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France brings Armenian genocide bill one step closer to law

The French Senate today approved a controversial bill making it a crime to deny the Armenian genocide in what many see as a political ploy ahead of elections this spring.

By Staff writer / January 24, 2012

Activists of an Armenian youth group gather at the French Embassy in Yerevan to express their gratitude to France's parliament for passing a bill that outlaws denial of Armenian genocide, in Yerevan, Armenia, Tuesday.

Tigran Mehrabyan/PanARMENIAN/AP

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Paris

France poked Turkey in the eye last night by approving a new "genocide denial" bill, then this morning urged Turkey to “remain calm.”

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But Turkish reaction was not especially calm.

After the French Senate voted in the late hours Monday to criminalize a denial of the 1915 Armenian genocide – punishable with a year in jail and a $58,000 fine – Turkey’s ambassador to France said he will leave.

Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan today called the new law “discriminatory” and “racist” and a “massacre of free expression,” and pointed out that French President Nicolas Sarkozy’s ancestors had once sought refuge in Turkey.

Something’s definitely out of whack in this diplomatic fallout. But it isn’t entirely Turkey’s inability to face its Ottoman past, which includes the killing or deporting of some 750,000 to 1.5 million Armenians during World War I.

Even French Foreign Minister Alain Juppe, a member of the ruling party, thinks the new French law is a bad idea and “ill-timed.”

“I’m sure we’ll find again a constructive relationship,” Mr. Juppe told French TV. “I put out my hand and I hope it will be shaken one day.”

In fact, there are actual reasons why Turkey might see fit to remain calm, as Juppe urges. This law really isn’t about Turkey. It’s French politics.

Turkish leaders take the genocide law as a matter of national dishonor and high principles, and point to French slaughters in Algeria, and speak of rights, including of independent thought, that France champions. It is highly emotional.

Yet in France the new genocide law is seen with considerable cynicism, and with little emotion or much regard. It comes just ahead of national elections this spring. Along with its slightly craven appeal to the hundreds of thousands of French-Armenian voters, for whom the issue has always been a defining one, the law also gives President Sarkozy a way to remind conservatives that he’s against a Muslim country joining Europe.

Mr. Sarkozy has a problem with a poll-surging Marine Le Pen of the far-right National Front, who accuses him of overseeing an “Islamization” of France.

The bill is "not entirely free of ulterior electoral motives considering that there is a 500,000-strong French Armenian community in France," as the French daily Liberation put it.

French politicos have portrayed their new legal concoction as part of a long, historic fight against a “poisonous denial” by the human race of various mass murders.

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