PARIS—The French Parliament approved a bill criminalizing the denial of the Armenian Genocide, and rendering it punishable with a year in jail and a fine of 45,000 euros ($58,000).
“I will vote thinking of Hrant Dink,” said one Member of Parliament as he concluded his remarks.
“We are not punishing any country, but we are fighting against genocide denial in our country,” said another.
“We are taking part in the mass destruction of Armenians when we allow its denial… We are voting in the name of Armenians who sought refuge here. How can we look in the eyes of our fellow citizens of Armenian heritage, while we know that there are those among us who deny the suffering of their grandparents?” said yet another Member of Parliament.
“Racism is not an opinion, it’s a crime,” said another.
The MPs who spoke highlighted the stories of survivors who arrived in France after the genocide, and talked about the significance of honoring the memory of the victims, the survivors, and their descendants, as well as safeguarding historical truth.
Several proposed amendments that aimed at diluting the bill were voted down.
More than two thousand Turks demonstrated against the bill outside the French Parliament building.
The French Senate is expected to vote on the bill by February 2012.
Turkey Recalls Ambassador
Official Ankara announced it has recalled its ambassador to France. According to Turkish State Television (TRT), ambassador Tahsin Burcuoglu will promptly return to Ankara.
A special delegation of Turkish officials had arrived in Paris on Dec. 19 to prevent the bill from passing.
Turkish Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoglu had likened the move as one from the Middle Ages. “If this proposal is legislated, France will pioneer the return of the Middle Ages mindset to Europe,” Anatolia News Agency quoted him as saying. The law would “create a new dogma about understanding history, to forbid alternative thoughts. This is the mentality of the Middle Ages. The adoption of this mindset in France is the greatest danger to Europe.”
Addressing his government officials, Davutoglu said it would be “out of the question to leave unanswered an attempt by any country leader, government, or parliament to dishonor our country and nation.”
“There will be irreparable consequences in all bilateral relations,” the undersecretary of the Turkish ambassador to Paris, Engin Solakoglu, told AFP. He said the proposed law was a “hostile act” and that “all cooperation with the French government, all joint projects, will be frozen.”
On the other hand, Turkey’s Human Rights Association’s Committee Against Racism and Discrimination had issued a press release and had initiated a signature campaign calling on Turkey to unite against genocide denial, not against the French Parliament.
In 2001, France adopted a bill officially recognizing the 1915 events as genocide.
Armenia Thanks France
Armenia’s Foreign Ministry issued an announcement immediately following the passage of the bill.
In a written statement Foreign Minister Edward Nalbandian said France has “once again proved its commitment to human values.”
“On this occasion, I would like to once again express gratitude to France’s supreme leadership, the National Assembly and all French people,” he said.
“Having recognized the Armenian Genocide with a law ten years ago, the French people have demonstrated that human rights are a supreme value. And by adopting this bill today they have reaffirmed that statutes of limitations do not extend to crimes against humanity and that their denial is subject to unequivocal condemnation,” added Nalbandian.
US Urges France, Turkey to Calm Row
The United States expressed hope Thursday that France and Turkey can de-escalate an angry row over Thursday’s French vote, a senior US diplomat said Thursday, AFP reported.
“We obviously want to see good relations between France and Turkey, we hope they can resolve differences between them, they’re both stalwart NATO allies and partners,” said the official, on condition of anonymity.
ANCA welcomes vote
Armenian National Committee of America Executive Director Aram Hamparian offered the following comment on the vote:
“Today’s overwhelming vote by the French National Assembly reinforces the growing international consensus–and the mounting pressure on Turkey–for a truthful and just resolution of the Armenian Genocide.”
“Closer to home, France’s stand underscores the need for our own American President and Congress to finally reject Ankara’s gag rule on the proper condemnation and commemoration of this still unpunished crime against humanity. We mark this occasion by urging President Obama to honor his pledge to recognize the Armenian Genocide and the House leadership to bring the Armenian Genocide Resolution, H.Res.304, for a full floor vote.”