President Francois Hollande has reassured France’s influential Armenian community that he remains committed to enacting a new law criminalizing denial of the Armenian genocide, effectively refuting a statement to the contrary made by his foreign minister.
The minister, Laurent Fabius, said on Thursday that a similar law that was struck down by France’s constitutional court in February is unlikely to be revived. Fabius spoke after talks in Paris with his visiting Turkish counterpart Ahmet Davutoglu, which underlined a thaw in French-Turkish relations that followed Hollande’s victory in recent presidential elections.
Hollande’s center-right predecessor, Nicolas Sarkozy, initiated the law’s passage by the French parliament in an apparent effort to win ethnic Armenian votes in the April-May elections. Turkey responded furiously, recalling its ambassador from Paris and imposing sanctions on France.
The sanctions were lifted ahead of Davutoglu’s trip to Paris. Hollande and Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan reportedly agreed to turn a “new page” in bilateral relations when they met on the sidelines of a UN conference in Brazil last month.
French-Armenian leaders were quick to express serious concern at Fabius’s remarks. Hollande moved to allay those concerns in a phone conversation with a top representative of the Coordinating Council of Armenian Organisations of France (CCAF), an umbrella structure representing the 500,000-strong Armenian community.
“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,” the CCAF said in a statement.
The presidential Elysee Palace confirmed the telephone conversation and told AFP on Saturday: “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,” it said.
In a related development, the CCAF’s two co-chairmen, Ara Toranian and Mourad Papazian, met with an aide to Hollande, Faouzi Lamdaoui, on Monday. The French-Armenian news portal Armenews.com reported that they discussed details of a meeting between the French president and the CCAF leadership scheduled for the second half of this month. It quoted Lamdaoui as saying that Hollande is intent on drafting, “as soon as possible,” a new law making it a crime to deny that the 1915 massacres in Ottoman Turkey constituted genocide.
Hollande publicly promised to do that when he marked the genocide anniversary with thousands of Armenians in a central Paris square on April 24. He said the law should be drawn up with “utmost legal security” in order to ensure its approval by the country’s highest court.
Meanwhile, official Ankara played down the significance of Hollande’s statements. “We pay more attention to the statement of French Foreign Minister Laurent Fabius,” an unnamed Turkish Foreign Ministry official told “Hurriyet Daily News” on Sunday.
“I believe that the new team in power in Paris will have the wisdom not to reopen this file,” Foreign Minister Davutoglu said for his part in an interview with the French daily “Liberation” published on Monday.
Davutoglu also stated that it is “unacceptable” to accuse the Turks of having committed genocide. “This can only damage French-Turkish relations and, even more so, relations between Turkey and Armenia,” he said.
Armenia strongly and repeatedly welcomed the passage of the original French bill on Armenian genocide denial. President Serzh Sarkisian described it as “historic” in a January letter to Sarkozy.