A war of words between France and Turkey escalated on Wednesday over the 1915 mass killing of up to 1.5 million Armenians in Ottoman Turkey, with France’s Europe minister claiming it was a “fact of history” that it amounted to genocide.
The French parliament is on Thursday to debate and likely approve a bill tabled by a member of President Nicolas Sarkozy’s party that would see anyone who publicly denies the “genocide” facing a year in jail and a fine of 45,000 euros (£38,000). The only legal equivalent in France is for denying the Holocaust. Turkey has increased pressure on France to drop the law, with President Abdullah Gul and a Turkish delegation to Paris warning its adoption would ignite a diplomatic crisis and have economic consequences. In a joint declaration, Turkey’s ruling and opposition parties denounced it as a “grave, unacceptable and historic mistake”, calling on France to consider its own past, including its role in the 1994 Rwandan genocide and its colonial past in North Africa.
Turkey claims the bill is blatant electioneering – an attempt to win votes with France’s Armenian minority, estimated to number up to 500,000 people, ahead of presidential and parliamentary elections next year. But European Affairs Minister Jean Leonetti said on Wednesday: “Today all peoples must be lucid and courageous in looking at their history. It has been nearly 100 years since the Armenian genocide took place, those responsible are dead, it is simply a matter of recognising a fact of history.” He added that the opposition Socialists were planning to back the bill along with the ruling UMP party.