‘Genocide’ bill passes despite low turnout
Demonstrators of France’s Turkish community protest outside the parliament in Paris. AFP photoFrench lawmakers in the lower house yesterday adopted a draft law to ban the denial of Armenian genocide allegations despite fierce warnings from Turkey of a diplomatic crisis and economic consequences.
There was no official vote count since lawmakers simply voted by raising their hands. The measure now goes to the Senate, where its fate is less clear. There were only 50 deputies out of 577 present in Parliament’s lower house during the vote.
Lawmakers denounced what they called Turkey’s propaganda effort in a bid to sway them. “Laws voted in this chamber cannot be dictated by Ankara,” said Jean-Christophe Lagarde, a deputy from the New Center party, as Turks demonstrated outside the National Assembly ahead of the vote.
The bill’s author said she was “shocked” at the attempt to interfere with Parliament’s work. “My bill doesn’t aim at any particular country,” said Valerie Boyer, a deputy from the ruling conservative Union for a Popular Movement (UMP) party. “It is inspired by European law, which says that the people who deny the existence of the genocides must be sanctioned.”
She called on French businesspeople not to take “Turkey’s threats” into consideration. Boyer said their goal was not to deteriorate the relations between the two countries but to protect French citizens, daily Hürriyet reported yesterday.
“We’re not trying to write history but to make an indispensable political act,” Patrick Devedjian, a UMP lawmaker of Armenian descent, told Parliament. He noted that several Turkish writers had been prosecuted for the reverse offence of “affirming the existence” of the 1915 genocide and claimed that Turkey had recognized in 1919 that crimes had been committed, Agence France-Presse reported. “Now, Turkey is falling into revisionism and denies its own history,” he said to general support from his colleagues.
The law penalizes the denial of any massacre recognized as genocide by the state, but so far this list only includes the Holocaust and the Armenian genocide – and Holocaust denial is penalized under French law. France in 2001 became the first large European state to follow suit through a law stating that “France publicly recognizes the 1915 Armenian genocide,” without stating that the Turks were responsible. The resolution approved yesterday would penalize anyone who refuses to label the mass killings of Ottoman Armenians in 1915 as genocide.
Boyer “blamed Turkey’s diplomatic threats.” She said, “Some countries committed the crime of denying the incidents of 1915. Half of the Armenian population of 1914 were deported or massacred. I expect your support [to this resolution],” she said during her speech in Parliament before voting the resolution.
A total of 17 deputies addressed Parliament before the vote. More than one member of the UMP spoke against the law, which also has the support of some opposition Socialists. “It’s in no one’s interests to pour oil on the fire in this fragile, sensitive and strategic region,” said Michel Diefenbacher, head of Parliament’s Franco-Turkish Friendship Committee, Agence France-Presse reported. “What would we say, we French, if some other country came and told us what it thinks about the Vendee massacre?” he said, referring to mass killings in the 1790s in western France in the wake of the French Revolution.
Diefenbacher said he would vote against the bill saying that “Parliamentarian role is not to write history.” Diefenbacher, member of the ruling UMP party, said the resolution was against the French constitution. He urged that if the resolution goes to constitutional court following possible objections, then the law approved in 2001 recognizing the Armenian “genocide” might be in danger too. “This resolution is not in favor of Armenians too,” he said.
Francois Bayrou, the centrist Democratic Movement’s candidate for presidency, also spoke against the resolution. “There have been massacres in Cambodia, Rwanda and Vendee. Are these going to come [before us] too? I think you are entering into a dangerous road,” said Bayrou, according to Hürriyet. French MP Patrick Ollier said the bill did not target Turkey and praised the relations between Turkey and France during his speech before the vote.