ANKARA: Turkey’s foreign minister has threatened to denounce France’s colonial past at international meetings in retaliation for Paris’ plans to prosecute those who deny that the mass killings of Armenians by Ottoman Turks was genocide.
Turkey rejects the term genocide to describe the killings of Armenians by Ottoman Turks as their Empire collapsed more than 90 years ago. Historians estimate that up to 1.5 million Armenians were killed and experts say it was the 20th century’s first genocide.
France considers the killings a genocide. The lower house of the French parliament will debate on Dec. 22 a proposal that would punish anyone denying that the slaughter was a genocide with one-year in prison and a 45,000 euro fine.
The issue threatens to further harm Turkish-French relations already tense over French President Nicolas Sarkozy’s opposition to Turkey’s bid to join the European Union.
Turkey has threatened to withdraw its ambassador to France if the bill is passed while Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan has lashed out at Paris saying the country should investigate alleged French abuses in Algeria and Rwanda instead.
France had troops in Rwanda, and Rwandan President Paul Kagame has accused the country of doing little to stop the country’s genocide.
Turkey’s Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoglu said late Sunday that Ankara would bring up the issue of “French colonialism” and “start talking about truths everywhere in the world.” His words were carried by the state-run Anadolu Agency.
Meanwhile, France’s Foreign Ministry said Monday that Foreign Minister Alain Juppe would meet a delegation from Turkey’s parliament Tuesday to discuss the draft law. Volkan Bozkir, head of foreign affairs committee, and opposition figure Osman Koruturk are leading the delegation that is lobbying French legislators against the bill.
Turks have called for a boycott of French goods and companies in retaliation for the draft law. Turkish officials say trade rules and a customs union agreement between Turkey and the EU forbid an official boycott of France – an important economic partner.
Turkey’s economy minister said however, that a joint Turkish-French economic cooperation meeting scheduled for January could be canceled if the bill is passed.
A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Daily Star on December 20, 2011, on page 9.