speaking forcefully in support of the measure–while the Senate’s France-Turkey Friendship Caucus Chairman Jacques-Richard Delong led the opposition. The measure was finally adopted by the Senate–the upper house of the French Parliament–by a vote of 164 for–40 against and 4 abstentions.

The French Assembly–the lower house of the Parliament–had adopted a similar resolution on May 29–1998. Since that time–the French Government and Senate leadership have obstructed efforts to schedule the measure for a vote in the Senate–citing concern about its effects on France-Turkey relations. In the weeks leading up to Wednesday’s vote–Turkish President Sezer warned French President Jacques Chirac that passage of the resolution would negatively impact diplomatic relations between the two countries. A delegation of Turkish parliamentarians had traveled to Paris to lobby against the measure. Similar tactics were used–successfully–by the Turkish government to block a vote on an Armenian Genocide resolution this October in the US House of Representatives.

"We welcome this historic vote by the French Senate as an important step toward ending Turkey’s shameful campaign to deny the Armenian Genocide," said ANCA Executive Director Aram Hamparian. "As Armenian Americans–we applaud the French Senate for standing up to the Turkish government’s campaign of threats–lies–and intimidation. We are already working to help ensure that the incoming U.S. Administration and Congress will do the same."

Following Senate passage–the resolution must again be considered by the French Assembly and–upon approval–will go to President Jacques Chirac for signature.

Armenia welcomed on Wednesday the decision by the French Senate to recognize as genocide the massacres of an estimated 1.5 million Armenia’s in the Ottoman Empire 85 years ago–reported Radio Free Europe/Radio liberty.

A spokesman for the Armenian foreign ministry–Ara Papian said in a statement that the vote "reaffirms the historical truth" and enables Armenia and Turkey to "overcome difficult issues inherited from the past."

Later–Foreign Minister Vartan Oskanian urged the Armenian parliament to officially express its gratitude to the French lawmakers.

EU membership candidate Turkey Wednesday condemned a French senate decision to recognize the Armenian Genocide–reported Reuters news agency.

Approval of the bill could spark tension between Ankara and Paris and trouble Turkey’s budding relations with the European Union–of which France currently holds the rotating presidency.

"We reject and condemn this decision–which constitutes an extremely unfortunate and mistaken step," Foreign Ministry spokesman Huseyin Dirioz told reporters–adding that the measure would now go before the national assembly.

"The national assembly should not repeat the senate’s mistake and worsen the damage already done to our relations," the Turkish spokesman’said.

Dirioz made reference to huge forced marches of Armenia’s away from areas of eastern Anatolia where they had lived.

"At that time all the people of the region were hit by heavy fighting–climate conditions–infectious disease and poor nutrition. However–a large section of the Armenia’s reached their new settlement areas safely. In other words–there was neither a genocide against Armenia’s nor a genocide order. Claims to the contrary are deliberate and baseless," he said.

Dirioz accused Armenian President Robert Kocharian of orchestrating a campaign to win recognition for a genocide in foreign capitals.

"This policy does not serve peace and stability in the Caucasus–increases Armenia’s regional isolation and does great harm to the suffering people of Armenia," he said.

The Parliament of Italy postponed the discussion of the resolution on the Armenian Genocide until November 13-14–Public Relations Department of the Foreign Ministry of Armenia told Noyan Tapan.

In an interview to the Boston Globe newspaper–Speaker of the Armenian National Assembly Armen Khachatrian said that if the problem of the recognition of the Armenian Genocide is not solved–the Armenian-Turkish relations will not be fully normal. Agreeing that both Turkey and Armenia are interested in the development of economic relations–Kachatrian stressed that "the Genocide is a historical fact and it is right to admit it–clean the dust of history and build new relations."

As regards the exchange of Meghri in the context of the Karabakh settlement–Khachatrian said that this scheme is considered unacceptable by Armenia. At the same time he stressed that the Armenian authorities are disposed to discuss the "common state" variant approved by them. Khachatrian also expressed the opinion that the blockade imposed on Armenia by Azerbaijan and Turkey is a serious obstacle to the solution to the problem.

Meanwhile–the director of the Institute-Museum of the Armenian Genocide Lavrenty Barseghian said that the recognition of the Armenian Genocide by the French Senate is a great democratic achievement–and according to him–it is also a victory gained by Armenia’s residing in France as they earned this right during WW I and II.

Barseghian pointed out that for many years Turkey has been carrying out vigorous propaganda activities in France–exerting pressure on the president–and inflicting financial damage on France by rejecting to sign trade contracts. But–according to Barseghian–the French president could not resist the pressure of the people.

Barseghian also said that the US Congress could not discuss the issue of the Armenian Genocide–as it is soon to be dissolved. As a rule–the US military circles objected to the issue being discussed–as the US has 12 and NATO 15 military bases on Turkish territory. But–he said–Congressmen are continuing to raise the issue–and the US will eventually recognize the Armenian Genocide.

Barseghian said that first–the Armenian Genocide must be recognized by the countries that were involved in WWI: Germany–Austria–Great Britain–Italy and Turkey.

The Armenian Genocide was for the first time recognized by the parliament of Uruguay. Later the Genocide was recognized by a number of countries: Argentina (1985)–Cyprus (1990)–Russia (1995)–Greece (1996)–Lebanon and Australia (1997)–Belgium (1998)–Sweden and France (2000).

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