Turkey Calls French Armenia Genocide Bill 'Racist'

world | Jan 25, 2012 | By RFE/RL 

Turkey has denounced as “racist" and "discriminatory” a new French measure making it a criminal offense to deny that a genocide of Armenians by Ottoman Turks occurred.
 
Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan made the comments in a speech to his party members in parliament on January 24.
 
"Those who remain silent and indifferent to these racist, discriminatory developments are guilty of not hearing the footsteps of fascism in Europe," Erdogan said.
 
The Armenian leadership has described the French move as "historic." France, meanwhile, has called for “calm."
 
In his address, Erdogan said the bill was "null and void" for Turkey, and threatened that Ankara would implement unspecified new retaliatory measures against fellow NATO member France if the legislation is signed into a law.
 
"Right now, we are still in a period of patience and we are watching how the developments unfold. We will take the necessary stance according to the developments and unveil our action plan," Erdogan said.
 
Disputed History
 
Armenians -- and most historians -- say some 1.5 million Armenians were killed in Ottoman Turkey during World War I in what has been described as a deliberate policy of genocide. 
 
Turkey rejects this, saying there was heavy loss of life of both sides during fighting in eastern Turkey in 1915-16.
 
France formally recognized the Ottoman-era acts as "genocide" in 2001.
 
The bill passed by the French Senate on January 23 means that a person in France who denies an Armenian genocide could face a year in jail and a fine of $57,000.
 
French President Nicolas Sarkozy's office said on January 24 he will sign it into law within the next 14 days, as stipulated by the constitution. Sarkozy's ruling party put forward the bill.
 
Ankara froze political and military ties with France when the French lower house backed the bill last month.
 
However, in a letter sent to Turkey's Prime Minister Tayyip Erdogan on January 18 and made public on January 24, Sarkozy said the bill did not target one country in particular, and urged Ankara to take into account its "common interests" with France.
 
Earlier, French Foreign Minister Alain Juppe called on “our Turkish friends to remain calm."
 
"Turkey is a great country, a great economic power, a great political power. We need to have good relations with it," Juppe said.
 
"Now this slightly excessive wave [of reaction], one must say it, I am certain that we'll return to constructive relations. I'm holding my hand out and I hope that it'll be taken one day."
 
'Historic Day For Armenians'
 
In a letter to Sarkozy, Armenian President Serzh Sarkisian said it was "a historic day for Armenians all over the world."
 
"This day is exceptional for all those who are struggling for the protection of human rights, for the condemnation and prevention of crimes against humanity," Sarkisian wrote.
 
Several hundred people gathered outside the French Embassy in Yerevan to express their gratitude, bringing flowers and candles and waving French and Armenian flags.
 
Turkey's ally Azerbaijan, however, has denounced the French move as "against the principles of democracy, human rights, freedom of speech, and expression."
 
Sarkozy is facing an election in April, and critics have accused his allies of using the Armenian genocide issue to get support among France's ethnic Armenian minority population.

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