|Sarkozy has been vilified by many Turkish newspapers for supporting the new law [AFP]|
Edward Nalbandian, Armenia’s foreign minister, has applauded France for criminalising denial of the Armenian genocide,
after a Senate vote that sparked a fierce reaction from Turkey.
The French upper house on Monday approved a bill threatening to jail anyone in France who denies that the World War I-era mass killings of Armenians by Turkish Ottoman forces amounted to genocide.
“It is a very important mechanism to prevent new crimes against humanity,” Nalbandian told journalists during a visit to Latvia on Monday.
“This is an important step by France which could be not only welcomed but supported by other states in Europe and elsewhere.”
France has already officially recognised the killings as a genocide, but the new law would go further, by punishing anyone who denies this with a year in jail and a fine of $57,000.
The French move sparked a furious reaction in Turkey, where hundreds of people protested outside the French embassy in Ankara.
Recep Tayyip Erdogan, the Turkish prime minister, denounced the move as “tantamount to discrimination and racism”.
The Organisation of Islamic Co-operation, the world’s largest Muslim body, rejected the bill as inconsistent with historical facts.
Turkey’s ally Azerbaijan also blasted the French vote. The foreign ministry in Baku said the move was “against the principles of democracy, human rights, freedom of speech and expression”.
Armenians and their supporters say up to 1.5 million were killed in a genocidal campaign in 1915 and 1916 by what was then the Ottoman Turkish Empire.
Turkey disputes the figure, saying 500,000 died, and denies this was genocide, ascribing the toll to wartime fighting and starvation and accusing the Armenians of siding with Russian invaders.
Turkey, which traditionally hits back over genocide recognition, has vowed to impose sanctions on Paris, while Armenia hailed the passage of the bill.
In a letter to his French counterpart, President Nicolas Sarkozy, Armenia’s Serzh Sarkisian said: “France has reaffirmed its greatness and power, its devotion to universal human values.”
While Latvia does not recognise the genocide formally, it strikes a chord in a country that officially lists Nazi and Soviet killings of its people as crimes against humanity.
“There have been similarities in our very difficult history and that’s one issue where we understand the pain of the Armenian people,” Latvian Foreign Minister Edgars Rinkevics said.
“Even if it is very difficult, the best thing is to have a discussion about a common past, mostly in an academic rather than politicised environment.”