Middle East

Turkey threatens France with sanctions over Armenian genocide denial bill

Turkey's Prime Minister Tayyip Erdogan addresses members of parliament from his ruling AK Party (AKP). (REUTERS/Stringer)

ANKARA: Turkey warned the French president Tuesday against signing a law that makes it a crime to deny that the killings of Armenians by Ottoman Turks nearly a century ago constituted genocide, saying such a move would deal a heavy blow to the relations between the two countries.

France’s parliament approved the bill late Monday, risking more sanctions from Turkey and complicating a delicate relationship with the rising power. Officials in President Nicolas Sarkozy’s government insisted the vote didn’t directly target the country.

Turkey, which sees the allegations of genocide as a threat to its national honor, has already suspended military, economic and political ties with Paris, and briefly recalled its envoy last month when the lower house of France’s parliament approved the same bill.

For some in France, the bill is part of a tradition of legislation in some European countries, born of the agonies of the Holocaust, that criminalizes the denial of genocide.

Most historians contend that the 1915 killings of 1.5 million Armenians as the Ottoman Empire broke up was the 20th century’s first genocide, and several European countries recognize the massacres as such. Switzerland has convicted people of racism for denying the genocide.

But Turkey says that there was no systematic campaign to kill Armenians and that many Turks also died during the chaotic disintegration of the empire. It also says that the death toll is inflated.

Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan said the bill was a result of a “racist and discriminatory” attitude toward Turkey. He warned of new, unspecified sanctions against France if the bill is signed into a law.

“For us it is null and void,” Erdogan said. “We still have not lost our hope that it can be corrected.”

Turkey’s Foreign Ministry Tuesday strongly condemned the decision, saying it should not be enacted to “avoid this being recorded as part of France’s political, legal and moral mistakes.”

President Nicolas Sarkozy’s office reiterated that the law would come into effect within the next fortnight and in a letter to Erdogan, urged Ankara to take into account its “common interests” with France.

“I hope 60 senators appeal to the Constitutional Council to eliminate this shadow over French democracy,” Turkish President Abdullah Gul said. “If the bill is not taken to the Constitutional Council and finalized, Turkish-French relations will be dealt a heavy blow.”

If the law is signed, “we will not hesitate to implement, as we deem appropriate, the measures that we have considered in advance,” Turkey’s Foreign Ministry said. It did not elaborate on the measures.

Turkish media slammed Sarkozy: “[He] massacred democracy,” read the banner headline of the leading Hurriyet newspaper while the Sozcu daily blasted “Sarkozy the Satan.”

France’s relations with Turkey are already strained, in large part because Sarkozy opposes Turkey’s entry into the European Union. The law is likely to further sour relations with a NATO member that is playing an increasingly important role in the international community’s response to the violence in Syria, the standoff over Iran’s nuclear program and peace negotiations in the Middle East.

The Senate voted 127 to 86 to pass the bill late Monday. Twenty-four people abstained.

 
A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Daily Star on January 25, 2012, on page 8.

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