FRENCH BILL POSES SERIOUS THREAT TO FRENCH-TURKISH RELATIONS, EXPERT SAYS

Today's Zaman
Dec 19 2011
Turkey

The passing of a law in France that would make denying an alleged
Armenian genocide illegal could seriously damage bilateral relations,
Didier Billion, a Turkish-French relations expert at a French Strategic
and International Relations Institute (IRIS), has said.

Speaking to the Anatolia news agency on Monday, Billion recalled
that French President Nicolas Sarkozy was initially against the
bill, which if passed would make it punishable under French law to
refuse acknowledging the events of 1915 in Turkey as genocide, but
changed his mind following a visit to Yerevan in October. Sarkozy
called on Turkey to recognize the mass killings of Armenians at the
onset of World War I as genocide, a term Turkey vehemently rejects
as the country claims that the deaths occurred during civil unrest
and that casualties were from both sides. Despite Turkish efforts,
France recognized the alleged genocide in 2001, but a similar bill
to penalize its denial was turned down by the French Senate in 2006.

Billion further recognized there was a strong possibility that the bill
would be passed this time and would seriously damage Turkish-French
relations, since it has the backing of both the ruling party and the
opposition Socialist Party. However, should anyone be convicted under
the potential law, defendants could easily resort to the European Court
of Human Rights, since the law would interfere with the principle of
freedom of expression, Anatolia quoted Billion as saying.

At a speech in Yerevan, Sarkozy threatened Turkey to recognize the
so-called genocide, and pledged that the bill would be passed if Turkey
failed to act on his warning immediately. Prime Minister Recep Tayyip
Erdogan brushed off the ultimatum, suggesting that France should face
its own history before judging Turkey's, a remark he has recently
repeated in the face of the French vote.

On Thursday, the French parliament will debate the proposal, but
it will still need approval from the senate, Billion clarified the
procedure, and predicted that the debate surrounding the process
would continue. He also attributed the lack of discussion in the
French public regarding the bill to more pressing issues currently
being experienced in the European bloc, including the eurozone debt
crisis and related financial issues.