Turkey Slams France Over ‘Genocide’ Bill, Armenia Hails Vote

Posted January 24th, 2012 at 11:20 am (UTC-5)
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Turkey has criticized as “discriminatory and racist” a bill passed by the French Senate making it a crime to deny the mass killings of Armenians by Turks nearly 100 years ago were genocide — while Armenia welcomed the vote.

Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan Tuesday dismissed the bill as “null and void” and vowed unspecified sanctions against NATO ally France, to be implemented, as he put it, “step by step.” He did not elaborate on the measures but said his government would act depending on developments.

French Foreign Minister Alain Juppe said the new law, approved by the Senate on Monday, was ill-timed, but called on Ankara to remain calm. He stressed the two nations' economic and political ties and expressed hope for a return to constructive relations.

France's lower house of parliament passed the bill last month, and President Nicholas Sarkozy, whose party supported the bill, has 15 days to sign it into law. It says anyone who says the killings of Armenians by Ottoman Turks is not genocide faces a $60,000 fine and up to one year in jail.

Armenian President Serzh Sargsyan thanked his French counterpart in a letter after the vote, saying France has reaffirmed its devotion to universal human values. Mr. Sargsyan said it is a historic day for Armenians all over the world and praised Mr. Sarkozy for his personal commitment to the bill.

Armenia says 1.5 million Armenians were killed during World War I by troops of Turkey's Ottoman Empire. Turkey has acknowledged the loss of Armenian lives, but says the death toll is exaggerated and does not amount to genocide. It says the deaths were the result of civil unrest.

On Monday Turkey called the French Senate decision a great injustice and said it shows a lack of respect for Turkey. Armenian Foreign Minister Edward Nalbandian said the day will be written in gold in the history of the protection of human rights.

Turkey recalled its ambassador to France when the lower house passed the bill. Turkey also banned the French navy from using its territorial waters and restricted French military jets using its airspace.

The French Foreign Ministry called on Turkey not to overreact, saying France considers Turkey a “very important ally.”

Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan has accused France of committing genocide in Algeria more than 60 years ago. He said French colonialists massacred 15 percent of Algeria's population starting in 1945. He also accused Mr. Sarkozy of pandering to the hundreds of thousands of French citizens of Armenian descent heading into his re-election bid this year.