Reactions erupt against French denial bill after commission rules it unlawful

January 19, 2012, Thursday/ 16:58:00/ TODAY'S ZAMAN

Following a ruling by a commission in the French Senate deeming a French bill seeking to criminalize the denial of “Armenian genocide” as being in violation of the French constitution, hopes have been raised again among Turks that France may step away from the bill that has a high potential of ruining the countries' bilateral ties.

The Commission of Laws in the French Senate on Wednesday voted overwhelmingly against the French government-led bill's compatibility with French law, landing a blow to the government's plans to penalize anyone denying the mass killings of Armenians in 1915 was genocide, the AP reported.

Although the vote does not block the bill from being passed on Jan. 23, the date the Senate is scheduled to convene to vote on the bill, it still jeopardizes the possibility of the bill's survival in France and is regarded as a warning from the commission that might change the Senate's mind.

The Turkish foreign minister, meanwhile, hailed the development as a sign that the French also agree that the bill would be unlawful even according to French law, which has been proven with the commission's decision to propose dropping the bill from the Senate's agenda.

“This shows that the attempt is unlawful even by the standards of French law. We hope the French Senate will act wisely and drop it from the agenda before even debating it,” Ahmet Davutoğlu told the Anatolia news agency on Wednesday. When a similar bill was passed in the lower house of the French Parliament in 2006, the French Senate acted on the commission's opinion on the matter and chose not to debate the bill, which Turks hope will be the case again at Monday's Senate session.

“We consider that if this law was passed, there would be a large risk of it being unconstitutional,” said Jean-Pierre Sueur, the commission head. “We cannot write history with laws. Freedom of expression must be respected,” he was quoted as saying by AP, and said the decision was made on the grounds that it went against the French constitution.

“With these thoughts, we wanted the Armenian resolution not to be placed on the agenda of the French Senate. We believe that the Armenian resolution is against the French constitution,” Sueur was quoted as saying by Anatolia.

Another strong reaction against the denial bill came in an article published by the Guardian on Wednesday, which stated that the French Senate should reject the bill “in the name of free speech, the freedom of historical inquiry and Article 11 of France's path-breaking 1789 Declaration of the Rights of Man and Citizen.” The article's author, Timothy Garton Ash, a senior fellow at a Stanford University institution and a professor at Oxford University, noted that the French Parliament was not “equipped and entitled to set itself up as a tribunal on world history,” since calling an event genocide would be imposing international law and would be beyond the capacity of a country's parliament.

Ash also raised the idea that the bill was a politically motivated act, since “there is a remarkable correlation between such proposals in the French Parliament and national elections, in which half a million voters of Armenian origin play a significant part.”

The Union of Associations of Citizens of Turkish Origin (RACORT) also made an announcement that showed they agreed with the speculation that the French bill was an election-time campaign. “We are sorry to see that the issue is being used for an election campaign,” the announcement was relayed by Anatolia on Thursday as saying. “The tragedy surrounding the incidents of 1915 should first be discussed between Turkey and Armenia,” the announcement also added.

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