About two dozen people of Turkish origin or descent gathered in front of the French Consulate in New York on January 5 to protest the French genocide bill, which would criminalize the denial that the mass killings of Armenians by Ottoman Turks in 1915 constituted genocide. The evening protest, which was organized by the Young Turks Association, featured around 20 people waving Turkish and U.S. flags as they chanted "shame on France". Mae Sonmez, Vice President of the Northeast Region at the Assembly of Turkish American Associations, moved to the United States 23 years ago. She maintained that the bill was both "unfair" and "illegal," and that numerous attempts by the Turkish government to discuss what had happened were rejected. "The Turkish government [are] always asking Armenia [to] open the books, let's discuss on both sides," she said. "But they never open the books...we never can discuss archives and what is the truth."
The Turkish government maintains that the massacres, in which 1.5 million Armenians were killed, were part of civil unrest during the fall of the Ottoman Empire and that there were heavy casualties on both sides. The French bill would impose a sentence of up to one year in prison, along with a 45,000 euro ($58,000) fine, for anyone who denies the genocide. The bill, which has passed the lower house and awaits a vote in the upper house of parliament later this month, has caused relations between the two countries to fray.
After the first vote Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan swiftly halted bilateral political and economic contacts, suspended military support, and withdrew the Turkish ambassador to France. Erdogan slammed the bill as "politics based on racism, discrimination and xenophobia," and accused France of committing genocide in Algeria, a sentiment echoed by several people who attended the protest on January 5.
Protests by Turks in Paris and other capital cities have erupted since December when the French bill was introduced. Turkey has frozen its military and political connections with France.
Since 1990, it has been illegal to deny crimes against humanity in France, specifically the Holocaust. Armenians all over the world have applauded the move by France, while they await a similar move by the United States. “We have an expression in America: Your freedom of speech ends when you yell fire in a crowded theater. There are some things that are just not covered in freedom of speech, the denial of the first genocide of the 20th century clearly falls within that,” Mark Geragos, a lawyer who once represented former Rep. Gary Condit, Academy award-winning actress Winona Ryder, pop star Michael Jackson and Scott Peterson, told ABC News. Geragos, an Armenian-American, said it shows a lot of courage on behalf of the French. “My hope is that this infuses the U.S. Congress with the guts to do the right thing,” Geragos said.
From RFE/RL and agency reports.