French Senate voted late for Monday a controversial bill making it a crime to deny the 1915 killings of Armenians was a genocide, ignoring warnings from Turkey that passage of the legislation would lead to new sanctions.
Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan warned hours before the French Senate debate on the denial bill that runs a high risk of wrecking Turkish-French ties that the bill could provoke reactions from “hundreds of thousands” if it passes through the senate, pledging Turkey would reciprocate a senate approval in its own determined fashion.
“We see tens of thousands of our brothers, our kin, gathered in Paris, which proves how strong a reaction the bill will receive [in the event it passes as law],” Erdoğan told reporters earlier on Monday, referencing demonstrations in France over the weekend against the bill. The bill seeks punishment for anyone who refuses to term the killings of Armenians in 1915 by Ottoman Empire as genocide, on the grounds that such a rejection is equal to making racist and xenophobic remarks and can spark hatred in French society.
“This decision is very wrong,” Tahsin Burcuoğlu, Turkey’s ambassador to France, said minutes after the vote. “We are not responsible for this. We did what we could,” he added, referring to impending damage to Turkish-French ties.
Turkey already suspended military, economic and political ties when the lower house of French parliament passed the bill last month.
Erdoğan announced on Monday that Turkey had “decisions to make in response to the decision the French Senate is going to make today,” signaling Turkey is readying to counter the French move with unspecified measures.
Earlier in the day, Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoğlu also had warned France that Turkey is ready to take new measures against Paris, in a last-ditch push to fend off the bill.
Turkey briefly recalled its ambassador to Paris and suspended military, economic and political ties when the bill was passed in France's lower house last month. Forty-thousand Turks from all over Europe gathered in Paris on Saturday to raise their voice against the Senate debate, hoping the Senate might drop the bill off the agenda or vote against it.
“The steps we will take in case the bill passes as law have already been determined,” Davutoğlu was quoted as saying by Anatolia, but he did not elaborate on what those steps might include.
"Turkey will continue to implement sanctions as long as this bill remains on the table," Davutoğlu stated. "We hope, however, this won't be necessary, and common sense will reign in the French Senate."
The foreign minister had earlier voiced late Sunday evening Turkey's determination to respond to the bill, saying his country would take “new and permanent” measures against France in the event French senators do not reject the bill. His message appeared to be a response to critics who claimed Turkey vowed measures against France in 2001 when the French Senate recognized the incidents of 1915 as “Armenian genocide” perpetrated by Ottoman Turks, but they didn't amount to anything. “Turkey is not what it was in 2001,” he noted, with clear reference to his ruling Justice and Development Party's (AK Party) assumption of leadership of Turkish politics in 2003, which changed the way the country behaved.
Similarly, AK Party Deputy Chairman Ömer Çelik said on Monday measures against France would be permanent, not temporary, if the bill passes. Deputy Prime Minister Bekir Bozdağ also stated, "It is clear relations between Turkey and France will not be the same," Anatolia reported.
The measure now needs to be signed by President Nicolas Sarkozy, whose party proposed it, to become a law, something seen by many a mere formality.
Contrary to the French argument, Turkey has been fighting the bill, saying that such a move would mean blocking freedom of expression in France and take away Turks' right to defend their ancestors against the alleged crime of genocide, a claim Turkey takes as an insult to its identity.
“The issue they [the French Senate] are debating now is foremost in denial of freedoms France has laid a claim on up until today,” Erdoğan was quoted by the Anatolia news agency as telling reporters, as he suggested the bill would also be contradictory to human rights and could spark demonstrations from “hundreds of thousands of people,” who would react to the French move.
Erdoğan may not visit France if bill passes
In response to reporters' questions, Erdoğan raised the possibility on Monday that his future visits to France might fall under question due to passage of the bill. A day prior to Erdoğan's remarks, Deputy Prime Minister Bülent Arınç speculated the French bill could jeopardize visits from senior Turkish officials to France. Arınç rhetorically asked what French officials would do if Erdoğan said, “1915 is not genocide,” during a visit to France. French President Nicolas Sarkozy noted in a recent letter he sent to Erdoğan that the law would only affect French citizens and be applicable in France, to dismiss speculations senior Turkish officials might fall victim to the controversial bill during their visits to France.
‘A new era of Inquisition’
Meanwhile, the European Democratic and Social Rally (RDSE) in the French Senate defined the bill as "dangerous and unnecessary," Anatolia reported on Monday. RDSE's group chairman Jacques Mézard and member Jean-Michel Baylet held a joint press conference on Monday and said they would vote "no" on the bill.
The bill sets a punishment of up to one year in prison and a fine of 45,000 euros for those who deny or "outrageously minimize" the killings -- putting such action on par with denial of the Holocaust.
France formally recognized the 1915 killings as genocide in 2001 but provided no penalty for anyone who rejected it.
Turkey maintains there was no systematic campaign to kill Armenians and that many Turks also died during the chaotic disintegration of the Ottoman Empire.
Turkey has argued the bill would compromise freedom of expression in France.
"European values are under threat," Davutoğlu said. "If each parliament takes decisions containing its own views of history and implements them, a new era of Inquisition will be opened in Europe."
"Those who voice views that exclude this view of history will be jailed," he said. "It would, unfortunately, be a great shame for France to revive this."