03 June 2006

740) THE ARMENIAN BILL PRESENTED TO THE FRENCH PARLIAMENT

With a bill passed in 2001, France had recognized Armenian genocide allegations. It was a source of aggravation for militant Armenians that this recognition was not accompanied by further provisions, such as a penal clause against those stating that the “Armenian genocide” did not occur. As such, they engaged in a collective effort for a legislative act incorporating a penal clause to be issued. Ultimately, seven deputies from various parties prepared drafts which were brought to Parliament. However, as these bills were the outcome of personal endeavors, they were not placed on its agenda.


This situation was to change when the French Sosyalist Party - which resorted to a vote of confidence three times this past year to oust De Villepin’s government- decided to make use of the Armenian problem in its battle against the current government. As a result, the endorsement of a bill incorporating a penal clause had become a likely possibility. As a matter of fact, the Socialist Party, prepared and presented to Parliament, a draft bill foreseeing a prison sentence of up to five years and fines of up to 45,000 Euros against those denying Armenian genocide allegations.


In Turkey, political parties, non-governmental organizations and the media, reacted strongly to this bill. Even Turkish academics who subscribe to Armenian genocide allegations joined in displaying such sharp reactions. On the other hand, the government warned France that in the event that the draft bill was enacted, this would have adverse effects upon bilateral relations.


During the consultations on this issue carried out on the 18th of May in the French National Assembly, of the eight deputies who took the floor, six spoke in favor of and two (including the Foreign Minister) spoke against the draft bill. Stating that the time limit allotted for this issue had lapsed, the assembly speaker did not put the bill to a vote and the deliberations were postponed to a further date (quite likely to commence in November).


What will happen when the bill is placed on the agenda once again? This depends on the extent of the influence the French government will wield over the National Assembly. If weak, as it presently stands, one should expect that the bill will be endorsed. On the other hand, the passage of this bill is dependant upon its adoption by the Senate. Any alteration to the draft that the Senate may make, would entail the bill being revised anew at the National Assembly. In such an event, it is possible that the bill would shuttle between the Senate and the National Assembly (as was the case between 1998 – 2001) and could be enacted at any moment.


In the event that the draft bill is endorsed, it is to be expected that Turkey shall revise its relations with France and take certain restrictive measures, particularly in the economic sphere, against France. However, it is presumable that such measures will not have much effect and that France will not alter an act of parliament within a short time span. On the other hand, it is likely that France may respond by delaying or in fact blocking Turkish EU accession. In conclusion, it is evident that both countries will be at a loss due to this disaccord. For this reason Turkey should make its reaction known in a different manner.


The French draft bill aiming to penalize those that voice views contrary to Armenian genocide allegations is , in essence, a violation of the freedom of expression-one of the fundamental principles of the Convention for the Protection of Human Rights and Fundamental Freedoms. Article 10 of this Convention stipulates that everyone has the right to impart and express their ideas which includes the “freedom to hold opinions” and the freedom to “receive and impart information and ideas”. When this provision is taken into consideration it becomes manifest that when expressing the idea that “the Armenian genocide did not occur” one is exercising the “freedom to hold opinions”.


Furthermore, Article 33 of this Convention stipulates that a party may refer to the European Court of Human Rights any alleged breach of the provisions of the Convention by another party. Accordingly, Turkey could resort to this court in the face of a French bill foreseeing the penalization of individuals rejecting genocide allegations.


Also, individuals who have been sentenced to prison or who have been fined on the basis of such a bill could file a case against France.


In conclusion, if Turkey files such a suit, it shall spare itself from taking measures vis a vis bilateral relations with France and hence possible reactions the latter may have otherwise elicited. Furthermore, provided that Turkey is well-prepared, its chances of winning such a court case is highly likely.

Ömer Engin LÜTEM, Retired Ambassador
23 May 2006 - �KSAREN

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