Turkey: Fallout from French-Turkish Spat Over Genocide Bill Could be Widespread
Add France to the countries that Turkey now has strained relations with. Following a successful vote today in France's lower house of Parliament which made it a crime to deny that the mass killing of Armenians by Ottoman forces in 1915 was a genocide, Ankara has recalled its ambassador in Paris and announced a set of "sanctions" against the French. The move only worsens what had been an increasingly tense French-Turkish relationship. From Reuters:
Lawmakers in France's National Assembly - the lower house of parliament - voted overwhelmingly in favour of a draft law outlawing genocide denial, which will be debated next year in the Senate.
French Foreign Affairs Minister Alain Juppe, speaking to journalists after the vote, urged Turkey not to overreact to the assembly decision, called for "good sense and moderation."
But Turkish Prime Minister Tayyip Erdogan angrily criticized France for passing the draft legislation, which touches on a highly controversial period in his country's history.
The bill, put forward by members of French President Nicolas Sarkozy's ruling party, was "politics based on racism, discrimination, xenophobia," Erdogan told journalists.
He said Sarkozy, was sacrificing good ties "for the sake of political calculations," suggesting the president was tying to win the votes of ethnic Armenians in France in an election next year.
Erdogan said Turkey was cancelling all economic, political and military meetings with its NATO partner and said it would cancel permission for French military planes to land, and warships to dock, in Turkey.
Juppe said Turkey had also recalled its ambassador from France, a decision he regretted.
The law, which provides for a punishment of a year in prison and a fine of €45,000 ($58,600), still needs to be voted on by the parliament's upper house, which is expected to do so in February. Until then, says Sinan Ulgen, a former Turkish diplomat and a scholar with Carnegie Europe, Turkey's reaction is likely to gradually escalate. "If the bill is adopted it is certain to have lasting and permanent damage to the relationship," Ulgen says.
But Ulgen also warns that the bill's impact could spread far beyond the Turkish-French bilateral relationship. "This is also going to have impact on Turkey’s relationship with the European Union, at the time that there is an imminent crisis regarding Cyprus’s upcoming presidency of the EU in June. This will be unavoidable," he says. "The second implication is that this will also create tension within NATO and the NATO-EU relationship, particularly in areas where NATO and the EU will need to work together, such as in post-conflict zones, like Libya. That’s going to be very problematic," Ulgen adds.
France, home to a significant Armenian diaspora community, officially recognized the 1915 events as a genocide in 2001. But Ulgen says this new move is more worrisome for Ankara. "A recognition is quite different from the criminalization of denial," he says. "The fear is that this is going to create a very untenable situation because many Turks visiting France – academics, intellectuals, diplomats – may face this question and could face charges."Turkish officials also appear to be concerned that legislation like the one passed today will not only be replicated in other countries, but could also lead to further legislative or legal action, such as demands for reparations or even territorial claims on parts of eastern Turkey that had large Armenian populations prior to 1915.
"Turkey wants to give a message to other third countries that might consider a move such as France’s. Therefore the reaction on the Turkish side will be very severe," Ulgen says.