After a debate lasting more than seven hours, the French Senate voted to back a controversial new law making it illegal to refer to the killing of Armenians by Ottoman Turks as anything other than genocide. Anyone breaking the law could be fined or imprisoned.
With 127 votes in favour and 86 against, French President Nicolas Sarkozy has 15 days to approve the bill.
Deputy for the UMP party and the person who proposed the bill, Valérie Boyer, said it was a tremendous step: “It’s a very important moment, a great moment for human rights and human dignity. I’m very glad that parliament has adopted the law today, and I hope that this law move forward peacefully.”
However, President for the Commission of the Senate and Socialist Party member Jean-Pierre Sueur was less pleased with the outcome:
“We are quite sure in the commission of the law of the senate that this text is unconstitutional. Sooner or later, we will see so. But the question is whether this discussion has eased the pain on both sides? Has this discussion made the history clearer? Was it beneficial for diplomatic relations? I’m not sure and I don’t believe that this matter is closed,” he said.
Relations between Paris and Ankara have deteriorated. Turkey sees the move as purely political, as Sarkozy faces a presidential election in April and May. The bill was proposed by Sarkozy’s UMP party. There are accusations that Sarkozy is using the genocide bill to win the votes of the large minority of ethnic Armenians living in France, which numbers more than 500,000.
Some of those Armenians were outside the senate building in Paris, celebrating what they see as the rightful recognition of what happened to their countrymen under the Ottoman Turks.