Turkey pressures France on Armenia genocide bill

2011-12-21 07:53

Paris – Turkey piled pressure on France yesterday to drop a proposed law making it illegal to deny the Armenian genocide, warning its adoption would spark a diplomatic crisis and have economic consequences.

The French parliament is to debate the bill, which would see anyone in France who publicly denies the genocide facing a year in jail and a fine of €45 000 (nearly R485 000), tomorrow and is expected to approve it.

Armenia said up to 1.5 million of its people were killed during World War I by the forces of Turkey’s former Ottoman Empire, a figure Ankara disputes.

As a delegation of Turkish lawmakers and businessmen met with officials in Paris, Turkish President Abdullah Gul urged France to drop the bill.

“It is not possible for us to accept this bill, which denies us the freedom to reject unfair and groundless accusations targeting our country and our nation,” Gul said in a statement from Ankara.

“I want to hope that France will not sacrifice centuries-old Turkish-French friendship, common interests and bonds of alliance for small political calculations,” Gul said, alluding to next year’s elections in France.

A member of Gul’s entourage said the Turkish leader had been trying to contact Sarkozy for two days without any success.

The Turkish delegation met with French Foreign Minister Alain Juppe and President Nicolas Sarkozy’s foreign policy advisor Jean-David Levitte, arguing the law was an attempt to win support among voters of Armenian origin.

“Juppe reminded his guests that Turkey was for France a friend and ally, with which it had always sought dialogue,” the foreign ministry said.

Juppe told the Turks that Paris and Ankara had many vital common interests and argued these were “sufficiently strong to overcome the challenges that might confront or relationship.”

France’s estimated 400 000-strong Armenian diaspora is seen as an important element of Sarkozy’s support base as he prepares for a tough re-election battle in April next year.

“Every five years this question comes up ahead of the elections,” said delegation member Umit Boyner, chairperson of the Turkish Industry and Business Association.

Turkey urged France to block the bill, or face “serious and irreparable” consequences for Franco-Turkish relations.

“If this law is adopted, there will be a lot of damage and consequences for the two countries,” warned Rifat Hisarciklioglu, the head of the Turkish Union of Chambers and Commodity Exchanges, who was leading the delegation of Turkish businessmen.

Turkey is an important economic partner for France with about €12 billion in trade between the two countries in 2010.

A Turkish government source told AFP it would impose diplomatic and trade sanctions on Paris if French lawmakers adopt the law.

Ankara is also planning trade sanctions targeting French interests in the country, though the government has so far avoided openly using the term of “boycott” against French products.

Close to 1 000 French companies in Turkey, as well as those in partnership with Turkish companies, will be excluded from public contracts, especially in the field of transport, according to the source.

The French foreign ministry spokesperson, Bernard Valero, however said Turkey was bound by international agreements to not discriminate against French companies.

Turkey “is a member of the World Trade Organisation and is linked to the European Union by a customs union agreement. These two legal commitments require non-discrimination in regards to EU companies,” the source said.

Turkey rejects the term genocide and says between 300 000 and 500 000 Armenians, and at least as many Turks, died in combat or from starvation when Armenians rose up and sided with invading Russian forces.

Most historians agree that between 500 000 and 1.5 million Armenians died in a series of massacres and deportations from Asia Minor in the Ottoman Empire in 1915 and 1916.

France recognised the killings as genocide in 2001.

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