Turkey warns France on Armenian genocide vote

Davutoglu says if French lawmakers outlaw genocide denial "it will be a black stain on French intellectual history."

Davutoglu 311 R (photo credit: REUTERS/Osman Orsal)
Davutoglu 311 R
(photo credit: REUTERS/Osman Orsal)
ANKARA - Turkey's Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoglu on Friday urged French lawmakers to reject a bill making it illegal to deny the 1915 mass killing of Armenians by Ottoman Turks, which comes up for a vote next week.
Lawmakers in the lower-house National Assembly voted overwhelmingly last month in favor of a draft law outlawing genocide denial. That prompted Ankara to cancel all economic, political and military meetings with Paris and briefly recall its ambassador for consultations.
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NATO member Turkey, which sees the charge of genocide as a national insult, has warned it will take further action against Paris if the bill is approved.
"We call every senator to take some time to assess the issue," Davutoglu told a news conference.
"The parliament's decision will not live. It will be a black stain on French intellectual history and we will always remind them of that."
A Senate panel this week said it would be unconstitutional for France to make it illegal to deny the mass killings of Armenians by Ottoman Turks. It said that if the bill passed it would violate statutes including one on freedom of speech.
However, the non-binding recommendation will not stop the vote going ahead on Jan. 23, with the Senate leaders of President Nicolas Sarkozy's UMP party and the opposition Socialists saying they would vote in favor of the bill.
The law is expected to be passed, although Turkey has been lobbying aggressively over the last few weeks for senators to back down with suggestions that the result in the Senate will be closer than originally anticipated.
"We're beginning to see hesitations in the Senate," Jean-Louis-Bianco, head of strategy on foreign affairs for Socialist leader Francois Hollande, told Reuters.
Turkey calls the bill a bid by Sarkozy to win the votes of 500,000 ethnic Armenians in France in a two-round presidential vote on April 22 and May 6. It says it curbs freedom of speech and meddles in matters best left to historians.
Sarkozy wrote a letter to Erdogan this week saying the bill did not single out any particular country and that France was aware of the "suffering endured by the Turkish people" during the final years of the Ottoman empire.
Turkey argues there was heavy loss of life on all sides, not only among Armenians, during fighting in the region.
"The aim of this bill, which will first and foremost be applicable in France and to French citizens, is to protect the memories of members of our society who have been carrying along with them for a very long time the feeling of denial of the reality their ancestors went through and to heal their wounds that were inflicted a hundred years ago," Sarkozy wrote.
European Union candidate Turkey could not impose economic sanctions on France, given its World Trade Organization membership and customs union accord with Europe.
But the spat could cost France state-to-state contracts and would create diplomatic tensions as Turkey takes an increasingly influential role in the Middle East.