The Globe and Mail (Canada)
December 23, 2011 Friday

Turkey blasts French bill to criminalize genocide denial



France sparked a major diplomatic row with Turkey on Thursday by
taking steps to criminalize the denial of genocide, including the 1915
mass killing of Armenians by Ottoman Turks, prompting Ankara to cancel
all economic, political and military meetings.

Turkish Prime Minister Tayyip Erdogan said the draft law put forward
by members of President Nicolas Sarkozy's Enhanced Coverage
LinkingNicolas Sarkozy's -Search using:Biographies Plus NewsNews,
Most Recent 60 Daysruling party was "politics based on racism,
discrimination, xenophobia."

"This is using Turkophobia and Islamophobia to gain votes, and it
raises concerns regarding these issues not only in France but all
Europe," he told a news conference, adding that Turkey could "not
remain silent in the face of this."

France had opened wounds with Turkey that would be difficult to mend,
he said, adding that Mr. Sarkozy, who faces a tough re-election battle
in April, was sacrificing good ties "for the sake of political
calculations."

Mr. Erdogan said Turkey was cancelling all economic, political and
military meetings with its NATO partner and that it would cancel
permission for French military planes to land, and warships to dock,
in Turkey.

Earlier in the day, Turkish officials said their ambassador in Paris
had been recalled for consultations.

Lawmakers in France's National Assembly - the lower house of
parliament - voted overwhelmingly in favour of the bill, which will be
debated next year in the Senate.

A French diplomatic source said Paris still considered fellow NATO
member Turkey an important partner.

"I don't understand why France wants to censor my freedom of
expression," Yildiz Hamza, president of the Montargis association that
represents 700 Turkish families in France, said outside the National
Assembly.

Earlier, about 3,000 French nationals of Turkish origin demonstrated
peacefully outside the parliament ahead of the vote, which came 32
years to the day since a Turkish diplomat was assassinated by Armenian
militants in central Paris.

The authorities in Yerevan, Armenia welcomed the vote. "By adopting
this bill [France] reconfirmed that crimes against humanity do not
have a period of prescription and their denial must be absolutely
condemned," Armenia's Foreign Minister Edward Nalbandian said.

France passed a law recognizing the killing of Armenians as genocide
in 2001. The French lower house first passed a bill criminalizing the
denial of an Armenian genocide in 2006, but it was rejected by the
Senate in May this year.

The latest draft law was made more general to outlaw the denial of any
genocide, partly in the hope of appeasing Turkey.

It could still face a long passage into law, though its backers want
to see it completed before parliament is suspended at the end of
February ahead of elections in the second quarter.

Armenia, backed by many historians and parliaments, says about
1.5-million Christian Armenians were killed in eastern Turkey during
the First World War.

Successive Turkish governments and the vast majority of Turks feel the
charge of genocide is an insult to their nation. Ankara argues that
there was heavy loss of life on both sides during fighting in the
area.