France’s upper house of parliament, the Senate, passed a bill late on Monday making the denial of genocide a crime punishable by a 45,000-euro fine and a year in jail.
The bill that sets the country on a collision course with Turkey was approved 127 to 86 after a seven-hour discussion. It is yet be ratified by French President Nicolas Sarkozy.
The bill, initially criminalizing the denial of the Armenian genocide in the early 20th century, had been amended to outlaw the denial of any officially recognized genocide, partly in the hope of appeasing Ankara. So far, French laws classify only two mass killings as “genocide” - the Holocaust (the 1990 law) and the deaths of more than 1 million Armenians living in the Ottoman Empire between 1915 and 1917, recognized by France as genocide in 2001.
Armenian Foreign Minister Edvard Nalbandyan welcomed the move as an important contribution “to the record of worldwide human rights protection” and a worthy addition to the existing mechanism of preventing crimes against humanity.
Ankara, in its turn, threatened “grave consequences,” including diplomatic and economic sanctions.
“Turkey’s response to the adoption of the bill had long been decided. These measures will stay in place as long as the law stays in force,” Hurriyet Daily News quoted Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoglu as saying shortly before the bill was voted on.
Omer Celik, deputy leader of the ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP), threatened “permanent sanctions” if the bill is approved.
Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan said on Monday he would abstain from visiting France in future, accusing French President Nicholas Sarkozy of attempts to distort history for gaining political capital. Turkey has earlier suggested that the law is an attempt to play up to France’s 500,000 ethnic Armenians and secure their votes in the upcoming presidential election.
The Turkish genocide in Armenia was first recognized by Uruguay in 1965 and many countries, including Russia have since followed suit. Although it has been recognized by 42 U.S. states, the U.S. government has yet to pass a bill on the issue.
Ankara dismisses the genocide allegations, saying that many Muslim Turks and Kurds were also put to death as Russian troops invaded, often aided by Armenian militias.
Turkey and Armenia have had no diplomatic relations since the latter became independent following the breakup of the Soviet Union in 1991. Turkey closed its border with Armenia in a show of support for Azerbaijan following a bloody conflict over Nagorny Karabakh, in which some 35,000 died on both sides.