- The Washington Times - Thursday, October 12, 2006

PARIS — France’s lower house of parliament approved a bill yesterday that would make it a crime to deny that mass killings of Armenians in Turkey during the World War I era amounted to genocide, provoking anger in Turkey.

In Ankara, Turks threw eggs at the French Embassy amid growing calls to boycott French goods, although the bill faces a major struggle to become law.

“No one should harbor the conviction that Turkey will take this lightly,” Turkish Foreign Minister Abdullah Gul said.

The bill passed 106-19, but the majority of the 557 lawmakers in France’s lower house did not take part in the vote.

President Jacques Chirac’s government opposed the bill, brought by the opposition Socialist Party, but did not use its majority in the lower house to vote it down.

Mr. Chirac did not comment on the vote yesterday, although he has said that the bill “is more of a polemic than legal reality.” Catherine Colonna, his former spokeswoman and current minister for European affairs, told parliament that “it is not for the law to write history.”

France’s Declaration of the Rights of Man and of the Citizen, enacted in 1789 and considered to carry the legal force of a constitution, states: “The free communication of ideas and opinions is one of the most precious of the rights of man. Every citizen may, accordingly, speak, write, and print with freedom, but shall be responsible for such abuses of this freedom as shall be defined by law.”

In practice, French law prohibits public speech or writings that incite racial or religious hatred, as well as those that deny the Jewish Holocaust during World War II.

The Armenia genocide issue has become intertwined with ongoing debate in France and across Europe about whether to admit mostly Muslim Turkey into the European Union. France is home to hundreds of thousands of people whose families came from Armenia.

An hour after the vote, Turkish novelist Orhan Pamuk won the Nobel Prize in literature for his works dealing with the symbols of clashing cultures.

Mr. Pamuk was charged last year with insulting Turkish identity after he told a Swiss newspaper that Turkey was unwilling to deal with two of the most painful episodes in its recent history: the massacre of Armenians and guerrilla fighting in Turkey’s overwhelmingly Kurdish southeast. The charge was later dropped.

Mr. Chirac has urged Turkey to recognize “the genocide of Armenians” in order to join the bloc. “Each country grows by acknowledging its dramas and errors of the past,” he said.

France already recognizes the killings of up to 1.5 million Armenians from 1915 to 1919 as genocide; under yesterday’s bill, those who contest it was genocide would risk up to a year in prison and fines of up to $56,000.


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