Cyprus criminalises 'Armenian genocide' denial

Cypriot parliament unanimously approved a law that makes it a crime to deny that mass killings of Armenians under the Ottoman Empire in 1915 amounted to genocide (AFP Photo/Ozan Kose)

Nicosia (AFP) - The Cypriot parliament unanimously approved Thursday a law that makes it a crime to deny that mass killings of Armenians under the Ottoman Empire in 1915 amounted to genocide.

The law also establishes April 24, the date the killings began, as a national day of remembrance in Cyprus, much of whose Armenian community descends from survivors of the killings.

Cyprus itself was Ottoman until coming under British rule in the 19th century and has been at odds with Turkey, the empire's successor, since being invaded by it in 1974 after a coup aimed at uniting the island with Greece.

Armenia says an estimated 1.5 million people were killed by Ottoman forces in what it calls a genocide.

Turkey, which rejects the term "genocide," puts the death toll at 500,000, blaming it on World War I raging at the time and starvation.

Around 20 nations, including France and Russia, recognise the killings as genocide.

The measure is an amendment to existing legislation against racism, hate crimes and xenophobic behaviour.

Parliamentary speaker Yiannakis Omirou called the vote "historic" and said the legislation enables parliament "to restore, by decisions and resolutions, the historical truth".

He said the massacres constituted "one of the largest and most heinous crimes in the modern history of mankind".

"Despite the recording of these events by hundreds of independent witnesses, the Armenian genocide has only been recognised by a small number of countries," added Omirou.

Cyprus also claims that the 1974 Turkish invasion and seizure of the island's northern third was tantamount to ethnic cleansing, splitting the country between a Turkish Cypriot north and Greek Cypriot south.