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Last Updated: Thursday, 12 October 2006, 22:47 GMT 23:47 UK
Analysis: French focus on Armenian 'genocide'
By Clive Myrie
BBC News, Paris

A dictionary will tell you that genocide is the organised killing of a people to end their collective existence.

Armenians outside the French parliament
Ethnic Armenian campaigners in France have hailed the vote

Because of its scope, it requires central planning and a machinery to implement it.

Genocide was clearly Adolf Hitler's aim - it was also what the Hutus of Rwanda desired in 1994.

There are many Turks who will not deny hundreds of thousands of Armenians were killed in 1915 during a resettlement programme to other parts of the Ottoman Empire.

But people died, they say, in inter-communal warfare - it was not the organised killing of a people to end their collective existence. It was not genocide.

There are many others around the world who beg to differ but some here in France want to enshrine their view in law.

The lower house of parliament has approved a bill making it a crime to deny Armenians suffered genocide. No other country has tried this, so why are the French doing so now?

"Everything is politics" they say and for critics of the French initiative that is exactly what the controversy is about - politics.

Wooing voters

The bill was proposed by the minority Socialists in the French Parliament.

There is a presidential election next year and cynics say pushing for a law criminalising denial of an Armenian genocide plays well with Armenians here who vote.

Jack Lang, a Socialist MP, believes he knows what is going on and has broken ranks.

"I believe the Socialist party has adopted an electoralist point of view. It is not sincere. It is only to get the electoral support of the Armenian community."

Cynics say there are others whom those who put forward the bill want to impress: the majority of French people who do not want Turkey joining the European Union.

Indeed many French politicians agree a mainly Muslim country has no place in the EU and this may be driving the anti-Turkish bill.

Cross-party support

But is cynicism over the motives behind the bill fair?

For many French politicians denying the Armenian genocide is like denying the Holocaust and it was not just Socialists who supported the bill.

They were joined by a number of centre-right politicians too.

Herve Mariton of the ruling UMP party said:

"The genocide is a fact. It is an absolute disgrace for the 20th Century, it is an absolute disgrace for humanity, it has to be stated as such."

The government of President Jacques Chirac is in a difficult position.

He has suggested Turkish recognition of the Armenian genocide should be a pre-condition of entry into the EU, but he has distanced his government from the bill.

Principle

Prime Minister Dominique de Villepin says it is a bad idea and insists France wants strong ties with Turkey.

French businesses fear trade will suffer. Exports to Turkey were worth 4.66bn euros last year.

That is why ultimately the bill will never become law.

It has to go to the Senate for a vote and with the government's majority in the upper house, it is highly unlikely to pass.

Gesture politics then and a cry from the heart by MPs who believe it was genocide, or is all this politicking?

And does it make sense to criminalise Armenian genocide denial anyway?

French jails would be overcrowded with Turks, proud of their history.

Those in favour of the bill emphatically say yes, the horrors of the past must not be forgotten or denied.

The new bill is not about politics, they say, but principle.




SEE ALSO
Turkey condemns 'genocide' vote
12 Oct 06 |  Europe
Fears of Turkey's 'invisible' Armenians
22 Jun 06 |  From Our Own Correspondent
Q&A: Armenian 'genocide'
12 Oct 06 |  Europe
Country profile: Armenia
27 Sep 06 |  Country profiles

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