PARIS - A French Senate committee on Wednesday rejected a bill to outlaw denial of the Armenian genocide, but the move was unlikely to stop the diplomatically fraught bill passing at a final vote on Monday.
Ankara froze political and military ties with France when the bill was passed by the National Assembly, and has threatened further measures if it continues through the Senate or is approved by President Nicolas Sarkozy. The Senate’s Laws Commission approved a motion on Wednesday rejecting the bill as inadmissible by 23 votes for, nine against and eight abstentions.
A plenary Senate session on Monday will now vote on the committee’s motion, but most senators opposed to the legislation are expected to abstain, allowing the Senate to take a final vote on the bill itself.
“Ankara welcomes the decision by the Laws Commission at the Senate which clearly shows its position by saying that this bill is unconstitutional,” said Engin Solakoglu, spokesman at the Turkish embassy in Paris.
“We expect that this good sense will continue to prevail at the Senate on Monday,” he told AFP. But it appeared nevertheless that the bill would garner enough votes, even though many senators are expected to abstain. “A very large majority will vote for and a small minority will vote against or prefer not to take part in the vote,” said the head of Sarkozy’s 132-strong UMP bloc in the Senate, Jean-Claude Gaudin.
Francois Rebsamen, head of the Socialists’ 130-strong bloc, said “they will vote for” the bill. “Those who don’t want their name associated with this text will not take part in the vote,” he added. Armenians say up to 1.5 million of their forebears were killed in 1915 and 1916 by the forces of Turkey’s former Ottoman Empire. Turkey disputes the figure, arguing that only 500,000 died, and denies this was genocide, ascribing the toll to fighting and starvation during World War I and accusing the Armenians of siding with Russian invaders.
France recognised the killings as a genocide in 2001, but the new bill would go further, by punishing anyone who denies this with a year in jail and a fine of 45,000 euros ($57,000).
Modern Turkey is still very sensitive about the issue, and has accused France of attacking freedom of expression and free historical enquiry.
France is home to an estimated 500,000 citizens of Armenian descent, and Sarkozy’s UMP has been accused of backing the law in order to pander to a key electoral demographic ahead of presidential and legislative elections.
It is backed by a cross-party majority of lawmakers but has not won universal support in the government, where some ministers fear it will hurt diplomatic and trade ties with a NATO ally and major economic partner.