Turkey PM says French bill on genocide denial 'racist'

 

Turkish prime minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan: "This law has no validity"

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The Turkish prime minister has said a bill passed by the French parliament on the mass killing of Armenians under Ottoman rule is "racist".

Recep Tayyip Erdogan told the Turkish parliament in Ankara that the bill "murdered freedom of thought".

French President Nicolas Sarkozy is expected to sign the bill into law before the end of February.

Armenia says that up to 1.5 million people died in 1915-16 as the Ottoman empire split.

Turkey, which rejects the term "genocide", has said the number of deaths was much smaller.

Defenders of the bill point out that it covers all acts of genocide.

'Footsteps of fascism'

"This is a racist and discriminatory approach and if you cannot see this, then you are deaf to the footsteps of fascism in Europe," Mr Erdogan said on Tuesday, a day after the bill was adopted by the French Senate.

Turkey, he added, hoped for the success of a French appeal against the bill to the constitutional commission.

"We will wait and see the developments and decide on our reply to them," he said.

Analysis

There has been plenty of strong comment by Turkish officials and in the media over the newly approved genocide bill - one paper likened President Sarkozy to Satan - but in his first comments Prime Minister Erdogan was surprisingly restrained.

For us this law has no validity, he told MPs from his party in Ankara - it will take European values right back to mediaeval times. Turkey, he said, is a big power now - nobody can play games with us.

Mr Erdogan said he would take retaliatory measures against France if President Sarkozy approved the law but did not spell out what they would be, nor did he encourage Turkish people to show their own displeasure.

Beyond symbolic sanctions, like withdrawing its ambassador, it is not clear what Turkey can do. France is its fifth biggest trade partner but economic sanctions are impossible because of the free-trade agreement Turkey has with the EU.

However political and diplomatic relations will remain frozen for some time, especially if Mr Sarkozy is re-elected later this year, and that cannot help Turkey's already faltering candidacy for EU membership.

Earlier, the Turkish foreign ministry warned that Turkey planned to respond with unspecified measures against France.

It appeared to tie the bill to France's forthcoming elections.

"It is further unfortunate that the historical... relations between the Republic of Turkey and France have been sacrificed to considerations of political agenda,'' the ministry said.

An estimated 500,000 ethnic Armenians live in the country.

Correspondents say the French bill threatens to cause a serious rift between France and Turkey, who are Nato allies.

The Turkish government argues that judging what happened in eastern Turkey in 1915-16 should be left to historians, and that the new French law will restrict freedom of speech.

France has already recognised the killings as a genocide but the new bill means anyone denying it faces a year in jail and a fine of 45,000 euros ($57,000).

The killings are regarded as the seminal event of modern Armenian history, a tragic bond uniting one of the world's most dispersed peoples.

Among the other states which formally recognise them as genocide are Argentina, Belgium, Canada, France, Italy, Russia and Uruguay, but the UK, US, Israel and others use different terminology.

Armenia has described Monday's vote - by 127 votes to 86 - as "historic".

"This day will be written in gold not only in the history of friendship between the Armenian and French peoples, but also in the annals of the history of the protection of human rights," said Minister of Foreign Affairs Edward Nalbandian.

France and Turkey in figures

  • France is Turkey's fifth biggest export market and the sixth biggest source of its imports
  • Volume of trade in 2010: 11.6bn euros with a surplus of 862m euros in France's favour
  • About 350 French companies were active in Turkey in 2010
  • About 550,000 Turkish citizens live in France while nearly 930,000 French tourists visited Turkey in 2010
  • sources: Turkish foreign ministry and Reuters news agency

However, in neighbouring Azerbaijan, a senior member of the ruling party said France's credibility as a mediator with Armenia over the Nagorno-Karabakh dispute had been damaged and it should abandon its role there.

"France has betrayed its mediator mission," said Ali Ahmadov, executive secretary of the New Azerbaijan Party.

Ankara froze ties with France after the lower house passed the bill last month.

The proposed law had been made more general - outlawing the denial of any genocide - but still failed to appease Ankara.

Last week, President Sarkozy wrote to Mr Erdogan saying the bill did not single out any country.

He said France recognised the "suffering endured by the Turkish people" in the final years of the Ottoman empire.

French foreign ministry spokesman Bernard Valero called on Turkey not to overreact, saying Paris considered Ankara a "very important ally".

 

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  • rate this
    -2

    Comment number 263.

    If some people do not believe that a certain genocide occurred, should they be penalized, imprisoned, fined…Whatever happened to freedom of speech. The more talking, digging into history, & debate that occurs, the more space there is for truth & light. Forcing people into silence does nothing to change beliefs or draw out the facts.

  • rate this
    +9

    Comment number 229.

    The civilised world has condemned genocide in any shape and form. History of the 20th century is well documented including the Armenian genocide, Jewish holocaust and more recent tragic episodes. If anti-Semitic comments force the most powerful people to tremble and apologise why can denying other people's suffering go unpunished? Turkish society should deal with its skeletons in the closet.

  • rate this
    +9

    Comment number 228.

    I am a Turkish citizen and I certainly believe we have to admit what happened in the past. In the mean time believing the democracy and freedom of speech is very important and Turkey is making big noise about this law which they are right because this is an anti-democratic law. However Turkey has similar law (called 301) who ever says that the genocide happen is going to jail, kind of irony.

  • rate this
    0

    Comment number 153.

    We Turks have made a terrible mistake for decades by totally overlooking the enormous suffering that the Armenian people went through in 1915.However, this law has a total aspect of politics as we approaching to election times in France and it does/will not achieve anything apart from generating more hatered between the nations.Historicans should talk not politicians!!

  • rate this
    -11

    Comment number 83.

    It isnt for France or any other country for that matter,to judge Turkey nearly 100 years after the event.WWI tore through Europe and the world and part of what happened to Turkey stemmed from that war.I think its a bit rich of France to start blaming one side or another when it has nothing to do with modern day France.If Turkey and Armenia still have issues its for them and them alone to sort out.

 

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