PARIS, France (A.W.)—The French Senate on Jan. 23 passed a bill criminalizing the denial of the Armenian Genocide, despite threats and bullying from the Turkish state. The bill passed with 127 votes for, 86 against.
Drafted by French General Assembly member Valerie Boyer, the bill renders denial punishable with a year in jail and a fine of 45,000 euros ($58,000).
It is slated to be signed into law by French President Nicolas Sarkozy.
During the proceedings, members of the French Senate spoke powerfully and vocally in support of the bill, noting that it’s not directed against any specific country—that it is merely an effort to honor the memory of genocide victims and the struggle against hate speech.
Those who opposed the bill did so on the grounds of opposing memorial laws in general, arguing that the Senate is not a courthouse and not a place to legislate history.
The Senate first voted to confirm the constitutionality of the bill. The Senate also voted down four proposed amendments.
French-Armenian intellectuals and artists—including Charles Aznavour, Serge Avedikian, Simon Abkarian, and Levon Sayan—had each issued a call to the French Senate to pass the bill.
Commenting on the vote, Armenian National Committee of America (ANCA) Executive Director Aram Hamparian said, ”Today’s courageous vote by the French Senate shines the spotlight across the Atlantic, on American policymakers who, for far too long, have let Ankara block U.S. recognition of the Armenian Genocide.”
“We mark this occasion by urging President Obama to honor his pledge to recognize the Armenian Genocide and by calling on the U.S. House leadership to allow a vote on the Armenian Genocide Resolution, H.Res.304,” he added.
Thousands of French-Armenians gathered in front of the Senate building to express their support for the bill. The crowd celebrated by singing Armenian national and revolutionary songs (see video).
Nearby the crowd, a group of Turks in opposition to the bill had also gathered. More than an hour before the vote, however, the group started to disperse. The Turkish newspaper Radikal ran an article on its website titled, “The Turks went home, the Armenians have started celebrating,” in reference to the mood of the crowds during the hour leading up to the vote (see photo).
Turkish Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoglu on Jan. 20 had urged the French Senate not to pass the bill, noting that it would constitute “a black stain on France’s intellectual history.”
“We will always remind them of that,” he added.
In turn, Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan announced that he may not visit France again if the Senate passed the bill, reported Hurriyet Daily News.
On Jan. 18, a French Senate committee rejected the bill. The decision was not binding, however, and the Jan. 23 vote proceeded as scheduled.
The bill’s passage did not come as a surprise, as both the left and the right in France had expressed support for it.
On Dec. 22, the French General Assembly had approved the bill, prompting Ankara to withdraw its ambassador from Paris, only to have him return a few weeks later.
France adopted a bill officially recognizing the Armenian Genocide in 2001.