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Turkey's Erdogan hits out at 'racist' French genocide bill

Text by Tony TODD

Latest update : 2012-01-24

Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan blasted French lawmakers on Tuesday for being "racist and discriminatory" after the Senate passed a bill that would outlaw denying that the 1915 massacre of Armenians in Turkey amounted to genocide.

A French bill that outlaws denial of genocides recognised by the state is "racist and discriminatory", Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan said on Tuesday, promising to implement sanctions against France "step by step with no retreat."

The bill, which only needs French President Nicolas Sarkozy's signature to pass into law, includes the massacre of ethnic Armenians by Ottoman Turk forces in 1915 - an event Turkey recognises but refuses to classify as genocide. 

Sarkozy's letter to Turkey

In a letter to Turkey's Prime Minister Tayyip Erdogan last week, French President Nicolas Sarkozy said a draft law making it illegal in France to deny a genocide was not aimed at targeting Ankara and urged Turkey to remember the many "common interests" it shares with France.

France's Senate passed a bill on Monday outlawing the denial of a genocide that has been recognised by French law, namely the Holocaust or the 1915-1916 massacre of Armenians by Ottoman Turks. Turkey had threatened to impose sanctions if the Senate passed the bill, which Erdogan has slammed as "racist".

A presidential source said on Tuesday that Sarkozy will likely sign the bill into law in the next two weeks.


Erdogan said the law was "null and void" as far as Turkey was concerned, but added that "we still have not lost our hope that it can be corrected."

Earlier, Turkey had promised total diplomatic rupture with Paris, while the country’s press was united in fury and condemnation of the French parliament. 

“Shame on you France,” splashed popular daily Vatan. “France, the country where the ideal of liberty was born, has delivered a powerful blow against freedom of expression. By passing this bill on genocide, France is denying its own history.”

Hurriyet, one of Turkey’s biggest-selling newspapers, headlined that Sarkozy had “massacred democracy.”

The bill, which must now be signed by French President Nicolas Sarkozy before it can come into law, would criminalise publicly denying that the mass killing of ethnic Armenians by Ottoman Turk forces in 1915 was a deliberately organised genocide.

Turkish press was also pushing the angle that Sarkozy, languishing in the polls, was trying to court the significant Armenian population in France (some 500,000 voters) ahead of May’s elections.

“The French president has turned his back on freedom for the sake of a few votes,” headlined Turkish tabloid Posta, while the left-leaning Radikal said that “a subject that should be the domain of historians has become a political tool.”

Pro-government Yeni Safak said that “for a small electoral calculation, France has committed a huge crime against humanity.”

‘Total rupture’

Ankara froze political and military ties with France, a NATO ally, in December after lawmakers in the lower National Assembly passed the bill.

At the weekend, Turkish Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoglu told FRANCE 24 that Ankara had already prepared a response.

"There will be further sanctions against France, and this time the sanctions will be permanent,” he said.

And after the bill was passed by the Senate, Turkey's ambassador to France, Tahsin Burcuoglu, said final approval by the President would cause a “total rupture” of relations between Ankara and Paris.

On Tuesday Engin Solakoglu, spokesman for the Turkish embassy in Paris, told FRANCE 24: “Relations with France will be seriously affected. Not having Turkey as a diplomatic partner, especially in the Middle East, will be felt very strongly by France.”

A day ‘written in gold’

Armenian Foreign Minister Edward Nalbandian said that the Senate vote, which was passed by 127 to 86, was a day that “will be written in gold”.

The vote “will further consolidate the existing mechanisms of prevention of crimes against humanity,” Nalbandian said in a statement.

The bill was passed on Monday despite a Senate recommendation that the law would be unconstitutional, while opponents in France’s two houses of parliament said it would not help Turkey recognise the genocide or help reconcile relations with Armenia.

FRANCE 24 interview with Turkish Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoglu

Centre-left senator Jacques Mezard said it was “an unbearable law that calls into question historical research,” while French Foreign Minister Alain Juppé on Monday called for calm, saying on Canal+ television that the new law was “ill-timed”. 

Sarkozy is expected to sign the bill into law in February. It could still stall if 60 lawmakers appeal against it, and the country’s constitutional council would have the final say.

Armenians maintain that 1.5 million of their forebears were killed in the massacre, while Turkey insists the number is smaller – at 500,000 – and that the tragedy should be seen in the context of a world war and a Russian attack in which the Armenians sided with the invader.

The French state officially recognised the event as genocide in 2001. The new bill would punish anyone publicly denying it with up to a year in prison and fines of 45,000 euros.


Date created : 2012-01-24


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