The Sunday Times (London)
January 1, 2012 Sunday
Edition 2; National Edition


Singer nudges Sarkozy into genocide row

by: Matthew Campbell


DEATH threats against politicians and "cyberattacks" on Paris by
Turkish nationalists have followed the adoption 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.

Valérie 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 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 cooperation 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
(EURO)45,000 (£37,500) 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 yet known when the Senate will
begin its debate.

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

Sarkozy is in the midst of preparations for a difficult re-election
campaign this year and pleasing Aznavour is considered a key to
winning not only 500,000 French-Armenian votes but also 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 he became the Armenian
ambassador to Switzerland, where he lives. He is regularly hailed in
polls as one of the most popular figures in France.

Unpopular at home, "Sarko", who is trailing in the polls behind
François 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 European Union on the grounds that it is too big, too poor and too
Muslim to join.

Sarkozy is reported to have promised Aznavour years ago that he would
promote a law outlawing the denial of the Armenian genocide; Aznavour
reminded him in March. Alain Juppé, the foreign minister, is
reportedly furious at seeing French diplomacy hijacked. "This law will
kill off dialogue with the Turks," he told Sarkozy.

"We mustn't forget that the Turks have just ordered 100 Airbuses and
there are 1,000 French companies doing business in Turkey."

In a meeting with his aides Juppé 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. Turkey has already barred French military aircraft from
flying over its territory on the way to Afghanistan in order to
express its displeasure.

Sarkozy may be hoping the Senate will vote down the law, in which case
he can blame the Socialists as they hold the Senate majority.