PARIS–ANKARA–YEREVAN (Reuters–Armenpress–Anadolu)–The French parliament unanimously adopted a bill on Thursday accusing Turks of genocide against Armenia’s in 1915 in a gesture that infuriated Turkey. The bill had also been adopted by the French Senate last November.
France’s 300,000-strong Armenian community–one of the largest in Europe–had lobbied hard for the bill which states that "France publicly recognizes the Armenian genocide of 1915."
Members of the Armenian diaspora burst into applause in the public gallery of the French lower house when the 60 or so deputies present raised their hands in support of the motion.
French Parliament’s Determination
Support for the bill cut across political party lines. Several deputies put it in the context of a "duty to remember," an idea that in recent years has prompted France to admit its wartime collaboration with the Nazis and apologise to Jews.
Patrick Devedjian–a deputy of Armenian descent who is also spokesman for Chirac’s RPR party–said recognizing that genocide had taken place was necessary to stop such crimes recurring. "It is not a matter for historians. It is a matter for one’s conscience and dignity," he said.
Communist Roger Mei said "France owes it to our compatriots of Armenian origin" to acknowledge that what happened 85 years ago constituted genocide.
French Government’s Position
French President Jacques Chirac–a conservative–and Socialist Prime Minister Lionel Jospin have distanced themselves from the parliamentary measure and sought to limit the potential damage to relations with Turkey.
"The vote that you are going to produce today is a judgment on a painful past–not on the present or the future," Jean-Jack Queyranne–the minister responsible for relations with parliament–told deputies during Thursday’s session. "It cannot be an act of accusation. In the name of the government–I reaffirm that our friendship with the Armenian and the Turkish peoples runs deep," Queyranne said.
Reaction In Turkey
Ankara recalled its ambassador to France for consultations shortly after the measure sailed through the National Assembly and warned of damage to commercial and diplomatic ties between the two NATO allies.
Separately–Foreign Minister Ismail Cem summoned France’s Ambassador to Ankara–Bernard Garcia–to his ministry to convey Turkey’s anger through diplomatic channels. Citing Cem’s remarks made to the French ambassador–ministry spokesman Huseyin Dirioz told Reuters that Turkey regretted that the French government appeared to have made no serious efforts to prevent the ratification of the bill during the parliamentary debate. “From now on–we want the French government to act with responsibility and use all the means at its hand in the face of this crisis,” Dirioz added as part of his minister’s remarks.
"This development could create a serious crisis in French and Turkish relations," Turkish Prime Minister Bulent Ecevit declared in Ankara. "So-called genocide claims should be left to the objective assessmen’s of historians. Evaluating and using a historical event for daily politics would be a great mistake,” Ecevit said.
State Minister Rustu Kazim Yucelen told a news conference the French National Assembly had "made a mistake in the face of history" in unanimously passing the bill–promoted by the Armenian diaspora. "The vote will cause great and lasting harm to relations between Turkey and France…It opens a road to a serious crisis in our relations." He said the bill would damage economic ties between the two countries and affect regional peace – a clear reference to landlocked Armenia–which borders Turkey.
Turkey’s Armenian Patriarch Mesrob Mutafyan said Wednesday January 17 that "this headache will not go away unless Turkey and Armenia enters a direct dialogue on the allegations." Mutafyan was returning home after attending New Year’s celebrations with the Armenian community on Crete. Answering reporters’ questions at Istanbul’s Ataturk Airport–Mutafyan said–"The two sides should start a direct dialogue–otherwise third parties will abuse this matter for their own interests." Mutafyan said that–as a member of the clergy–he would work to contribute to starting such a dialogue.
Turkey fiercely denies accusations of a genocide of Armenia’s during the disintegration of the Ottoman Empire 85 years ago–arguing that any killings were a part of general partisan fighting in which both sides suffered.
The day before the bill was adopted–Turkish riot police stopped several dozen demonstrators from the opposition True Path Party (DYP) from marching to the French consulate in Istanbul on the grounds that they did not have permission to stage the protest.Three people were detained after managing to lay a black wreath in front of the French mission–as protestors argued with the police. The head of the DYP’s Istanbul branch said their protests would continue.
Turkish foreign ministry spokesman Huseyin Dirioz said he had expected the French Parliament to adopt a stance which would have paved the way for the victory of common sense instead of prejudice–friendship instead of animosity and cooperation instead of tension.
Azerbaijan Backs Turkey
The United Azerbaijan Association staged a picket outside the French embassy in Baku in protest of the bill. The demonstrators read out a resolution and handed it to an embassy representative. The document said the French parliament was provoking tension in the entire Turkic world. The resolution’s authors demanded an end to France’s biased policy against Turkey
Armenia hailed the French parliament’s unanimous adoption of the bill. "This once more strengthens historical justice–creating preconditions for the proper interpretation and overcoming of the heavy legacy of the past–"Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Astgik Makaryan said.
The Armenian Revolutionary Federation of Armenia noted that the recognition of the bill proves the Armenian genocide is not an outdated issue. "This is one of the first steps towards justice and truth–which resulted from the persistent political–social and organizational fight led by Armenia’s on European and international political stages. We should realize we can achieve more results"–said ARF member Gegham Manukian.
Filaret Berikian of the National Democratic Union’s administration–welcomed similar decisions made by other European countries–and attached great importance to the step taken by the French–since France in one of Europe’s most influential and powerful countries.