YEREVAN (RFE/RL)–A key committee of the National Assembly effectively rejected on Friday a proposal by the opposition Armenian Revolutionary Federation to criminalize public statements denying that the Armenian Genocide.
Armenia’s Criminal Code already carries heavy fines and up to four years’ imprisonment for public denial of genocides and “other crimes against humanity.” An amendment tabled by the ARF last month would extend the maximum punishment to five years and apply it to anyone “denying, playing down, approving or justifying the genocide of Armenians in Ottoman Turkey and Western Armenia.”
The bill is directly connected with the recent agreements to normalize Armenia’s relations with Turkey that have been strongly condemned by the party. They ARF says it is specifically directed against a Turkish-Armenian “subcommission” of historians envisaged by one of the agreements.
The commission would be tasked with studying the extermination of the Ottoman Empire’s indigenous Armenian population. The ARF and other critics of the deal say the very existence of such a body would call into question the fact of the genocide, a claim denied by Armenia’s authorities.
In a written opinion submitted to the Armenian parliament committee on legal affairs this week, the Ministry of Justice objected to the ARF bill and essentially upheld the existing Criminal Code clause relating to genocide denial. The committee on Friday postponed the bill’s consideration by at least two months, meaning that the proposed amendment will not reach the parliament floor before February.
The committee chairman, David Harutiunian, made no secret of his strong opposition to the measure, saying that it would create “extremely serious problems” in the ongoing Turkish-Armenian negotiations. He said its passage would lead the Turkish authorities to resume heavy enforcement of a controversial law that makes it a crime to “insult the Turkish nation.” The law, superficially amended last year, has been used in the prosecution of prominent Turks who have questioned the official Turkish version of the events of 1915.
Harutiunian also argued that amendment drafted by the ARF was unnecessary because “Armenia’s position on this issue is so strong that we don’t need any additional tools of defense in the shape of criminal liability,” the former justice minister said at a committee meeting. “The stronger party doesn’t need such tools.”
“I don’t see that confidence about our strength,” Vahan Hovannisian, the leader of the ARF faction in the parliament, countered, referring to President Serzh Sarkisian’s conciliatory policy towards Turkey. He said the October 10 signing of the Turkish-Armenian protocols in Zurich was “a sign of weakness” on the part of Yerevan.