|"France's President Nicolas Sarkozy will reword the bill and try again." (Reuters)|
By Scott Sayare
The New York Times, February 28, 2012
"The French Constitutional Council on Tuesday struck down a draft law that would have criminalized the denial of an Armenian genocide by the Ottoman Turks, legislation that has soured relations between France and Turkey. The controversy over the bill is likely to persist, however. President Nicolas Sarkozy, who backed the legislation, vowed to submit a new bill with revised language. He has in the past indicated that he would push to see that denial of an Armenian genocide is made a crime even if the council ruled against the draft law. Mr. Sarkozy offered no indication on Tuesday as to how he thought a new bill might overcome the objections of the council, which ruled that 'the legislature did unconstitutional harm to the exercise of freedom of expression and communication' in approving the legislation. After passage of the bill in the French Senate last month, dozens of lawmakers from across the political spectrum submitted appeals to the council, insisting that the legislation violated free speech rights and that it was not the place of the legislature to impose its own explanation for the hundreds of thousands of Armenian deaths that began in 1915, amid the chaos of World War I and the collapse of the Ottoman Empire. The government in Ankara, Turkey's capital, shared that assessment, and hailed the council's decision on Tuesday. Turkish leaders will meet to consider the lifting of economic sanctions imposed because of the bill and the reinstatement of political and military cooperation with France, Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoglu told reporters on Tuesday.
It remained unclear how Turkey might react should Mr. Sarkozy submit a new bill. 'We consider the annulment of the legislation by the Constitutional Council as a step that complies with the principles of freedom of expression and research, the rule of law and international law in France,' the Turkish Foreign Ministry said Tuesday evening in a statement. The ministry urged France to treat the 'conflict between Turkey and Armenia in a just and scientific manner,' in order to contribute to its resolution 'rather than deepening it.' Among the penalties Turkey imposed because of the bill was the cancellation of the annually issued permission for French military planes to use Turkish airspace. The Turkish government has long maintained that an Armenian genocide did not occur, and considers suggestions to the contrary to be an affront to Turkish identity. Turkish law treats the public affirmation of an Armenian genocide as a crime. Historians widely believe that about 1.5 million Armenians were systematically killed by Ottoman Turkish troops. Turkey maintains that no more than 500,000 Armenians died, with many of them victims of starvation or exposure, and not targeted killings. A French law from 2001 recognizes the Armenian genocide as fact, but calls for no sanctions for those who contest it. The draft law struck down on Tuesday would have punished denial of the genocide with up to one year in prison and a fine of up to 45,000 euros, or more than $60,000. The council that ruled on Tuesday evaluates the constitutionality of French laws; its members include former presidents of France. Mr. Sarkozy was prohibited from signing the genocide bill into law while the council deliberated. A statement released by Mr. Sarkozy's office said he 'measures the immense disappointment and the profound sadness of all those who had welcomed with recognition and hope the adoption of this law.' [...]"