French lawmakers pass genocide law on Armenians -

French lawmakers pass genocide law on Armenians

PARIS (AP) -- Despite strong protests by Turkey, French lawmakers easily passed a measure Thursday to make it a crime in France to deny that the mass killings of Armenians in 1915 amounted to a genocide.

There was no official vote count in the ballot in France's lower house of parliament since lawmakers simply voted by raising their hands. The measure now goes to the Senate, where its fate is less clear.

The measure could put France on a collision course with Turkey, a strategic ally and trading partner that says the conflict nearly 100 years ago should be left to historians.

France formally recognized the killings as genocide in 2001, but provided no penalty for anyone denying that. The bill sets a punishment of up to one year in prison and a fine of (euro) 45,000 ($59,000) for those who deny or "outrageously minimize" the killings by Ottoman Turks, putting such action on a par with denial of the Holocaust.

Lawmakers denounced what they called Turkey's propaganda effort in a bid to sway them.

"Laws voted in this chamber cannot be dictated by Ankara," said Jean-Christophe Lagarde, a deputy from the New Center party, as Turks demonstrated outside the National Assembly ahead of the vote.

The bill's author said she was "shocked" at the attempt to interfere with the parliament's work.

"My bill doesn't aim at any particular country," said Valerie Boyer, a deputy from the ruling conservative UMP party. "It is inspired by European law, which says that the people who deny the existence of the genocides must be sanctioned."

President Nicolas Sarkozy's conservative government backed the measure despite the ire -- and threats -- of Turkey.

An initial bid to punish denial of the Armenian genocide failed earlier this year, killed by the Senate five years after it was passed by the lower house.

Turkey, which vehemently rejects the term "genocide," has campaigned to get France to abandon the legislation, threatening to withdraw its ambassador and warning of "grave consequences" to economic and political ties.

French authorities have stressed the importance of bilateral ties with Turkey and the key role it plays in sensitive strategic issues as a member of NATO, in Syria, Afghanistan and elsewhere.

However, Sarkozy has long opposed the entry into the European Union of mostly Muslim Turkey, putting a constant strain on the two nations' ties.

Turkey says with the measure France will be tampering with freedom of expression by denying people the right to say what they think. Turkish authorities attribute the action to a bid by Sarkozy's party for short-term political gains ahead of spring presidential and legislative elections.

Turkish authorities have weighed in with caustic remarks about France's past. Turkish Prime Minister Tayyip Erdogan has recalled France's colonial history in Algeria and a 1945 massacre there, as well as its role in Rwanda, where some have claimed a French role in the 1994 genocide there.

"Those who do want to see genocide should turn around and look at their own dirty and bloody history," Erdogan said last weekend. "Turkey will stand against this intentional, malicious, unjust and illegal attempt through all kinds of diplomatic means."

Turkish President Abdullah Gul spoke out on the issue this week, saying it will "put France in a position of a country that does not respect freedom of expression and does not allow objective scientific research."

Turkey insists the mass killings of Armenians -- up to 1.5 million, historians estimate -- occurred during civil unrest as the Ottoman Empire collapsed, with losses on both sides. Historians contend the Armenians were massacred in the first genocide of the 20th century.

France is pressing Turkey to own up to its history for the sake of "memory" just as the French have officially recognized the role of their state -- the collaborationist Vichy government -- in the deportation of Jews to Nazi death camps during World War II.

In October, Sarkozy visited Armenia and its capital of Yerevan, urging Turkey to recognize the 1915 killings as genocide.

"Turkey, which is a great country, would honor itself by revisiting its history like other countries in the world have done," Sarkozy said.

France, however, took its own time recognizing the state's role in the Holocaust. It was not until 1995 that then-President Jacques Chirac proclaimed France's active role in sending its citizens to death camps. And it was only in 2009 that his historic declaration was formally recognized in a ruling by France's top body, the Council of State.

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