French parliament approves bill on Armenian Genocide denial

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Thursday, October 12, 2006

An article published in the New York Times on December 15, 1915 on the Armenian Genocide.

Today, the French National Assembly passed a bill that would penalise what the bill calls negationism of the Armenian Genocide. The French government however opposes the bill; Catherine Colonna, Minister charged with European Affairs, reacted that "It's the task, first and foremost, of historians and not of lawmakers to clarify history."

The label "genocide" is disputed by the Turkish government, who has called the vote a "serious blow" to diplomatic relations. Turkey has been known to prosecute Turkish intellectuals who discuss the Armenian genocide, including recent Nobel Prize winner Orhan Pamuk. Under the Turkish Penal Code, "prosecution for anti-national plots" faces those who call "for the recognition of the Armenian genocide".

Turkey's Prime Minister Erdoğan had warned France to look into its own colonial past in Africa instead of demanding Turkish recognition of the events. Ali Babacan, the Turkish Minister of Economy, in Brussels for talks on Turkey's E.U.-membership, said he could not exclude that people would start boycotting French products in Turkey. In a recent visit to Armenia, the French President Jacques Chirac launched the idea that recognition as a "genocide" would be necessary for Turkey to enter the E.U., causing the media to label it as the "Chirac criterion". The European Commission, which has confirmed that such a criterion would not be instituted, deplored the initiative of the French parliament, because it could damage contacts with the European Union.

Political map showing countries and individual U.S. states which have recognized the Armenian Genocide.

Most historians view the events comprising the Armenian genocide as a state-sponsored plan of mass extermination. Their reasons include various eye witness reports, Turkey's recruitment of violent criminals to posts within the "Special Organization", and the sheer number of dead, estimates of which remain as high as 1.5 million. Some politically influential countries like the U.S., Canada, and France have driven efforts to interpret these events as an attempt to eradicate an ethnic group. The Turkish government, as well as a few historians, estimate the number of casualties much lower, and attribute them to inter-ethnic strife, disease and famine during World War I.

Armenia has congratulated France over its "natural response" to an "aggressive" policy of "denial" by the Turkish government. Armenians often argue that Turkey's recognition will help prevent similar events in the future. These assertions include claims that Scheubner-Richter's observations of the Armenian genocide had a formative influence upon Hitler's plans for the Jews.

The French bill provides for a 1-year prison sentence and a 45,000 fine, the same as for Holocaust denial. It must still be approved by the Senate and the President, and due to the parliamentary calendar, news sources think it is unlikely that it will be discussed before the end of the legislation period in February 2007.

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