Angelique Chrisafis in Paris

The Guardian
Wednesday October 11, 2006

The French parliament has been warned it could undermine relations
between the EU and Turkey if it passes a law tomorrow making it a
crime to deny Armenians suffered genocide at the hands of Ottoman
Turks during the first world war.

The draft bill, which is to be debated by the national assembly, was
put forward by France's opposition Socialist party, and recommends
that anyone who denies the mass-murder of Armenians between 1915
and 1917 was genocide should face a year in prison and a â~B¬45,000
(£30,500) fine.

Olli Rehn, the commissioner in charge of Turkey's EU membership
negotiations, warned this week the law could have "serious
consequences" for EU relations with Turkey. He said it would jeopardise
efforts by Turkish intellectuals to develop an open debate on the
Armenian question.

Ankara has deemed it ironic that France is preparing to punish those
who express a particular view of history at a time when Turkey is under
heavy EU pressure to change some of its own laws which are viewed
as restricting freedom of expression. The Turkish prime minister,
Recep Tayyip Erdogan, yesterday referred to the proposed law as a
"systematic lie machine". Turkey recalled its ambassador to France in
May after the Socialist party first presented the bill in parliament.

Turkish politicians have since warned that French-Turkish trade links
will suffer if the bill is adopted, and some are discussing possible
retaliatory measures, including criminalising the denial of genocide in
Algeria which France ruled from 1830 to 1962. One Turkish MP suggested
expelling all illegal Armenian immigrants if the bill was passed.

Mr Erdogan said he would not engage in tit-for-tat measures but
said France should reexamine its colonial past before pronouncing on
history elsewhere.

He repeated calls to Armenia to jointly research the killings by
opening the historical archives of both countries to historians.

Turkey's official policy is to acknowledge that large numbers of
Armenians were killed by Turks, but to reject the overall estimate
of 1.5 million deaths as inflated. It maintains that deaths occurred
as part of civil unrest during the collapse of the Ottoman Empire and
thousands of Turks also died. Saying otherwise in Turkey can lead to
criminal prosecution.

Yesterday Turkey's foremost Armenian journalist, Hrant Dink, who has
been repeatedly tried for "insulting Turkishness" by urging Turkey
to come clean on its part in the massacres, said passing the French
law would be a mistake. "I will go to France to protest against this
madness and violate the [new] law if I see it necessary. And I will
commit the crime to be prosecuted there so that these two irrational
mentalities can race to put me into jail," he told Reuters. He said
the French draft law and the Armenian issue was being exploited by
those in France and the EU opposed to Turkey's EU entry.

Other Turkish writers criticised the French bill, including Elif
Shafak, who was acquitted last month after she was charged with
"insulting Turkishness" over one of her fictitious characters who
referred to the Armenian "genocide".

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