By Terance Walsh
Impunity Watch Reporter, Europe
PARIS, France – The upper house of France’s parliament is preparing to vote on a measure that would criminalize the denial of the Armenian genocide. The proposed law has drawn the ire of Turkey as well as free speech proponents.
The law would prescribe a maximum one-year prison sentence and a € 45,000 penalty to those who would violate it. This penalty is equal to the law that criminalized the denial of the Holocaust. French government minister Patrick Ollier reasoned that “There is no reason to punish the denial of one genocide but not the other. This is a simple coordination of punishment.”
According to Armenia the Armenian genocide took place in 1915 when 1.5 million Armenians were killed by Ottoman Turks. France officially recognized the Armenian genocide by passing a law in 2011. Turkey objects to the description of genocide and comparison to the Holocaust, reasoning that there was substantial loss of life on both sides.
French President Nicholas Sarkozy, whose signature is necessary to ratify the bill, has thrown his support behind the bill.
Some French Members of Parliament stand in opposition to the bill. Foreign Minister Alain Juppe slammed the bill, calling it “a futile and counterproductive bill, which will have serious consequences on bilateral ties with Turkey.” French Senator Nathalie Goulet has declared that she will “go on a crusade” against the proposed anti-denial law.
The National Assembly, France’s lower house approved the bill last month. The passage of the law prompted Turkey to recall its ambassador and suspend all contracts and military cooperation with France. Turkey’s Prime Minister Tayyip Erdogam slammed the bill, calling it “politics based on racism, discrimination and xenophobia” and accused France of committing genocide in Algeria and being complicit to genocide in Rwanda.
The French law has also come under fire for its assault on free speech. William Bauer of Policymic argued against the sensibility of denying genocide, but added “the act of genocide denial, written or verbal, must never be made an illegal, criminal act.”
Protests of about two dozen people of Turkish descent have taken place in front of the French embassy in New York City on January 5th to oppose the ratification of the bill. Protestors want an open and fair discussion to find out what truly happened in 1915. “The Turkish government [are] always asking Armenia [to] open the books, let’s discuss on both sides,” protestor Mae Somnez said. “But they never open the books…we never can discuss archives and what is the truth.
Supporters of the bill cite the protection of the dignity of those who perished as reason enough to restrict speech. An appeal signed by famous singer Charles Aznavour, director Robert Guédiguian, lawyer Serge Klarsfeld, philosophers Bernard-Henri Lévy, Michel Onfray, and Turkish writer Erol Özkoray was published in Le Journal du Dimanche.
“As Elie Wiesel has written, the denial of the genocide is killing its victims for the second time. We welcome the adoption of the bill on racism, discrimination and denial by the French National Assembly on December 22.
Our target is the ban of denial on state level that the Turkish authorities bring up to France. In order the text to become a law, we call the French President, the government and the leading parties to confirm their gesture and let the Senate ratify the bill.”
The Senate will debate the bill on January 10th. This will be followed by discussion by the Constitutional Court sometime between January 23rd and January 30th. If the bill passes it will go to President Sarkozy’s desk where he will have the opportunity to sign the bill into law. The bill poses the difficult balance between allowing freedom to discuss controversial issues and reverence for horrific events in human history.
For more information please see:
Hurriyet Daily News — French Senator To Launch ‘Crusade’ On Genocide Law — 6 January 2012
Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty — France Said To Speed Up Vote On Armenian Genocide Bill — 6 January 2012
Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty — Protest Held In NYC Over France’s Armenian Genocide Legislation — 6 January 2012
Azatutyun — French Senate To Vote On Armenian Genocide Bill — 5 January 2012
Euractiv — Turkey Pressues France To Stop Armenian Genocide Bill — 5 January 2012
PanARMENIAN — Sarkozy Approves Genocide Bill — 5 January 2012
Policymic — France’s Armenian Genocide Bill An Assault On Free Speech — 4 January 2012
NEWS.am — Aznavour, Philosophers, Turkish Writer Call French Senate To Ratify Bill Penalizing Armenian Genocide — 2 January 2012