France risks Turkey anger with genocide law vote
French senators vote Monday on a bill to outlaw denial of theArmenian genocide, a move that a furious Turkey has vowed it would punish with “permanent” sanctions if it is passed into law.
The French lower house drew a first wave of Turkish ire last month, when it approved the bill which threatens with jail anyone in Francewho denies that the 1915 massacre of Armenians by Ottoman Turk forces amounted to genocide.
Ankara froze political and military ties with France and has promised further measures if the measure is passed by the Senateor is approved by President Nicolas Sarkozy, whose right-wing UMPparty put forward the bill.
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 that 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,” state-run Anatolia news agency quoted Davutoglu as saying.
“Turkey is no longer the Turkey of 2001,” Davutoglu said, referring to the year when the French parliament recognized the Armenian genocide under the Ottoman rule.
Davutoglu said Saturday that the law would result in “permanent sanctions,” that it went against European values and would not help Turkish-Armenian relations.
Around 15,000 Turks from France, Belgium, The Netherlands and Luxembourg rallied peacefully on the streets of Paris on Saturday to protest the law.
Turks and Armenians have vowed to stage demonstrations outside the Senate ahead of the debate, set for Monday afternoon, with police keeping them some distance apart.
In a bid to defuse the crisis, Sarkozy sent a conciliatory letter toTurkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan, released by the French embassy in Ankara on Friday.
“I hope we can make reason prevail and maintain our dialogue, as befits allied and friendly countries,” Sarkozy wrote, adding that the measure “is in no way aimed at any state or people in particular.”
But the bill has not won universal support in the government, where some ministers fear it will hurt diplomatic and trade ties with a NATO ally and major economic partner.
Even Sarkozy’s Foreign Minister Alain Juppe has admitted the bill is “untimely.”
A Senate Laws Commission on Wednesday rejected the bill, but their vote is not expected to prevent it from becoming law.
Armenians say up to 1.5 million of their forebears were killed in 1915 and 1916 by the forces of Turkey’s former Ottoman Empire.
Turkey disputes the figure, arguing that only 500,000 died, and denies this was genocide, ascribing the toll to fighting and starvation during World War I and accusing the Armenians of siding with Russian invaders.
France has already recognised 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).
Modern Turkey is extremely sensitive about the issue, and has accused France of attacking freedom of expression and free historical enquiry.
France is home to an estimated 600,000 citizens of Armenian descent, including 400,000 who can vote. Sarkozy’s UMP has been accused of backing the law in order to pander to a key electoral demographic three months ahead of a presidential election.