Dec 28 2011

28 December 2011, 04:47 (GMT+04:00) Turkish president has said
France made an unforgivable mistake by supporting a vote in the
French Parliament last week making it a crime to deny the WWI-era
mass killings of Armenians was a genocide, Today's Zaman reported.

In an interview with a Turkish TV network on Tuesday, Abdullah Gul
said French President Nicolas Sarkozy took unbelievable steps for
what he said "small [political] calculations," referring to impending
elections in France in April.

"I hope they will turn back from their mistakes," Gul stressed.

Turkey vehemently rejects the term "genocide" for the World War I
era-mass killings of Armenians, saying the issue should be left to
historians. It contends that France is trampling freedom of expression
and that Sarkozy is on a vote-getting mission before April presidential

An estimated 500,000 Armenians live in France and many have pressed
to raise the legal statute regarding the massacres to the same level
as the Holocaust by punishing denial of genocide.

France formally recognized the killings as genocide in 2001, but
provided no penalty for anyone denying that. The bill sets a punishment
of up to one year in prison and a fine of 45,000 euro ($59,000) for
those who deny or "outrageously minimize" the killings by Ottoman
Turks, putting such action on a par with denial of the Holocaust.

Noting that Turkish-French relations are very deep, Gul said the bill
criminalizes speaking and writing about something that is different
from state's official position. He recalled Turkey's reform process in
which he said as a country "we freed ourselves from these bans." He
said people are being punished for their views that is different
from state position in a country where he said is known to be "land
of freedoms."

Turkey, a NATO member, is a strategic ally of France and valued
trading partner, and the moves diminish ties at a particularly crucial
time. Paris and Ankara are both deeply involved in international
issues from the uprising in Syria to Afghanistan.

Gul said what makes him angry is that France says "I will punish
those who believe otherwise."

"A history professor will not be able to say that this is the truth
[about 1915 events]," the president said, adding that cheap politics
brings countries to an "unexpected point."

Gul also complained of a situation in Turkey's neighborhood and
recalled that he wrote a letter to his Armenian counterpart earlier
and had talks with Armenia and Azerbaijan to bury hostilities. He
said today's situation in the region, where Azerbaijan and Armenia
are officially at war and there are no diplomatic or commercial
relations between Turkey and Armenia, are not in favor of any these
three countries.

He said Turkey is the most powerful country in the region and must
see countries in its vicinity as its hinterland. He added that Turkey
must build cultural, economic and political ties with its neighbor
and acknowledged that efforts in this regard slowed down recently. Gul
also stated that Turkey is not competing with France in these areas.

Turkey and Armenia signed twin protocols in 2009 to normalize relations
and establish diplomatic ties but both countries failed to ratify
the documents in the parliaments. Turkey pegged the ratification
of the protocols to an Armenian-initiated breakthrough in the
Nagorno-Karabakh dispute between Armenia and Azerbaijan and Armenia
suspended the process after accusing Turkey of failing to live up to
its committments.

Speaking about the unrest in the Middle East, Gul said what Turkey
wants amid this political turmoil is to see people of these nations
happy. Stressing that people cannot be happy under repressive regimes,
warning of risks in the Arab Spring.

Turkish president said demands for change will go easily if rulers
lead the change but said these changes are made after people's revolt
or foreign intervention which has huge costs.

The president also acknowledged that he always distanced himself
from the Syrian regime and believed that Turkey's reconciliation with
Syria may transform the country.

WikiLeaks cables also showed that Gul frequently expressed his
uneasiness about the Syrian regime and Assad family.

Gul said Turkey believed that the Assad regime may change the country
but he said Syrian President Bashar Assad may not be powerful in the
Baath party.