Turkey's Armenians say 'no thanks' to French bill

10th October 2006, Comments 0 comments

ISTANBUL, Oct 10, 2006 (AFP) - Turkey's Armenians have raised their voice against a French bill that makes it a jailable offense to deny their ancestors were the victim of genocide under Ottoman rule, wary it will antagonize Turks and further strain an already tense debate on the issue.

ISTANBUL, Oct 10, 2006 (AFP) - Turkey's Armenians have raised their voice against a French bill that makes it a jailable offense to deny their ancestors were the victim of genocide under Ottoman rule, wary it will antagonize Turks and further strain an already tense debate on the issue.

The draft law, to be debated and voted in the French parliament Thursday, calls for one year in prison and a hefty EUR 45,000-euro fine for anyone who denies that the World War I massacres constituted genocide.

Among the first to condemn the bill was journalist Hrant Dink, who is among a handful of taboo-breaking intellectuals in Turkey who have openly argued that the massacres were genocide, drawing nationalist ire and landing himself in court.

"This is idiocy," the Turkish-Armenian Dink said in remarks to the liberal daily Radikal. "It only shows that those who restrict freedom of expression in Turkey and those who try to restrict it in France are of the same mentality."

Dink, editor of the Turkish-Armenian bilingual weekly Agos, received a six-month suspended sentence last year for "insulting Turkishness" in an article about the 1915-1917 massacres.

He is scheduled to go on trial again under the same provision, this time for saying the killings were genocide.

Dink said he was ready to defend freedom of expression even if it means running the risk of imprisonment in France.

"I am standing trial in Turkey for saying it was genocide. If this bill is adopted, I will go to France and, in spite of my conviction, I will say it was not genocide," he said in a television interview. "The two countries can then compete to see who throws me in jail first."

Another Armenian journalist, Etyen Mahcupyan, said Turks see the proposed law as an imposition on them to accept the genocide and feared the French move could scupper a fledgling, timid debate in Turkey to question its past.

"Initiatives like the one in the French parliament are awkward," he told AFP. "They push the Turks closer to the state and make them more vulnerable to manipulation."

Discussing the massacres was a near-taboo in Turkey until recently and an open debate on the issue — one of the most controversial in Turkish history — still sends nationalist sentiment into frenzy.

Mahcupyan, a columnist for the conservative daily Zaman, called on European countries to back efforts at improving democracy in Turkey, which, he said, is the only way to ensure free debate to challenge Ankara's official line on the killings.

The Armenian Patriarchate had said the same thing in May, when the bill was first submitted but ran out of parliamentary time before a vote could be held.

"All initiatives creating obstacles to freedom of expression will jeopardize the process of dialogue between Turks and Armenians and will reinforce nationalist tendencies on both sides," it said.

Ara Kocunyan, editor of the small Armenian-language daily Jamanak, criticized what he called the feeling of "self-victimization" with which the Armenian diaspora in the West is pursuing its campaign to have the massacres internationally recognized as genocide.

He urged instead increased efforts to combat the dire economic situation in Armenia, to which Turkey has contributed by sealing its border.

"If we stick to the current priorities, I fear those weeping today for a father killed 90 years ago will find themselves weeping for little Armenia in 50 years' time," Kocunyan said.

Armenians claim up to 1.5 million of their kin were slaughtered in orchestrated killings between 1915 and 1917.

Turkey categorically rejects the genocide label, saying 300,000 Armenians and at least as many Turks died in civil strife when Armenians took up arms for independence in eastern Anatolia and sided with invading Russian troops as the Ottoman Empire fell apart.

Copyright AFP

Subject: French news

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