French Parliament Passes Bill Making Genocide Denial a Crime

PARIS, YEREVAN, ANKARA (Combined Sources)–By a vote of 106 to 19, France’s National Assembly Thurday approved a landmark bill that makes the denial of the Armenian Genocide a crime, punishable by a one-year prison term and a 45,000 euro ($56,570)–exactly the same fine imposed for the denying the Jewish Holocaust. Armenia’strongly welcomed this development. "Today’s approval of the bill by the French National Assembly is a natural continuation of France’s principled and consistent defense of human and historic rights and values," Foreign Minister Vartan Oskanian said in a statement. "This decision is also a natural reaction to the intensive, aggressive and official denialism of the Armenian Genocide by the Turkish state," added Oskanian. "They have undertaken a premeditated, planned assault on the truth," added the statement "To adopt such a decision is the French Parliament’s sovereign right and is understandable. What we don’t understand is the Turkish government’s instigation of extremist public reactions, especially while Turkey itself has a law that does exactly the same thing and punishes those who even use the term genocide or venture to discuss those events," concluded the Oskanian statement. The sentiment was echoed by the European Armenian Federation, whose president Hilda Tchoboian said: "We welcome with emotion this historic step forward through which, once again, France points the way down the path of progress, humanity and dignity."The monster of denial is a tumor on freedom of expression and a threat to public order that must be eradicated," she went on, thanking all the "political personalities who joined together in this struggle."Does a genocide committed in World War I have less value than a genocide committed in World War II? Obviously not," Philippe Pomezec, a parliamentarian with the ruling Union for a Popular Movement (UMP), said during the debate. Another influential UMP parliament member, French-Armenian Patrick Devedjian, said Turkey was not a democratic country and did not deserve EU membership. "It is like they are asking to enter a club but have already smashed its windows," he told Reuters television. French President Jacques Chirac, during a state visit to Armenia earlier this month, preconditioned Turkish recognition of the Genocide to its entry into the European Union. He also echoed support for this legislation, which was proposed by the opposition Socialist Party. The French government did not support the motion and promised on Thursday to oppose it when it gets to the Senate, but Turkey said the damage has already been done. "French-Turkish relations … have been dealt a severe blow today as a result of the irresponsible false claims of French politicians who do not see the political consequences of their actions," the Turkish Foreign Ministry said in a statement. Turkish analysts say more is at stake than just bilateral ties, arguing that the vote will encourage Turkish nationalists and undermine pro-EU liberals by exposing the depth of anti-Turkey feelings in a founding member of the European Union. "It is the intention of those French politicians who backed this bill to antagonize Turkey, to push it to the limit and force it to throw in the towel," said Cengiz Candar, an EU expert at Istanbul’s Bahcesehir University. Some 60 protestors carried a black wreath down Istanbul’s main commercial street on Thursday and laid it in front of the French consulate. The European Commission, meanwhile, warned France that its bill could hinder efforts to end decades of dispute over the killings and noted that criteria for talks on Turkey’s possible EU entry do not include recognition of the Armenian killings as genocide. "Should this law indeed enter into force, it would prohibit the debate and the dialogue which is necessary for reconciliation on this issue," said Krisztina Nagy, spokeswoman on enlargement for the European Union’s executive arm. Oskanian insisted, however, the French parliament’s decision to criminalize denial of the Armenian genocide is "understandable."What we don’t understand is the Turkish government’s instigation of extremist public reactions, especially while Turkey itself has a law that does exactly the same thing and punishes those who even use the term genocide or venture to discuss those events," he said. The Turkish reaction to the French vote was also criticized by EU member Greece that too has had historically strained ties with Turkey. "Threats or insinuations, and the virulent tone of public statemen’s do not befit a country on the road to joining the European Union," foreign ministry spokesman George Koumoutsakos told a news briefing. France is home to the largest Armenian community in western Europe, with up to half a million people of Armenian descent living there. They make up a powerful political lobby which cannot be overlooked just seven months ahead of a presidential election. However, some Turks think French politicians have a broader agenda and are using the bill to try to block Ankara’s EU bid. Most French people oppose Turkey joining the 25-nation bloc and fear over its potential membership was one of the reasons why France voted last year to reject the EU constitution. Anti-Turkish feeling was palpable as French lawmakers left parliament on Thursday. An hour after the vote, Turkey’s best-known novelist, Orhan Pamuk, won the Nobel prize for Literature. Pamuk recently went on trial for insulting "Turkishness" after telling a Swiss newspaper nobody in Turkey dared mention the Armenian massacres (see related story). The Nor Serount (Armenian Youth Federation of France) welcomed the the adoption of the draft law. The organization’s spokesperson Armen Serobian told Armenpress that they welcome the braveness of parliament members who voted for the adoption of the draft law. "It is a historic day for France," Serobian said, adding that this time the French parliament did not give in to pressures from Turkey. The resolution was scheduled for a vote on May 18, but at the 11th hour it was withdrawn from the agenda. The organization called on the members of the French Senate to approve "the fair and democratic breakthrough which took place today by the adoption of the draft law," he said. In an interview with the Parisien newspaper, signer Charles Aznavour commended the approval of the bill, saying it brought pride to France. "I hoped that the members of parliament would hear the voice in their hearts and would vote for the adoption of the bill. I am proud to be a citizen of France, which has recognized the Armenian genocide. If one of the parties had 1.5 million victims and the other had no victims at all it is not a war, it is called genocide," Aznavour said.

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