Today's Zaman
March 1 2012

Turkish-French relations were saved from further deterioration
following the ruling by France's Constitutional Council on Tuesday
that a recent bill criminalizing the denial of Armenian claims of
genocide violated the constitution as problems on the bilateral
relations lingers on mainly stemming from the French president's
staunch opposition to Turkey's EU membership, political observers said.

The 11-member Constitutional Council on Tuesday overturned a
controversial bill that criminalizes denying that the 1915 killings
of Armenians at the hands of Ottoman Empire constituted genocide. The
council began to examine legality of the legislation of the last month
after 77 senators from across the political divide made the appeal
to the court. Another 65 lawmakers in the lower house, the National
Assembly, agreed to the appeal. In a statement, the council ruled
that the law ran against the principles of freedom of expression
written into France's founding documents. "The annulment of the
Armenian genocide bill could mean that Turkish-French bilateral
relations won't get worse in the future. However, it does not mean
all the tension between the two is now over," Zeynep Songulen 襤nanc,
a Turkey-EU relations expert at the Institute of Strategic Thinking
(SDE), told Today's Zaman on Wednesday.

"That the Armenian genocide bill managed to attract wide support from
both the left and right of the French political spectrum is the result
of more profound problems between the two countries," 襤nanc stated,
also mentioning that the most apparent problems are France's ardent
opposition to Turkey's EU accession process and the rivalry of the
two countries for the influence in Middle East politics. Ercument
Tezcan, professor at the international relations department at Turkey's
Galatasaray University, giving French education, agreed with 襤nanc,
saying that the Armenian genocide bill in France was not surprising
considering other problems stemming from the rivalry between France
and Turkey in the Middle East.

"Turkey's active involvement in the Middle Eastern affairs recently
[after the Arab Spring] has disturbed other stakeholders engaged with
the region, including France," Tezcan told Today's Zaman.

Tezcan also indicated that the annulment of the bill will not dissuade
French politicians to heat up the Armenian genocide issue again. "As
the old problems between France and Turkey remain, we will see that
the new initiatives will come up, either by [French President Nicolas]
Sarkozy or the new administration that will come to power after the
elections between April-May 2012," he asserted.

In a related development, Sarkozy on Tuesday asked his government to
draft a new version of the genocide-denial law after it was struck
down as unconstitutional. "He [Sarkozy] has asked the government
to prepare a new draft taking into account the decision of the
Constitutional Council," his office wrote in a statement. The French
president previously said he would prepare a new initiative should
the bill be deemed unconstitutional on Jan. 31, when a group of French
parliamentarians appealed it.

French media reported on Tuesday that even if Sarkozy presents such
a new draft bill that allegedly would please its Armenian-descent
supporters in France, he will not have enough time to get it ratified
by both the French assembly and the senate given the parliamentary
recess for the April-May presidential election.

Paul Cassia, a French law professor at France's Sorbonne University,
claimed that the French council's decision will put an end to the
discussions, making it a precedent for "political institutions to make
laws on historical issues" that should be addressed by historians. He
suggested that should Sarkozy decide present a new initiative it
would be "unfortunate."

Responding to Sarkozy's remarks, Turkish Foreign Minister Ahmet
Davutoglu said in his televised remarks on Tuesday that "Sarkozy
already pushed his chances too hard and if he tries that again he
will start a war on French culture and the French rule of law. It
would be most unfortunate for him to challenge a ruling passed by
such a high level authority as the Constitutional Council."

癬^anl覺urfa deputy Mehmet Kas覺m Gurp覺nar, head of the defunct
inter-parliamentary France-Justice and Development Party (AK Party)
friendship group, said that the real cause behind such an "unfortunate"
bill is the hostility of Sarkozy's government towards Turkey. "There
would be no hesitation to review and normalize the relation between
the two countries if the Sarkozy government is replaced by another
[government] after the French elections," Gurp覺nar told Today's Zaman.

Furthermore, Gurp覺nar said that the reestablishment of the
Turkey-France Inter-parliamentary Group seems very likely, as the
bill that harmed bilateral relations has been annulled.

On Dec. 23, one day after the lower house of the French Parliament
approved the bill, Turkey responded by withdrawing from the
Turkey-France Inter-parliamentary Group.

Speaking on Turkish-French bilateral ties, Zeynep Necipoglu, the
president of the Turkish-French Chamber of Commerce, said, "We cannot
claim that there is a clean slate between French and Turkish business
ties. But we can certainly say that it is an important step towards
more positive developments in the future."

Necipoglu hailed the Turkish lobbying, saying it prevented the bill
from being deemed constitutional. "French parliamentarians from the
National Assembly and Senate were mobilized thanks to Turkish efforts
led by [Turkey's envoy to France] Tahsin Burcuoglu; otherwise we
would not have succeeded in it [the annulment of the French bill],"
Necipoglu claimed.

"Turkey showed how it could pressure France by placing embargoes in the
event that the [Armenian genocide] bill was deemed constitutional,"
襤nanc claimed, saying that Turkish sanctions would have an effect
on French political and business circles, causing France to step back.

In December 2011 Ankara announced the first round of sanctions and
halted military, economic and bilateral ties with France, after the
bill was passed by the lower house of the French parliament, which
is called the French National Assembly. Turkish government officials
warned the French administration under President Nicolas Sarkozy that
more severe sanctions were on the way.

On the other hand, France has delayed inauguration of a Turkish
consulate general in Bordeaux due to Ankara's strong diplomatic
reaction to the French genocide bill.

French President Nicolas Sarkozy had approved of the inauguration of
Turkish consulates in Bordeaux and Nantes during a one-day visit to
Turkey last year.

Although the two countries have fulfilled the requirements to
inaugurate the consulates, France has delayed inaugurating the Turkish
consul general, who has been appointed to Bordeaux, as a response to
Turkey's diplomatic reactions to France.

However, Tezcan pointed out that even though Turkish-French diplomatic
ties were significantly severed, Turkey did not contemplate completely
cutting off economic and military ties because it is hard to punish
a state like France. "While the Prime Minister [Recep Tayyip Erdogan]
harshly warned France to avoid tackling the Armenian genocide issue,
another minister indicated that Turkey would always welcome French
investors. This showed that sanctions and boycotts would not be
effective from the very beginning," Tezcan enunciated.

Economy Minister Zafer Caglayan said in January that French companies
seeking to invest in the Turkish economy are still welcome to do so,
despite strained ties between Turkey and France regarding the bill.

As an EU member, French firms operate with partners from other
countries. For example, Turkish Airlines (THY), which aims to become
a global airline operator, has been planning to buy more aircrafts
from Airbus, which is owned by a French, German, Spanish and British
partnership. A decision not to buy from Airbus would not only hurt
its commercial interests, but also its trade with other partners of
the Airbus consortium.

Also, both Turkey and France are NATO members, meaning that a
partnership between them would probably require considering that
many Middle Eastern countries, including Syria, Libya, Yemen and
Afghanistan are boiling over with conflict.

From: A. Papazian