Turkish-French Ties At Risk Over Genocide Bill

Hande Culpan

Middle East Times, Egypt
Oct 10 2006

ATTACK: Turkish PM Recep Tayyip Erdogan addresses his ruling Justice
and Development Party MPs at the Turkish parliament in Ankara October
10. Erdogan called on France to look to its own colonial past instead
of attacking Turkey over an alleged genocide of Armenians during WWI.


ANKARA — Ankara launched a scathing attack against Paris Tuesday,
accusing it of losing its reason over a draft law on the World War
I massacres of Armenians and warning that bilateral ties will suffer
if the bill is enacted.

The draft, scheduled for debate and a vote before the French National
Assembly Thursday, calls for one year in prison and a [email protected],000
($57,000) fine for anyone who denies that Armenians were the victims of
a genocide under the Ottoman Empire, the predecessor of modern Turkey.

"We expect Paris to avoid this blunder, this political accident
that will harm Turkish-French relations," Turkish Prime Minister
Recep Tayyip Erdogan told the parliamentary group of his Justice and
Development Party in a speech interrupted by applause. "The EU must
absolutely take a stand against this eclipse of reason in France,"
he said, charging that the bill would violate freedom of expression,
a basic EU norm that Turkey itself is under pressure to respect.

Drawn up by the Socialist opposition, the bill was first submitted
in May, but the debate ran out of time after filibustering from the
ruling UMP party bloc.

Turkish officials believe that it stands a good chance of being voted
Thursday – as a gesture to France’s large Armenian community ahead
of legislative elections next year – as many lawmakers opposed to
the bill will be away in their constituencies.

Ankara has warned that French firms will be barred from major tenders,
including one for the planned construction of the country’s first
nuclear power plant, if the bill is accepted.

"The French will lose Turkey," foreign minister Abdullah Gul warned

The Ankara Chamber of Commerce, which groups some 3,200 businesses,
and the Consumers’ Union, a nongovernmental consumer rights group,
have threatened to boycott French goods.

In 2001, Turkey sidelined French companies from public tenders and
canceled projects awarded to French firms when parliament adopted a
resolution recognizing the massacres as genocide.

At stake now is a flourishing trade between the two countries that
totaled [email protected] billion ($10 billion) in 2005.

About 250 French firms are active in Turkey, providing employment
for about 65,000 people.

France also plays a leading role in foreign direct investment in
Turkey with $2.1 billion last year and $328 million in the first
seven months of 2006.

But some commentators have warned that suspending economic ties with
France would have a bruising affect on Turkey, for which foreign
investment is vital as it recovers from two severe financial crises.

Turkey could also retaliate politically, keeping bilateral contacts
at a minimum and at the lowest diplomatic level and possibly canceling
bilateral visits.

One senior lawmaker warned that the Turkish parliament could retaliate
with a law proclaiming the killing of Algerians under French colonial
rule as genocide and its denial a jailable offense, but Erdogan
rejected the suggestion. "No," he said, "we will not retaliate in
kind – we do not clean filth with filth."

The Armenian massacres are one of most controversial episodes in
Turkish history and open debate on the issue has only recently begun
in Turkey, often sending nationalist sentiment into frenzy.

Armenians claim that up to 1.5 million of their kin were slaughtered
in orchestrated killings between 1915 and 1917.

Turkey categorically rejects the genocide label, arguing that
300,000 Armenians and at least as many Turks died in civil strife
when Armenians rose for independence in eastern Anatolia and sided
with invading Russian troops as the Ottoman Empire fell apart.

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