French Constitutional Council Strikes Down Genocide Denial Law
The Constitutional Council of France on Tuesday ruled that the French law which was punishing the denial of the Armenian genocide with one year in prison and a 45,000 euro fee violated the constitution and was therefore unconstitutional.
The constitutional council decided that the law was unconstitutional because it was violating the freedom of speech and expression, which is guaranteed by the French Constitution.
The president Nicolas Sarkozy said immediately that he would demand the government to draft a new bill that would take into account the objections of the constitutional ruling. The French president was a supporter of the bill.
The leader of the French Armenian organization criticized the ruling of the council as a result of the Turkish lobbying. Franck Mourad Papazian, president of the Council of Coordination of Armenian Organizations in France, said that the decision of the council was based on political decisions not on legal grounds.
The denial law sparked a debate in the French society, some of the lawmakers sharing the same concern that imposing on someone to consider that what had happened in 1915 in the Ottoman Empire was a genocide was a genocide was a violation of the freedom of expression.
In a written statement, Turkish foreign minister Ahmet Davutoglu expressed satisfaction that the highest legal body of France has corrected a terrible mistake that had been made. Davutoglu said that the decision made on Tuesday by the Constitutional Council is sure to improve the ties between Turkey and France at every level and in every field.
The foreign minister added that the relation between Turkey and Armenia must be approached in a constructive manner, and that such an approach would help solving the problem, not deepening it, as the denial law would have done.
In a statement, Nicolas Sarkozy, who is campaigning for a presidential election which is to be held in April, said he felt the disappointment and the profound sadness of the people in France who have supported the bill.
He added that he would meet soon with the representatives of the Armenian community in France. There are some 500,000 Armenians in France, and many of them have raised their voice in favor of elevating the status of the Armenian genocide to the level of the Holocaust suffered by the Jews during WWII.
The denial bill passed in the French National Assembly in December and in the Senate earlier this month, causing Turkey to react very angrily. Ankara downgraded the diplomatic, military and economic ties with France and threatened that it would go as far as to stop all relations with France if the bill became a law.
After the passing of the bill through the Senate Turkish foreign minister accused France of attempting to settle historical interpretations of events by laws, and said that the scholars should determine what happened at the beginning of the 20th century, not lawmakers.
Sarkozy’s party as well as the Socialists agreed to vote on the genocide denial bill, and it seemed that the ties with Turkey were destined to be damaged. French president sent a letter to Ankara in which he reaffirmed his commitment to good ties with Turkey.
Davutoglu replied by saying that if every country were to impose by law its own vision of historical events, then a new Inquisition would be formed in Europe.
There are rumors who say that Sarkozy was using the Armenian question to foster his campaign amid the members of this ethnic group, even though the plan seems to have had little chances since the idea was embraced by the opposition.
There are some who believe that the denial bill was motivated by Sarkozy’s opposition to the Turkish bid to be admitted to the European Union.
Israel, who had its own ties with Turkey downgraded as a result of an incident near its borders, which claimed the lives of nine Turks, moved a debate on a similar law regarding the Armenian genocide to a commission of the Knesset where the bill would be approached in a more public manner.
At the end of the WWI, as the Ottoman Empire was disbanding, some 1.5 million Armenians were killed in what the Armenian historians consider a programmed genocide, the first one in the 20th century.
The Turkish interpretation of the facts is that the people died in war conditions, as a result of clashes with the imperial army and that among the dead there were many of Turkish descent.
Under no circumstances does Turkey admit that there was a plan to exterminate the Armenians. More than 20 countries around the world have admitted that what happened then was a genocide.11