French bill on Armenian deaths worries Turkey

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France's relations with Turkey will come under strain today if the parliament in Paris approves a bill that would make it a crime to deny the killing of Armenians by Ottoman troops in 1915 was genocide.

Turkish academics have warned that if the opposition proposal becomes law, it would be "disastrous" for the democratic movement in Turkey. It could also cause economic disruption, with business leaders warning that French products could be boycotted in Turkey.

Ankara recalled its ambassador to Paris briefly last week "for consultations" in protest at today's vote. It also pulled back its ambassador to Ottawa, following comments by the Canadian prime minister that appeared to express support for Armenia's view that the killings were genocide.

The Armenian issue is particularly sensitive in France because of its 450,000-strong Armenian community.

Armenians claim up to 1.5m people died in 1915-18. Turkey denies genocide, and admits only that hundreds of thousands of both Armenians and Turks died, largely due to civil war and famine.

Halil Berktay, one of the first Turkish historians to break the taboo on Armenia, said in yesterday's Le Monde that the effects of thenew French law would be "disastrous".

He warned that Ankara could retaliate with a law criminalising recognition of the genocide. "There is a strong nationalist, anti-European wave in Turkey at the moment." he said.

The French bill would punish denial of the genocide with one year in prison or a Euros 45,000 fine, matching the penalty for denial of the Jewish Holocaust.

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