The French constitutional court has overthrown a law which would have made it illegal to deny that a massacre of Armenians in Turkey was genocide. Now the French government wants to revise the law and try again.
Diplomatic relations between Turkey and France were at stake as the French constitutional court made its ruling on the genocide law. The law would have made it illegal to deny that the killing of up to 1.5 million Christian Armenians in Turkey between 1915 and 1917 was genocide.
But the court ruled that the law was not in line with the constitutional right to free speech. Had it passed, it would have imposed a year in prison or a 45,000-euro ($65,000) fine on anyone who denied the Armenian - or any other - genocide.
Turkish Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoglu reacted with satisfaction. "I hope that all sides have learnt from this," he said in Ankara. His government will now check whether the economic and military sanctions it imposed against France can be lifted.
But Turkish ambassador in Paris Engin Solakoglu didn't want to put the argument to rest quite so quickly. He said France had worked against Franco-Turkish interests, and promised, "We won't forget that."
Turkey, successor to the Ottoman Empire, under whose rule the killing occured, says that some 500,000 Armenians died in the confusion of the First World War. It describes the deportations as "security measures required by the war," necessary because the Armenians were supporting Turkey's enemies and had committed massacres of Muslims. It says the killings were due to "unfortunate circumstances" and were isolated incidents.
Ankara has been protesting vehemently for months over France's genocide law. Turkey described it as an election campaign ploy by President Nicolas Sarkozy, in an attempt to win the support of the nearly 500,000 citizens of Armenian origin. His challenger, Francois Hollande, has also said he will take up the cause of the Armenians should he win the election.
Sarkozy says he'll try again
Sarkozy has already told his government to draw up a new draft to deal with the constitutional court's objections. But Jean-Francois Cope, head of the governing UMP party, said Wednesday that there wouldn't be enough time before the presidential elections in May and the parliamentary elections in June. Sarkozy has said he'll meet representatives of the Armenian community.
Davutoglu warned Sarkozy against making a second attempt at implementing the law. He told the Turkish TV station TRT that this would be a "declaration of war" against French law and the French justice system.
Since 1965, 22 states have declared the Armenian massacre a genocide under the definition of the 1948 UN Convention on Genocide. Other states, including Germany, avoid the term.
The German government responded to a question in parliament in January 2010 by saying, "An evaluation of the results of research should be left to experts. The government holds the view that the task of coming to terms with the tragic events of 1915 and 1916 is primarily an issue for the two countries involved, Turkey and Armenia."
Author: Tobias Oelmeier / mll
Editor: Ben Knight