French parliamentarians provoked fury in Ankara yesterday by approving a law that would make it a crime to deny that mass slaughter of Armenians within Turkey in 1915 amounted to genocide.
The vote provoked an angry demonstration by hundreds of Turks outside the National Assembly, while Turkey recalled its ambassador to Paris and suspended all bilateral ties with France. The legislation, which will now go to parliament's upper house, the Senate, also split the French centre-right government.
The draft law had been tabled by a member of President Nicolas Sarkozy's party and is widely believed to have received his blessing. But the French Foreign Minister, Alan Juppé, described the proposed law as "useless and counter-productive". Speaking to British correspondents in Paris, he said that "legislation in France is not the way to make the Turks move on this issue".
France is home to 300,000 people of Armenian descent and the law has been interpreted in the local press as an attempt to reach out to the "Armenian vote" before presidential and parliamentary elections next year. Deputies from both the centre-right and centre-left voted in favour of the legislation.
Before he was elected in 2007, President Sarkozy vowed to make it a criminal offence to deny "officially recognised" genocides, including the massacre of at least 500,000 Armenians in Turkey. In a speech in Armenia last year, he also called on Turkey to recognise "as soon as possible" that the deaths amounted to genocide.
Officially, Turkey insists the mass killings – which resulted in up to 1.5 million deaths according to some historians – were part of uncontrollable civil unrest as the Ottoman Empire dissolved. Most independent studies have concluded that there was a deliberate attempt to exterminate Armenians within the borders of what is now Turkey.
In addition to withdrawing its ambassador, Turkey has threatened to cancel some trade contracts with France in response to the vote. "Those who do want to see genocide should turn around and look at their own dirty and bloody history," the Turkish Prime Minister, Recep Tayyip Erdogan, said last week.
In 2001, the French parliament officially declared that the Armenian massacres and the Jewish Holocaust during the Second World War were acts of genocide. Denying the latter is already a criminal offence under French law.
The draft law approved yesterday would introduce a maximum of one year in prison and a fine of €45,000 (£37,000) for denying all "officially recognised" genocides. It is unclear whether the proposals will be approved by the Senate before the parliamentary term ends in February.Reuse content