Turkey and France in growing confrontation over French ‘genocide bill’

Turkey and France traded barbs Thursday, with the Turkish ambassador recalled from Paris. Turkey also suspended all bilateral political, economic and military cooperation.

REUTERS/Charles Platiau
Franco-Turk protesters attend a demonstration next to the National Assembly in Paris December 22, 2011 ahead of a parliamentary vote on a bill that would make it a crime to deny the 1915 mass killing of Armenians by Ottoman Turks was genocide.

The French National Assembly today passed a controversial bill penalizing anyone who denies the Armenian genocide by Ottoman forces almost a century ago.  

The bill, which now has to be voted on by the Senate, provoked a furious Turkish reaction.  Ankara is recalling its ambassador to France while freezing official contacts between the two countries. 

“We are recalling our ambassador in Paris to Ankara for consultations," said Turkish Prime Minister Tayyip Erdogan, Associated Press reports. 

Ankara lobbied hard for the French government to shelve the bill and warned  of potential retaliatory measures. Earlier this week, a delegation of Turkish MPs and businessmen visited Paris to request that the government of President Nicolas Sarkozy abandon the bill.

"As of now, we are canceling bilateral level political, economic and military activities," Mr. Erdogan said. "We are suspending all kinds of political consultations with France" and "bilateral military cooperation, joint maneuvers are canceled as of now," he added.

Erdogan said that he will annul any permissions given to French military vessels to dock at Turkish ports and would consider on a case-by-case basis requests for military overflights and landings.  The Turkish prime minister said that "This decision is cause for concern not only for France where there are efforts to make gains through enmity toward Turks and Turkey, and in general terms, through Islamophobia, but also for Europe and principles defended by Europe."

The French bill requires a prison term of up to one year and a fine of $58,000 (45,000 euros) to anyone who publicly denies the mass killings of the Armenians during World War I.  In 2001, France officially recognized the ‘Armenian genocide’ but a subsequent parliamentary effort to criminalize it was dropped by the Senate.

"It is important, in the current context, that we keep the paths of dialogue and cooperation open," French Foreign Minister Alain Juppe said in a statement.

French lawmakers were vexed over what they saw as Turkish interference into the country’s internal affairs.

"Laws voted in this chamber cannot be dictated by Ankara," said Jean-Christophe Lagarde, a deputy from the New Center party, the Turkish daily Today’s Zaman reports.

The author of the bill, Valerie Boyer, a deputy from Sarkozy’s Union For Popular Movement Party (UMP), said her bill  “is inspired by European law, which says that the people who deny the existence of the genocides must be sanctioned” and criticized Turkey’s threats, according to Today’s Zaman.

Although there is little consensus, Armenians say that about 1.5 million people were killed during the mass deportations of 1915-16.  The Turkish government acknowledges the death of many Armenians, yet, it denies that Ottoman forces deliberately exterminated them.  Turkey considers the numbers as inflated and says that Turks were also killed due to the upheaval that followed the disintegration of the Ottoman Empire.

"I condemn the French parliament, which passed this bill meaning betrayal of history and historical truth," wrote the Turkish Deputy Prime Minister Bulent Arinc on his Twitter account, Turkey’s Hurriyet reports.

"The French parliament... dimmed out history and truth by approving the bill," Arinc added.

The Armenian foreign minister, Edward Nalbandian, applauded the initiative, saying France "reconfirmed its high place of being the cradle of human rights and once again proved its commitment to universal human values," CNN reports.

"The French people showed that human rights are highest value, and today by adopting this bill, reconfirmed that crimes against humanity do not have a period of prescription and their denial must be absolutely condemned," Nalbandian said.

Zaman columnist Bulent Kenes said the bill constitutes a violation of universal freedom of thought and expression and urged France to first delve into her own history. Kenes, referring to Sarkozy said, “Given his now-well-established interest in creating dogmas via political and legal means over controversial incidents of the past, he should have turned a critical eye to France’s unquestionable colonial past instead of peering into Turkey’s dubious history.” 

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