By Irina Hovannisian
Hundreds of students rallied outside the French embassy in Yerevan Friday to thank France’s parliament for passing a bill that would make it an offence punishable by jail to deny that Armenians suffered a genocide at the hands of Ottoman Turks.
Chanting “Long live France!” and waving French and Armenian flags, they marched through the city center in two separate demonstrations organized by the student organizations of the Armenian Revolutionary Federation (Dashnaktsutyun) and another youth organizations.
“We express our sincere gratitude to our French friends and welcome this historic step,” an organizer of the first rally representing the Social Democratic Hnchakian Party said, reading out a petition outside the embassy building in central Yerevan.
“We are here to express our joy at the adoption of this law and hope that sooner or later such a bill will be adopted in Turkey,” said one of the participants.
“That horrible crime must be accepted by all means,” agreed another, referring to the 1915-1918 mass killings and deportations of Armenians in the Ottoman Empire.
France is one of about two dozen countries that have officially recognized the slaughter of an estimated 1.5 Armenians as genocide. Ignoring vehement protests from the Turkey, the lower of house of its parliament went farther and adopted legislation on Thursday that establishes a one-year prison term and 45,000 euro ($56,570) fine for anyone denying the genocide. Armenia promptly welcomed the move as a “natural reaction to the intensive, aggressive and official denial of the Armenian Genocide by the Turkish state.”
“France recognized the fact of the Armenian genocide long ago,” Henry Cuny, the French ambassador to Armenia, said, addressing the jubilant students outside his mission.
Cuny made no direct mention of the bill, which his government did not support, urging young Armenians instead to strive to improve “your relations with your neighbor Turkey.” “I think that for any country having good relations with a good neighbor is very important,” he said, adding that Turkey should reopen its border with Armenia and “embrace values” espoused by the European Union.
Visiting Yerevan earlier this month, French President Jacques Chirac indicated that Turkey has to recognize the Armenian genocide if it wants to join the EU. The statement was echoed by other top French politicians. EU officials insist, however, that genocide recognition is not a precondition for Ankara’s entry to the bloc.