ANKARA: Turkey’s Fury And France’s Folly


Today’s Zaman
Dec 27 2011

The vote in France’s lower house of parliament making it a crime to
deny that the mass killings of Armenians in 1915 was genocide and
penalizing those who deny it with a year in prison and a fine of up
to 45,000 euros has brought France’s relationship with Turkey to the
end of the road. The law is due to be debated in the senate in the
coming months.

Since 2001, when the French parliament passed a bill recognizing
the 1915 killings as genocide, there have been several attempts to
penalize denial of the genocide. In 2006, while a bill was passed by
the lower house, it was blocked by the senate, with assistance from
French President Nicolas Sarkozy. However, in 2007, the year of his
election, Sarkozy promised to adopt the document by the end of his
term. Moreover, with France’s economy in trouble, unemployment creeping
up and his popularity in the doldrums at some 34 percent (the lowest
of any president four months before an election), he is desperate to
improve his ratings. With up to 1 million ethnic Armenian citizens,
Sarkozy wants their vote. This is a very short-sighted policy which
will have far-reaching consequences. Sarkozy proves again that he is
no statesman. During his time in office I can think of no occasion
when he has really shined, other than during the Russia-Georgia war
of 2008 when he brokered a peace deal. But even then he failed to
get the Russians to fully implement it.

While Turkey and France have strong business links, relations between
the two leaderships were already sour. Sarkozy has staunchly opposed
Turkey joining the EU, even though his predecessor, Jacques Chirac,
supported opening membership talks. Moreover, during Sarkozy’s visit to
Armenia in October he accused Turkey of “brushing the genocide under
the carpet.” Turkish Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoglu responded by
accusing Sarkozy of political opportunism, stating that France should
confront its own history, particularly in North Africa.

Turkish attempts to stop this bill going to parliament were charged
as “interference in France’s internal affairs” by Valerie Boyer, the
bills author. While Foreign Minister Alain Juppé called on Turkey
not to overreact, Turkey has responded in the strongest possible terms.

Ankara has threatened military and political sanctions against France,
and has cancelled all economic, political and military meetings
within the NATO framework, while also cancelling permission for French
military planes and ships to use Turkey’s ports or airfields. If the
bill is adopted, France will lose access to sectors of the Turkish
economy such as transport and arms, which could cost French business
around $40-50 billion.

Turkey has also indicated that it will move to undermine France’s
position in the Middle East, particularly Syria and Lebanon, where
France has the strongest links, and in the South Caucasus. Ankara
has complained about France’s role in the OSCE Minsk Group, which is
tasked with mediating a solution to the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict
between Azerbaijan and Armenia. Ankara believes the French move on
Turkey is an open display of biased behavior, with France showing that
it is strongly backing the Armenians because of significant pressure
from the Armenian diaspora. President Abdullah Gul has already asked
for France’s immediate withdrawal from the Minsk group.

While much of the international community has been shocked over the
French move, considering it to be counterproductive, there is also
a feeling that Ankara’s “going in with all guns blazing” approach
is also excessive, that Turkey is reacting too emotionally and not
thinking through how its reaction may affect its own foreign policy
and its relations with other international actors, particularly
cooperation vis-a-vis the Middle East and North Africa region.

For the EU it brings another headache in its relations with Turkey,
a key strategic ally and partner, at a time when relations are already
difficult with the Cypriot presidency looming on the horizon.

Meanwhile with tension in the Middle East and the eastern Mediterranean
already high, having two NATO allies at loggerheads as well as further
tensions in EU-NATO cooperation is far from desirable.

Turkey is clearly aiming to prevent Paris increasing its role in
those countries in which France believes it has a strong influence.

Unfortunately this conflict will weaken the international communities’
position in this region and serves no useful purpose at all.

If the senate adopts the bill, it will damage relations permanently.

It could also create difficulties for Turks visiting France,
particularly academics and diplomats, as they may be asked the genocide
question and could face charges. There is also fear it could lead to
further legal actions, such as demands for reparations or territorial
claims. With its tough response, Turkey wants to send the message
to other countries not to copy the French, as the reaction will be
severe. With the Arab Awakening still unfolding, requiring a unified
front from Euro-Atlantic actors, Sarkozy’s timing could hardly have
been worse.

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