Turks publish appeal against French Armenia bill

Agence France Presse -- English
May 5, 2006 Friday 2:34 PM GMT

PARIS, May 5 2006 -- Several Turkish organisations published an open
letter in French newspapers Friday calling on the National Assembly
not to back a bill that would make it a punishable offence to deny
"the existence of the 1915 Armenian genocide."

Proposed by members of the opposition Socialist Party (PS), the bill
has a first reading before the parliament on May 18.

If approved, it would authorise a maximum five years in prison and a
fine of 45,000 euros (57,000 dollars) for any person who denied that
the massacres of Armenians in World War I were a genocide.

The same punishment is on the statute books for people who deny that
the Jewish holocaust took place.

"If it were to be adopted, such a law would forbid any ulterior debate
among historians wanting to shed light on the responsibilities of
the parties to these tragic events," the Turkish organisations --
including unions and business groups -- said in their letter.

The bill follows on from a 2001 French law which officially recognised
the massacres as genocide.

According to the new bill's sponsor PS deputy Didier Migaud, the
original law was insufficient because it did not include any way of
punishing negationists.

The 2001 law, which infuriated Turkey, was passed when the PS had a
majority in the National Assembly. The new bill could only pass with
support from the government, which seems highly unlikely.

There has been much critical discussion recently in France about
so-called "historical" laws which seek to authorise an official
version of past events.

In January President Jacques Chirac asked for a controversial law
recognising the "positive role" of colonialism to be struck off the
statute books.

Armenians claim up to 1.5 million of their kin were slaughtered in
orchestrated killings between 1915 and 1917 by Turks, as the Ottoman
Empire, modern Turkey's predecessor, was falling apart.

Turkey categorically rejects the claims, saying 300,000 Armenians and
at least as many Turks died in civil strife when the Armenians took
up arms for independence in eastern Anatolia and sided with Russian
troops invading Ottoman soil.