- The Washington Times - Tuesday, January 24, 2012

‘SPOTLIGHT’ ON OBAMA

Armenian-Americans predict that Washington will be the next diplomatic battlefield after the French Parliament approved a bill that would make it a crime to deny that the Turkish massacre of Armenians during World War I was genocide.

“The spotlight is on President Obama,” said Aram S. Hamparian, executive director of the Washington office of the Armenian National Committee of America.

Turkish-Americans, however, say the French bill will have no impact on the U.S. debate because France is “criminalizing thought,” said Gunay Evinch, a former president of the Assembly of Turkish American Associations.

The bill would impose a penalty of up to a year in jail and a fine of $57,000 for denying that the killings amounted to genocide - the deliberate attempt to eliminate an entire people.

Mr. Hamparian criticized Mr. Obama for failing to recognize the massacre of 1.5 million Armenians in the Ottoman Empire as genocide.

When he was a U.S. senator, Mr. Obama supported congressional resolutions on the Armenian issue. As a presidential candidate in 2008, he promised Armenian-Americans, a small but powerful bloc, that he would declare the massacre a genocide if he won the White House.

“He supported legislation as a senator that he opposes as president,” said Mr. Hamparian, adding that Armenian-Americans will use the French action as leverage to get Congress to adopt an Armenian resolution.

A House resolution is awaiting action in the House Foreign Affairs Committee. A Senate resolution was sent to the Foreign Relations Committee last year, but Chairman John F. Kerry, Massachusetts Democrat, took no action.

Mr. Hamparian said he hopes that the Senate sponsors, Democrats Barbara Boxer of California and Robert Menendez of New Jersey, will introduce another resolution this year.

He praised the French bill as a “very principled stand.”

Mr. Evinch said that Turkish-Americans see the French bill as an attempt to prohibit any independent research into the facts about the Armenian massacre.

Turkey disputes Armenian claims of 1.5 million deaths. It insists that about 500,000 Armenians were killed in an uprising during and after World War I and that Turks and Kurds died at the hands of Armenian rebels.

Asked whether the French action would affect the debate in Washington, Mr. Evinch said, “I don’t think so. … It puts the issue in a negative light.”

“As an American,” he added, “I can’t envision criminalizing thought.”

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