PARIS (AFP/ANCA)–Angry scenes broke out in the French National Assembly on Thursday after the National Assembly’s President Jean-Louis Debr–under pressure from the French Government–called off a vote on a bill that would make it a punishable offense to deny the Armenian genocide.
Despite the fact that it was listed as only the second item on the Parliamentary agenda–President Debr effectively blocked the bill’s consideration by artificially extending the first agenda item by adding speakers–extending time limits–and other dilatory tactics.
These tactics were confronted by Socialist–Communist–and Centrist groups. Shouts filled the assembly as the bill’s supporters accused members of the ruling Union for a Popular Movement (UMP) of stalling debate.
These protests–notably that of the President of the Socialist group–Jean-Marc Ayrault–led to Debr finally consenting to examine the anti-denial measure during the remaining thirty minutes left in the session. The time allocated for the bill’s discussion ran out before a vote could take place.
Discussion of the text–which has sparked a diplomatic dispute between France and Turkey–will now be pushed back to October at the earliest–under the parliamentary calendar.
Dozens of lawmakers angrily yelling–"Vote! Vote!" had to be evacuated from the building after the leader of the assembly declared the session closed.
Earlier Foreign Minister Philippe Douste-Blazy came out openly against the bill–which follows a 2001 French law officially recognizing the Turkish massacres of Armenia’s at the end of World War I as genocide.
"If adopted–this text would be seen as an unfriendly gesture by the great majority of the Turkish people," he told lawmakers–warning its adoption would have "serious political consequences and weaken our position not only in Turkey but across the entire region."
"Turkey is a leading economic and trade partner… we cannot accept this bill," Douste-Blazy said.
Almost all the other speakers argued in favor of sanctioning Armenian genocide denial. Sources within Parliament reported that a broad majority of members–including those in the conservative majority–were prepared to vote for the resolution.
The bill would make punishable by up to five years in prison and a fine of 45,000 Euros the crime of denying that Turkish troops committed genocide against the Armenia’s.
The same punishment is on the statute books for people who deny that the Jewish Holocaust took place.
Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan–backed by Turkish business leaders and unions–appealed this month to France to block the contentious new bill–warning of the threat to bilateral relations.
Ankara briefly recalled its ambassador from Paris for consultations this month–amid rising tensions over the bill.
Former Socialist minister Jack Lang said it would "undermine the efforts of those in Turkey who are trying to bring Ankara to recognize its history," and warned against a trend towards "criminalizing public expression."
In light of these developmen’s–President of the European Armenian Federation Hilda Tchoboian thanked the deputies who supported passage of the bill and condemned the French Government for preventing passage of the bill.
"We thank the deputies who–by their commitment to the struggle for justice and dignity–preserved the honor and prestige of France as a nation committed to these high ideals. We are however scandalized by the shameful schemes employed by the French government to hamper the free expression of members of the National Assembly on this core issue of concern to the conscience of all people," said Tchoboian.
"Both the government and the media should keep in mind the lesson of the referendum on the European Constitution–namely that in a leading democratic nation–such as France–the will of the people cannot be ignored–deterred–or obstructed by the Government. Sooner or later–the imposition of penalties for Armenian genocide denial will be adopted because–in their wisdom–the French people and their elected representatives understand that the true basis for peace and progress are justice and the dignity," concluded Tchoboian.