French parliament votes to criminalize denial of Armenian genocide, offenders face year in jail

The National Assembly in Paris © Charles Platiau
Denying the Armenian genocide will soon be a crime in France, as the French parliament has passed an amendment criminalizing the denial of all crimes against humanity. Those flouting the law could face a $50,000 fine and up to a year in prison.

The new legislation, which was passed on the first reading in the French Parliament, is expected to come into force by the end of the year. It will now pass to the Senate, the upper house, for approval. Previously, only denial of the Holocaust had been a criminal offense in France. 

“This text will punish the challenge or the trivialization of all crimes against humanity and war crimes,” Ericka Bereigts, a junior minister in charge of equality, told AFP. 

Armenia’s foreign minister, Eduard Nalbandyan, has welcomed the decision of the French parliament’s lower house.

“We welcome the bill initiated by the French government and unanimously passed by the lower house of the French parliament. We express hope that the French Senate will pass the bill as well and it will be signed into law. Thus France makes another very important step towards preventing genocides and crimes against humanity,” Nalbandyan said in a statement.

President Francois Hollande promised to introduce the legislation after being elected in 2012. However, an earlier attempt to categorize the mass killings as genocide was rejected by France’s constitutional court, which ruled that the measure obstructed freedom of speech. 

The move was described as “one of the greatest days of my political career” by Henri Jibrayel, a member of the French parliament whose ancestors managed to survive the mass killings a century ago, but it is likely to inflame tensions with Turkey. 

Ankara rejects the use of the term genocide to describe the killings in which nearly 1.5 million Armenians were slaughtered by Ottoman forces in the First World War between 1915 and 1917. 

Turkey – the successor of the Ottoman Empire – concedes that many Armenians were mistreated at the time, but maintains that the number of victims has been grossly exaggerated and that there was no genocide. 

The Turkish government is still smarting from Pope Francis’ denunciation of the slaughter during a visit to Armenia in June, when the pontiff also called it “genocide.” 

Turkish Deputy Prime Minister Nurettin Canikli called Francis’ statements “greatly unfortunate,” which Ankara does not “take seriously.” 

“The goal is to squeeze Turkey in the corner,” said Canikli on Saturday, accusing Francis of siding with Europe. “It is, unfortunately, possible to see all the reflections and traces of crusader mentality in the actions of the papacy and the pope.” 

Last month, the German parliament also voted overwhelmingly to recognize the mass slaughter of Armenians by Ottoman forces as genocide. 

“Without this admission there cannot be forgiveness and reconciliation. Suffering does not know temporary boundaries. Genocide will never remain in the past. By recognizing the genocide, it will force the Turkish government to take a brave step and look into its own history,” said the Christian Democratic Union’s Albert Weile following the vote.

The decision incensed Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan, who claimed that Germany has no moral right to blame Turkey for mass killings in light of the Holocaust committed by Nazi Germany and a genocide in Namibia perpetrated by the German Empire.