France-Turkey Armenia 'genocide' row reflected in media

Man in Istanbul reading Turkish newspaper Hurriyet, showing the headline "He's slain democracy" Turkish papers are appalled by the new law

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The news that the French Senate on Monday approved a bill which will make it illegal to deny that the mass killing of Armenians in 1915 in the Ottoman Empire was genocide has infuriated the Turkish establishment, which has threatened France with permanent sanctions.

The media in Turkey, France and Armenia have mostly reflected the official positions, but two French reports have highlighted the division between French lawmakers over the issue.

Turkey

The story has dominated Turkish television since Monday when TV channels had live coverage of the Senate debate and interviews with officials from Paris. The Yes vote and its implications have been the focus of several Turkish television discussion programmes.

In the newspapers, a sense of Turkish outrage over the issue was reflected in the headlines.

"Shame on You France", centrist Vatan said. Sarkozy "Murdered Democracy", centre-right Hurriyet charged.

"The Senate has written 'History' ", declared centre-left daily Radikal.

Some commentators were incensed by what they saw as French hypocrisy. Fikret Bila writing in centrist Milliyet suggested that France's own historical record could bear looking at. It was "bad in Europe and in Africa", Bila said.

Rauf Tamer in the tabloid Posta said France had shot itself in the foot. "It wanted to exploit the Great Catastrophe of the past politically. Just for the sake of a handful of votes," he argued.

Liberal Yeni Safak accused Paris of taking a "political decision on history", but Ahmet Altan writing in leftist Taraf announced his disinterest in the whole subject.

"Frankly, I do not care at all. Whether France bans saying that or not", he said.

France

In France, the row was the top story on many early morning news bulletins. State-owned France 2 TV said that exchanges between Ankara and Paris had "become even more heated overnight" after the former threatened to reduce its diplomatic presence in France.

State-owned France Inter radio noted "Ankara's anger and the joy of French Armenians" in its top headline, but privately-owned Europe 1 radio emphasised that many French MPs felt uneasy about the vote.

The story, which broke only late on Monday, did not take a prominent place on most newspaper front pages, but best-selling Ouest France was a notable exception with its main headline: "The Senate has voted, Turkey makes threats."

Le Monde noted that, although the bill was passed by 126 votes to 86, most of the 348 senators failed to back it and many "strongly expressed their reservations". Most groups in the Senate were divided over the bill and "the result of the vote is a sign of the unease that was expressed throughout the debate", according to an article by Patrick Roger published on the paper's website.

Liberation suggested that the bill was "not entirely free of ulterior electoral motives considering that there is a 500,000-strong French Armenian community in France". An article by Elsa Sabado and Francois Wenz-Dumas published on the paper's website added that the vote casts doubt on the Senate's effectiveness in preventing laws that are inspired by short-term interests and may be unconstitutional.

Le Figaro, however, judged that the Senate debate was often "of high quality". Guillaume Perrault writing in an article published on the paper's website noted that in 2001 parliament passed a law in which France recognised the "Armenian genocide" and that the bill before the Senate was intended to make that declaration binding by making denial of the "genocide" a crime.

Armenia

Only four of the eight newspapers in Armenia carried reports on the French Senate vote. This may have been because the news broke late in the evening.

The Aravot, Azg and Golos Armenii newspapers ran the story on their front pages giving mainly factual reports. Only one daily carried any commentary.

In an editorial, the opposition Zhamanak hailed the French decision, which it saw as "a good opportunity to advance" Armenian "interests and take an advantageous position in its relations with Turkey".

However, the paper advised Armenians not to be excessive in demonstrating their gratitude to France.

"The French Senate's decision was by no means based on emotion, but was a result of pragmatic and hard-nosed policy pursued by a country which has proved to be a big expert in such issues," the paper suggested.

BBC Monitoring selects and translates news from radio, television, press, news agencies and the internet from 150 countries in more than 70 languages. It is based in Caversham, UK, and has several bureaux abroad.

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