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French Pass Bill That Punishes Denial of Armenian Genocide

By Thomas Crampton


France’s National Assembly, defying appeals from Turkey, approved legislation Thursday that would make it a crime to deny that the mass killings of Armenians in Turkey during and after World War I were genocide.

The legislation, which was criticized by Turkey’s government and some European Union officials, could further complicate talks for Turkey’s admission to the Union.

With 106 deputies voting in favor and 19 against, the law sets fines of up to 45,000 euros, or about $56,000, and a year in prison for denying the genocide. Of the 577 members of the Assembly, four abstained and 448 did not vote at all, raising the question of whether there would be enough political will to push the law through the Senate.

Scholars and most Western governments have recognized the killing of more than a million Armenians by Ottoman Turks from 1915 to 1919 as genocide. But the subject is still taboo in Turkey, and charges have been pursued against writers and others who have brought attention to the genocide, including Orhan Pamuk, the novelist who was just awarded the Nobel Prize in literature.

“The Turkish people refuse the limitation of freedom of expression on the basis of groundless claims,” the Turkish Foreign Ministry said in a statement. “With this draft law, France unfortunately loses its privileged status in the eyes of Turkish public opinion.”

Ali Babacan, the Turkish economy minister and the country’s lead negotiator on talks with Europe, said he could not rule out consequences for French companies.

“What happened in France today, we believe, is not in line with the core values of the European Union,” Babacan said, adding that the government would not encourage a boycott of French goods.

In Brussels, Belgium, the European Union warned that the law could have a harmful effect on negotiations. “It would prohibit dialogue which is necessary for reconciliation on the issue,” said Krisztina Nagy, a spokeswoman for the Union. “It is not up to law to write history. Historians need to have debate.”

Turkey’s potential membership in the European Union has been a hot political topic in France ahead of the presidential elections next spring. But the new legislation has been more of a campaign issue in France, which has one of Europe’s largest Armenian populations.