x Abu Dhabi, UAESaturday 22 July 2017

Turkey outraged as French pass Armenian 'genocide' bill

France's domestic gamble could have major international consequences. Its relations with Turkey are already strained, in large part because Nicolas Sarkozy opposes Turkey's entry into the European Union.

Franco-Turkish demonstrators wave French and Turkish flags as they protest against a senate vote on a bill making it illegal to deny that the killing of Armenians by Ottoman Turks nearly a century ago was a genocide.
Franco-Turkish demonstrators wave French and Turkish flags as they protest against a senate vote on a bill making it illegal to deny that the killing of Armenians by Ottoman Turks nearly a century ago was a genocide.

PARIS // France's parliament voted late last night to make it a crime to deny that the killings of Armenians by Ottoman Turks nearly a century ago constituted a genocide, risking more sanctions from Turkey and complicating an already delicate relationship with the rising power.

Turkey, which sees the allegations of genocide as a threat to its national honour, suspended military, economic and political ties and briefly recalled its ambassador last month when the lower house of parliament approved the same bill.

Before last night's senate vote, Turkey threatened more measures if the bill passed, though did not specify them. Recep Tayyip Erdogan, the Turkish president, was expected to announce the measures at a press conference this afternoon.

The French president, Nicolas Sarkozy, whose party supported the bill, still needs to sign it into law, but that is largely considered a formality.

The debate surrounding the measure comes in the highly charged run-up to France's presidential elections this spring, and critics have called the move a ploy to the garner votes of the some 500,000 Armenians who live in France.

Valerie Boyer, the lawmaker from Sarkozy's conservative UMP party who wrote the bill, did not deny that, saying that politicians are supposed to pass laws that they think their constituents want.

"That's democracy," she said.

But this domestic gamble could have major international consequences. France's relations with Turkey are already strained, in large part because Mr Sarkozy opposes Turkey's entry into the European Union. The law will no doubt further sour relations with a Nato member that is playing an increasingly important role in the international community's response to the violence in Syria, the standoff over Iran's nuclear programme and peace negotiations in the Middle East.

"It is null and void for us," Turkey's justice minister, Sadullah Ergin, said immediately after the bill's passage. "It is a great disgrace and injustice against Turkey. I want to tell to France that you have no value for us in the slightest degree, we don't care."

The bill has also drawn massive protests in Paris, with thousands of Turks converging on the city this weekend to denounce it. Yesterday, smaller rival demonstrations, separated by a substantial police presence, gathered outside the senate.

The senate voted 127 to 86 to pass the bill. Twenty-four people abstained. The measure sets a punishment of up to one year in prison and a fine of €45,000 (Dh215,000) for those who deny or "outrageously minimise" the killings.