Hollande plans new law to punish denial of Armenian genocide


French President Francois Hollande confirmed Saturday plans for a new law criminalizing denial of the Armenian genocide with representatives of the Armenian community, the Elysee Palace said.

The historical question has long been a hot-button issue between Turkey and Armenia, a dispute that has also drawn in other countries and earlier this year sparked a diplomatic crisis between Paris and Ankara.

Armenians say up to 1.5 million of their forebears were killed in a 1915-16 genocide by Turkey’s former Ottoman Empire. Turkey says 500,000 died and ascribes the toll to fighting and starvation during World War I.

Hollandes conservative predecessor Nicolas Sarkozy angered Ankara when he pushed ahead with a bill to criminalize denial of the Armenian genocide.

After the contentious bill passed the National Assembly in December, Turkey retaliated by suspending military and political cooperation with Paris.

But France’s top constitutional court struck down the bill in February, saying it violated free expression, in a ruling welcomed by Ankara.

Sarkozy vowed to launch a new law but was defeated at the polls.

Now his Socialist successor Hollande has clarified in a talk with the Coordinating Council of Armenian Organizations of France (CCAF) that he will propose a similar law, the group said Saturday.

“Francois Hollande has again expressed his willingness to propose a bill designed to curb the denial of the Armenian genocide, as he had said during his campaign and even before,” said the group.

It said Hollande had contacted them to clarify his position after confusion over statements by his Foreign Minister Laurent Fabius.

The Elysee Palace confirmed the telephone conversation and told AFP: “The president expressed his commitments during the campaign. He will keep them.”

“There is no change, although we must find a path, a road that allows for a text that is consistent with the constitution.”

Both candidates marked the Armenian genocide anniversary in Paris in April by attending a ceremony and expressing support for the passage of a newly-worded bill that would outlaw genocide denial. France is home to a large Armenian community.

US President Barack Obama in April called for “a full, frank, and just acknowledgment of the facts” of the “brutal” killings.

While denouncing the 1915 massacre as “one of the worst atrocities of the 20th century,” Obama did not use the term “genocide,” but he implicitly called for Turkey to acknowledge the role of its Ottoman forefathers.

After Hollande was elected, Turkey in June praised his positive attitude toward relations with Ankara.

Turkey’s Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan met Hollande on the sidelines of a U.N. meeting in Brazil, when the two leaders agreed to turn a “new page” in relations, the Anatolia news agency reported.