Turkey Slams France Over Armenian 'genocide' Bill

Published January 24, 2012 10:36AM (EST)

ANKARA, Turkey (AP) — Turkey warned the French president on 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 it will implement retaliatory measures against France.

France's parliament approved the bill late Monday, risking more sanctions from Turkey and complicating an already 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 ambassador last month when the lower house of parliament approved the same bill.

Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan said the bill was a result of "racist and discriminatory" attitude toward Turkey.

He warned that Turkey will slap 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 on Tuesday strongly condemned the decision, saying the law should not be finalized to "avoid this being recorded as part of France's political, legal and moral mistakes."

Sarkozy, whose party supported the bill, must sign it into law, but that is largely considered a formality.

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.

The debate surrounding the measure comes in the highly charged run-up to France's presidential elections this spring, and critics have called the move a ploy by Sarkozy to garner the votes of the some 500,000 Armenians who live in France.

"It is further unfortunate that the historical ... relations between the Republic of Turkey and France have been sacrificed to considerations of political agenda," Turkey said. "It is quite clear where the responsibility for this lies."

Officials in Sarkozy's conservative government were in damage-control mode on Tuesday, appealing to Turkey's government to keep its calm.

"As foreign minister, I think this initiative was a bit inopportune. But the parliament has thus decided. What I'd like to do today is call on our Turkish friends to keep their composure," Foreign Minister Alain Juppe said on Canal Plus TV. "After this wave that has been a little bit excessive, I have to say I'm convinced that we will return to constructive relations — I extend my hand, I hope it will be taken one day."

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. The measure sets a punishment of up to one year in prison and a fine of euro45,000 ($59,000) for those who deny or "outrageously minimize" the killings.

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 genocides. Denying the Holocaust is already a punishable crime in France.

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 death toll is inflated.

Some Turks said Turkey should retaliate in kind. The Turkish prime minister has accused the French of "genocide" during France's 132-year colonial rule in Algeria.

"I think our country should have retaliated in the same way after the French Bill has passed," Yilmaz Sesen, a chemist, told AP television in Ankara. "They have committed genocide in North Africa, and not too long ago either."


Associated Press writers Sarah DiLorenzo and Jamey Keaten in Paris contributed.

By Salon Staff

MORE FROM Salon Staff

Related Topics ------------------------------------------