Turkey welcomes appeal of ‘genocide’ law

By Tony Todd

Some 130 French parliamentarians have lodged an appeal with the country’s constitutional court to overturn a controversial bill that would criminalise denying that the 1915 mass killing of Armenians in Turkey was genocide.

Turkey on Wednesday welcomed an appeal by some 130 French lawmakers for the Constitutional Court to overturn a law that would criminalise genocide denial in France.

The draft law, which was passed by the Senate in January, includes the mass killing of ethnic Armenians in Turkey in 1915, an event that was officially recognised as genocide by France in 2001.

The bill was given final parliamentary approval by the Senate on January 23, prompting Ankara to cut all military, political and economic ties with France.

Only President Nicolas Sarkozy’s signature is needed for the bill to become law.

However, it can still be blocked if judges decide it is unconstitutional. The court has one month to make its ruling.

Engin Solakoglu, spokesman for the Turkish Ambassador to Paris, told FRANCE 24 that Turkey was “greatly encouraged” by the appeal.

“This is the only hope we have to save French-Turkish relations,” he said. “Of course having the support of 130 lawmakers, a significant part of the French political class, is a good thing. Overall we are greatly encouraged.

“But if this bill becomes law, it will be the end of French-Turkish relations.”

Freedom of expression

The French lawmakers, from both the lower National Assembly and the upper Senate, argue that the massacre of Armenians – which Turkey admits happened but insists was not a deliberate genocide – was an event that should be left to historians.

Jacques Myard, a member of the National Assembly for Sarkozy’s conservative UMP party, said the rebelling lawmakers accepted that both the Holocaust and the Armenian massacres constituted genocide.

But he said that the law was “clearly unconstitutional” and that upholding the right to freedom of expression, as enshrined in the French constitution, was more important that criminalising deniers.

“We should leave historians to be able to debate this issue freely,” he said. “And this law is a direct attack on that freedom.”

This argument was rejected by one historian, however, who insisted legislation to outlaw genocide denial was necessary and accused the rebelling MPs of “dishonesty”.

Yves Ternon, author of “Wars and Genocides of the 20th century”, said he was “absolutely convinced that this bill should be passed into law.”

“Historians have already established that it was genocide, and while the law criminalises outright denial, it does not threaten in any way a proper historical debate,” he said.

Electoral expediency?

Turkey has accused Sarkozy of using the law to win the votes of 500,000 ethnic Armenians living in France ahead May’s presidential election.

However, both France’s Socialist Party, which has a majority in the upper house, and Sarkozy’s UMP party, which put forward the bill, supported the legislation.

Armenians, backed by many historians and parliaments, say some 1.5 million Christian Armenians were killed in what is now eastern Turkey during the First World War in a deliberate policy of genocide ordered by the Ottoman government.

Successive Turkish governments – and the vast majority of Turks – feel the charge of genocide is a direct insult to their nation.

Ankara argues there was heavy loss of life on both sides during fighting in the area after the Armenians sided with invading Russians, and that the killings should be seen in the context of a World War.