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
    +4

    Comment number 121.

    I find it very interesting that most of the visual support for this issue that I have seen is of angry Turks holding up Turkish flags, headlines reading how outraged the Turkish people and Turkish government are and very little about how Armenian's from around the world are rejoicing. Are we to believe that there is only one point of view here?

  • rate this
    0

    Comment number 120.

    Many people point out that Turkey has history.

    Not sure present day politics sure be muddled though

  • rate this
    -1

    Comment number 119.

    Turkey once and for all needs to accept that this happened it was genocide and they did it. When I was traveling there I heard every possible excuse they could come up with from "it was wartime" to "we weren’t Turkey yet it was the Ottomans who did it". The fact is a million plus Armenians died at their hands and to keep denying it should be a crime.

  • rate this
    0

    Comment number 118.

    Bit rich for Turks to be crying 'racism' and questioning the democratic principles of the French nation, when in Turkey it is against the law to recognise the Armenian genocide.

    Recognising the Armenian genocide in Turkey is classified as an 'insult ing Turkishness' (Article 301 - Turkish penal code) and is a imprisonable offence.

    France did the right thing by now bowing to Turkish threats.

  • rate this
    0

    Comment number 117.

    Remember that not only is this bill generalised (French are not allowed to deny acts of genocide they committed/participated in), but also reactive.

    While there is no direct legislation against Turkish historians who wish to blame their own people for the genocide, it is clear from the lack of any discussion on the matter that the point of view is imposed, not chosen.

  • rate this
    +1

    Comment number 116.

    How immature of France to make an election issue of something that concerns two other countries thousands of kilometers away from its borders.Before lecturing others of their past it should look at its very bloody colonial past.No government anywhere has the right to silence people on their thoughts and their choice on the freedom of speech.Mr Sarkozy,Turkey's historical archives are open to all.

  • rate this
    -1

    Comment number 115.

    #70 - it might not be illegal to say it was a genocide but it does carry a death penalty - look at what happened to Hrant Dink,

    The press only reger to it as “the events of 1915,” or “The Armenian disaster.”

  • rate this
    +1

    Comment number 114.

    Is modern Turkey responsible for the mass Armenian killings during the end of the Ottoman Empire ?. Of the 3 to 4 million killed during the invasions, wars, and ethnic displacement that was the breakup of the Ottoman Empire it is the Armenians who suffered most largely at the hands of the Turks, but does that excuse Russia, France, UK, and the other Ottoman successor states.

  • rate this
    -2

    Comment number 113.

    Reading some of the comments, I've realized how many people failed to notice that the article states that Turkey doesn't deny atrocities against Armenians were committed, they add that Turks and Kurds were massacred at the hands of the Armenians with Russian and French support. Turkey and Turks object to the term genocide and dispute the number of killed. They seems to ignore that Turks died too.

  • rate this
    -1

    Comment number 112.

    Strange. Arguments against the law are:
    "it was long time ago", "we need to move on", "the perpetrators are long dead", "the issue should be left to historians", "lets not irritate Turkey" and so on.Interestingly, the same people are compliantly fine if historian David and other revisionists Irving are go to prison in EU countries for Jewish Holocaust denial. Double standards is your essence!

  • rate this
    +3

    Comment number 111.

    Turkey has free speech issues, just like the BBC!

  • rate this
    0

    Comment number 110.

    Not racist, but a pointless prohibition on freedom of speech and a needlessly inflamatory move against Turkey, a country which has borne more than one affront from Western Europe. Really hard to see how a few Armenian votes in France can justify this type of "diplomacy".

  • rate this
    +6

    Comment number 109.

    governments should just admit truth in things if it doesnt change the present.
    at least this way history will have less chance of repeating....

  • rate this
    +3

    Comment number 108.

    I find it hard to take the French seriously when they have refused to acknowledge their own hand in the atrocities towards Jews in their own country during WWII.

    Is this not a case of double standards?

  • rate this
    +1

    Comment number 107.

    83.goldengirl12
    Absolute nonsense. The international community did not leave Germany & the recreated state of Israel to "sort it out".
    I only hope the UK takes the same stance as France.
    It should be a term under which EU membership is decided for Turkey, I'm sure they would freely admit it then!

  • rate this
    0

    Comment number 106.

    Bizzare

    Seems to contradict a few fundamentals too

  • rate this
    0

    Comment number 105.

    If Turks or any other country refuse to accept the crimes that they had commited, then others have a right to point this out to them and the whole world. When the world chose to ignore similar crimes commited by the Nazis, 42 million lives were lost throughout the world. I congratulate France and Pres. Sarkozy for having the courage to stand up for the truth. If only Dave was brave enough too.

  • rate this
    +4

    Comment number 104.

    Saying such things as 'If Turkey and Armenia still have issues its for them and them alone to sort out' is all well as long its not your family or friends that have suffered. Genocide is everyone's business. Silence only helps the perpetrators and is indeed what they strive for. I suspect that Turkey is protesting because they have a great deal of other 'issues' that they wish to silence

  • rate this
    +5

    Comment number 103.

    Just another reason, in a long list of reasons, why Turkey should not come anywhere near EU membership.

  • rate this
    +1

    Comment number 102.

    The reason Turkey is politicising the issue and does not accept the term genocide, is because it fears having to pay compensation in money and land to Armenia (as Germany has paid Israel for decades). They fear that this would open the floodgates to Greek, Greek Cypriot and Kurdish demands and then break up the country. Turkey's reaction is very hypocritical, but France's is politically motivated.

 

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