The ruling Republican Party of Armenia (HHK) said on Thursday that it “regrets” the decision by France’s highest court to declare unconstitutional a French bill criminalizing denial of the Armenian genocide.
The Armenian government, meanwhile, continued to refrain from any official reaction to the development hailed by Turkey as a triumph of free speech.
The chief HHK spokesman, deputy parliament speaker Eduard Sharmazanov, expressed regret at the ruling announced by the French Constitutional Council late on Tuesday. He blamed it on France’s “internal political issues” and intense lobbying by Turkey and its French allies.
“It’s much easier to influence a decision made by eight persons than 130 ones,” Sharmazanov told RFE/RL’s Armenian service (Azatutyun.am), referring to members of the Constitutional Council and the French parliament respectively.
A senior member of the opposition Armenian Revolutionary Federation (Dashnaktsutyun), whose chapter in France has lobbied hard for the bill’s passage, likewise alleged “Turkish pressure, threats and bribes.” Giro Manoyan said French parliamentarians who appealed to the court to strike down the bill late last month received “pretty gifts” from the Turks.
Sharmazanov praised as “very important” French President Nicolas Sarkozy’s pledge to draft a new law that would make it crime to deny that the 1915 mass killings and deportations of Armenians in Ottoman Turkey constituted genocide.
Sarkozy’s UMP party cautioned on Wednesday that the new bill will not be put forward before June because of France’s upcoming national elections. “The problem is that unfortunately parliament's work has finished and we can't put this bill on the agenda,” Francois Cope, a UMP leader, told journalists.
“We will have to wait for the next parliament,” after elections in June, the AFP quoted Cope as saying.
Sarkozy is facing a tough reelection battle in a two-round April-May presidential vote ahead of June's parliamentary polls. Critics say he engineered the genocide bill’s passage late last year in the hope of winning the vote of France’s large Armenian community.
Sarkozy’s Socialist challenger, Francois Hollande, also supports the idea of criminalizing Armenian genocide denial. He reportedly pledged late on Tuesday to “bring up this issue” in case of his victory in the presidential ballot.
“I want to express my solidarity with the Armenians of France because I know what they expected,” Hollande said, according to AFP. “I also want to tell the Turks of France who were mobilized [against the bill] that they are totally wrong to imagine that this was against them.”
Meanwhile, an umbrella group representing the French-Armenian community condemned the court ruling as “unfair and purely political.” “The Constitutional Council has thus capitulated to the interference from Turkey,” the Coordinating Council of the Armenian Organizations of France (CCAF) charged in a statement.