The French senate was on Monday set to vote on a new bill - already approved by the lower house - that would criminalise the denial of the 1915 Armenian genocide. An enraged Turkey has threatened permanent sanctions against France.
AFP - French senators vote Monday on a bill to outlaw denial of the Armenian genocide. a move that a furious Turkey has vowed to punish with "permanent" sanctions if it is passed into law.
The French lower house last month approved the bill which threatens with jail anyone who denies that the 1915 massacre of Armenians by Ottoman Turk forces amounted to genocide, drawing a first wave of Turkish ire.
Ankara froze political and military ties with France and has promised further measures if the measure is passed by the Senate or is approved by President Nicolas Sarkozy, whose right-wing UMP party put forward the bill.
Turkish Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoglu on Saturday repeated Ankara's fierce opposition to the bill which he said would result in "permanent sanctions", saying it goes against European values and would not help Turkish-Armenian relations
"There will be more sanctions and this time, the sanctions will be permanent, until the change in French position," he said.
"It is time for French intellectuals, for French senators to defend our common values, freedom of expression. These are European, French values. This is against these values".
Around 15,000 Turks from France, Belgium, the Netherlands and Luxembourg rallied peacefully on the streets of Paris on Saturday to protest the law.
Davutoglu cancelled a trip to Brussels on Monday to brief EU foreign ministers on his visit to Tehran before they vote further sanctions over Iran's nuclear drive, saying he wanted to follow the French vote.
In a bid to defuse the crisis, Sarkozy sent a conciliatory letter to Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan, released by the French embassy in Ankara on Friday.
"I hope we can make reason prevail and maintain our dialogue, as befits allied and friendly countries," Sarkozy wrote, adding that the measure "is in no way aimed at any state or people in particular."
He expressed the wish that Turkey "assess the common interests which unite our two countries and our two peoples."
But the bill has not won universal support in the government, where some ministers fear it will hurt diplomatic and trade ties with a NATO ally and major economic partner.
Even Sarkozy's Foreign Minister Alain Juppe has admitted the bill is "untimely".
A Senate Laws Commission on Wednesday rejected the bill, but their vote is not expected to prevent the bill becoming law.
Armenians say up to 1.5 million of their forebears were killed in 1915 and 1916 by the forces of Turkey's former Ottoman Empire.
Turkey disputes the figure, arguing that only 500,000 died, and denies this was genocide, ascribing the toll to fighting and starvation during World War I and accusing the Armenians of siding with Russian invaders.
France recognised the killings as a genocide in 2001, but the new bill would go further, by punishing anyone who denies this with a year in jail and a fine of 45,000 euros ($57,000).
Modern Turkey is extremely sensitive about the issue, and has accused France of attacking freedom of expression and free historical enquiry.
France is home to an estimated 500,000 citizens of Armenian descent, and Sarkozy's UMP has been accused of backing the law in order to pander to a key electoral demographic three months ahead of a presidential election.
Date created : 2012-01-23