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
    +10

    Comment number 61.

    Turkey murdered 1.5 million Armenians - either directly and/or indirectly - just like they murdered hundreds of thousands of Greeks between the fall of the Byzantine Empire and the fall of the Ottoman Empire in WW1. They ought to admit their past - and while they're at it give CONSTANTINOPLE back to its rightful Greek owners.

  • Comment number 60.

    This comment was removed because the moderators found it broke the house rules. Explain.

  • Comment number 59.

    This comment was removed because the moderators found it broke the house rules. Explain.

  • rate this
    0

    Comment number 58.

    How does banning discussion about a disputed historical event (if you go to eatern Turkey around Kars you'll see monuments dedicated to the Turks 'slaughtered' Armenians in 1918 and the narrative reads somewhat differently) help anyone?

    Secondly, hypocrisy by France with regard to Algeria (and on free speech in general).

  • Comment number 57.

    This comment was removed because the moderators found it broke the house rules. Explain.

  • rate this
    +2

    Comment number 56.

    These laws are absurd. Why should it be illegal to deny genocide? Why these genocides and not others? Should it be illegal to deny that the Highland clearance was genocodal? Or the annihilation of aboriginal Australians? Or French repression on the Ivory Coast?
    If this law were robust and general enough to cover all genocide, I might support it, but it is selective and politically tendentious.

  • rate this
    +11

    Comment number 55.

    This is one of two genocides which have been accepted by Historians. While I do not agree that freedom of speech should be curtailed, in this case, it is justified, due to the enormity of the horror and the fact that Turkey has legislated (by virtue of article 301 of its penal code) to cover up this crime against humanity.

  • rate this
    +1

    Comment number 54.

    Given the Turkish past and on going treatment of the Kurds I really do not think they have the right to call any one racist.

    However, Turkish govt is right that this is an issue to be left to historians. Genocide implies deliberate actions design to kill an entire population (or as many as you can find), so for example the Irish Potato famine is not a British genocide just incompetence

  • rate this
    +1

    Comment number 53.

    The French Senate vote has introduced clarity into an area subject to so much obfuscation in the past.

    The British government must now choose between the following descriptions for the disappearance of 1.5 million Armenians: Genocide, Holocaust or Crime against Humanity.

    Recent scholarship jointly between Turkish and Armenian historians are now pointing to the first in this list.

  • rate this
    +10

    Comment number 52.

    34.Gerty -

    Those who forget (or worse purposely change) the lessons of their past are doomed to repeat it.

    It is important to remember.

  • Comment number 51.

    This comment was removed because the moderators found it broke the house rules. Explain.

  • rate this
    +22

    Comment number 50.

    I wish the BBC would stop referring to the Armenian genocide as a "dispute," when no serious genocide scholar disputes the matter. Questioning genocide is as much a crime against humanity as committing genocide.

    As for those who think this matter should be left out of politics: yes, it should, but only when Turkey stops politicizing it.

  • Comment number 49.

    This comment was removed because the moderators found it broke the house rules. Explain.

  • rate this
    -8

    Comment number 48.

    Can't wait till Turkey joins the EU...

  • rate this
    +4

    Comment number 47.

    28. ingenious1blue said "During the Mohamad cartoon issue the France were up in arms about 'free speech' yet you can't make a joke about the Holocaust."
    Religions, like politics or other beliefs, are a fair target for jokes in a free country.
    The Holocaust was the organised murder of millions of people in an attempt to exterminate entire ethnic groups. That's a crime, not a belief.

  • rate this
    +6

    Comment number 46.

    Turkey's record speaks for itself and is good reason why it should never be admitted ot the EU. My only issue is it is a bit like pot calling the kettle, if you look at French behaviour in North Africa. Not that many nations have a blameless record. I wonder what French motivation is, is it just to keep Turks out of EU or something else?

  • rate this
    +3

    Comment number 45.

    i have a family including both sides. This bill is not helping anyone but French politicians, and France is certainly not going to teach Turks history lessons. yes I believe it was ethnic cleansing, but there was no government at that transitionary time between ottoman and today's republic and no institution can be blamed - the fascists of the time are hung or dead.can we move on please?

  • rate this
    +3

    Comment number 44.

    I fail to see the justification for making the questioning of history a criminal offence. Unless current government authority is based upon a universal acceptance of a past event.

  • Comment number 43.

    This comment was removed because the moderators found it broke the house rules. Explain.

  • rate this
    -7

    Comment number 42.

    The French, racists???????

    Get away.

 

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