John Irish and Ibon Villelabeitia

Cyprus Mail
December 22, 2011 Thursday

France sparked a major diplomatic row with Turkey today by taking
steps to criminalise the denial of genocide, including the 1915 mass
killing of Armenians by Ottoman Turks, prompting Ankara to cancel
all economic, political and military meetings.

Turkish Prime Minister Tayyip Erdogan said the draft law put forward by
members of President Nicolas Sarkozy's Enhanced Coverage LinkingNicolas
Sarkozy's -Search using:Biographies Plus NewsNews, Most Recent 60
Daysruling party was "politics based on racism, discrimination,

"This is using Turkophobia and Islamophobia to gain votes, and it
raises concerns regarding these issues not only in France but all
Europe," he told a news conference, adding that Turkey could "not
remain silent in the face of this".

France had opened wounds with Turkey that would be difficult to mend,
he said, adding that Sarkozy, who faces a tough re-election battle
in April, was sacrificing good ties "for the sake of political

Erdogan said Turkey was cancelling all economic, political and military
meetings with its NATO partner and said it would cancel permission
for French military planes to land, and warships to dock, in Turkey.

Earlier in the day, Turkish officials told Reuters their ambassador
in Paris had been recalled for consultations.

Lawmakers in France's National Assembly - the lower house of parliament
- voted overwhelmingly in favour of the bill, which will be debated
next year in the Senate.

A French diplomatic source said Paris still considered fellow NATO
member Turkey an important partner.

"I don't understand why France wants to censor my freedom of
expression," Yildiz Hamza, president of the Montargis association
that represents 700 Turkish families in France, told Reuters outside
the National Assembly.

Earlier, about 3,000 French nationals of Turkish origin demonstrated
peacefully outside the parliament ahead of the vote, which came 32
years to the day since a Turkish diplomat was assassinated by Armenian
militants in central Paris.

The authorities in Yerevan welcomed the vote. "By adopting this
bill (France) reconfirmed that crimes against humanity do not have a
period of prescription and their denial must be absolutely condemned,"
Armenia's Foreign Minister Edward Nalbandian saying in a statement.

France passed a law recognising the killing of Armenians as genocide
in 2001. The French lower house first passed a bill criminalising
the denial of an Armenian genocide in 2006, but it was rejected by
the Senate in May this year.

The latest draft law was made more general to outlaw the denial of
any genocide, partly in the hope of appeasing Turkey.

It could still face a long passage into law, though its backers want
to see it completed before parliament is suspended at the end of
February ahead of elections in the second quarter.

National Assembly speaker Bernard Accoyer said on Wednesday that he
doubted the bill would pass by the end of the current parliament,
as the government had not made the bill priority legislation.

Armenia, backed by many historians and parliaments, says about 1.5
million Christian Armenians were killed in what is now eastern Turkey
during World War One in a deliberate policy of genocide ordered by
the Ottoman government.

Successive Turkish governments and the vast majority of Turks feel the
charge of genocide is an insult to their nation. Ankara argues that
there was heavy loss of life on both sides during fighting in the area.

The French government has stressed that it did not initiate the bill,
which mandates a 45,000-euro fine and a year in jail for offenders,
and says Turkey cannot impose unilateral trade sanctions.

Faced with Sarkozy's open hostility to Turkey's stagnant bid to join
the European Union, and buoyed by a fast-growing economy, Ankara has
little to lose by picking a political fight with Paris.

With Turkey taking an increasingly influential role in the Arab
world and Middle East, especially Syria, Iran and Libya, France could
experience some diplomatic discomfort, and French firms could lose
out on lucrative Turkish contracts.

France is Turkey's fifth biggest export market and the sixth biggest
source of its imports.

"Turkey is a democracy and has joined the World Trade Organisation so
it can't just discriminate for political reasons against countries,"
Europe Minister Jean Leonetti told France Inter radio. "I think
these threats are just hot air and we (have) to begin a much more
reasoned dialogue."

Ankara considers the bill, originally proposed by 40 deputies from
Sarkozy's party, an attempt to win the votes of 500,000 ethnic
Armenians in France in next year's elections.

It believes the measure would limit freedom of speech and represents
an unnecessary meddling by politicians in a business best left to

The French bill feeds a sense shared by many Turks that they are
unwanted by Europe and it fires up nationalist fervour. However, in
a more self-confident Turkey, popular reaction has been more muted
than in the past.

France has been pushing Turkey to own up to its history, just as France
belatedly recognised the role of its collaborationist Vichy government
during World War II in deporting Jews to Nazi concentration camps.