The Australian
January 2, 2012 Monday
1 - All-round Country Edition

France a target over Armenia


DEATH threats against politicians and ``cyber attacks'' on Paris by
Turkish nationalists have followed the introduction of a law by
France's national assembly that would make it illegal to deny Turkey's
genocide against Armenia in the early years of the last century.

Valerie Boyer, an MP from President Nicolas Sarkozy's centre-right
party, is under police protection after receiving anonymous death
threats for proposing the genocide bill that must be approved by the
Senate before becoming law.

At the same time, various websites, including Ms Boyer's and that of
the Senate, have been blocked by Turkish nationalist groups.

An enraged Turkey withdrew its ambassador for consultations and
announced a freeze on military co-operation with France after the
national assembly approved the legislation last month. Ankara has
threatened further sanctions if the French Senate approves the law,
which would impose a one-year prison sentence and a fine of E45,000 on
offenders. ``If the proposal becomes law, this unjust measure will be
contested in all possible ways,'' Turkey's national security council
said in a statement. Its Foreign Minister said the proposed law was
``an attack on our national dignity''.

It is not known when the Senate will begin debate.

A key supporter of the law is Charles Aznavour, the 87-year-old singer
of Armenian origin who wrote to Mr Sarkozy to thank him for supporting
the bill.

Mr Sarkozy is in the midst of preparations for a difficult re-election
campaign this year and pleasing Aznavour is considered a key to
winning 500,000 French-Armenian votes and support from the singer's
extensive, if elderly, fan base. Despite announcing a ``farewell
tour'' in 2006, Aznavour, or ``Le Grand Charles'', is still performing
after a career spanning seven decades.

He enjoys the title of ``national hero'' in Armenia and in 2009 became
the Armenian ambassador to Switzerland, where he lives. He is
regularly rated in polls as among the most popular figures in France.

Unpopular at home, ``Sarko'', who is trailing in the polls behind
Francois Hollande, the Socialist candidate, has become a Turkish hate
figure. Even before his support for the genocide bill he had incurred
the wrath of Ankara by opposing Turkey's application for membership of
the EU on the grounds that it was too big, too poor and too Muslim.

Mr Sarkozy is reported to have promised Aznavour years ago to promote
a law outlawing denial of the Armenian genocide. Aznavour reminded him
in March.

Alain Juppe, the Foreign Minister, is reportedly furious at seeing
French diplomacy hijacked. ``This law will kill off dialogue with the
Turks,'' he told Mr Sarkozy. ``We mustn't forget that the Turks have
just ordered 100 Airbuses and there are 1000 French companies doing
business in Turkey.''

In a meeting with his aides, Mr Juppe was apparently less diplomatic:
``Intellectually, economically and diplomatically, this law is an
unimaginable stupidity . . . all that to try and win back some
Armenian-French votes. It's ridiculous.''

French business leaders fear a Turkish boycott if the law is passed by
the Senate.

From: Baghdasarian