On Tuesday, François Hollande completed the first official visit to Turkey by a French president since François Mitterrand in 1992. Hollande's objective was to smooth over French-Turkish relations which have deteriorated over the past few years.
Hollande has been meeting with the Turkish prime minister, Recep Tayyip Erdogan. Their two countries have a complicated history. The ties are economic and cultural. France is Turkey’s eighth largest export markets. And, even though English has become the global language, Turkey’s elite is still educated in French and speaking French remains a mark of distinction.
Yet Turkey’s attitude to France soured after President Nicolas Sarkozy led the European opposition to Turkish membership of the European Union and France passed a law that, briefly, made denying the Armenian genocide a crime. That sparked a diplomatic crisis.
In 1915, embroiled in the First World War the tottering Ottoman Empire accused the Armenians of treason and began systematic deportations and large-scale massacres.
France officially calls this a genocide. Turkey rejects the term.
Even those in Turkey who are critical of the country’s refusal to acknowledge the genocide are sceptical of the value of foreign legislation.
“When such laws are passed in France or other countries, it plays into the hands of Turkish nationalists, because they believe that the whole world has conspired against the Turks to spread what they believe to be a lie,” Rober Koptas, the editor-in-chief of a Turkish-Armenian newspaper, told FRANCE 24.
Just over seven years ago, his predecessor, Hrant Dink, was murdered by a Turkish nationalist in the middle of the street in front of his office in Istanbul. Like Dink, Koptas receives regular death threats for writing about the Armenian question.
The proposed French law was struck down by the Constitutional Council which ended a boycott in Turkey aimed at French companies and brands in Turkey.
The West is fascinated by Turkey, a country that is Muslim yet secular. Its economical potential could make it a prized member of a Europe in decline. The French are among those eager to tap the potential of Turkey’s emerging economy. Rémi Asencio is one entrepreneur who has come to do business in Turkey.
"Economically speaking, Turkey is perhaps not quite an El Dorado,” Asencio told FRANCE 24. “But it is a place where you can accomplish a lot. When doing business with Turks you are exposed to a determined, hard-working state of mind. It’s dynamic"
Galatasaray University sits high on a hill in that part of Istanbul which is geographically in Europe and has spectacular views across to the Asian side of the Bosphorus. It is a French-speaking public institution that for decades has educated the Turkish elite.
"In Turkey, Galatasaray University is the symbol of Francophone culture,” Professor Ethem Tolga, the university’s rector told FRANCE 24. “You could call it its flagship in Turkey.”
“It is not only a university, but also a bridge between France and Turkey, and at the same time a bridge between Turkey and Europe," said Dr. Tolga.
Turkey has officially been a candidate for membership of the European Union since 1999. Sarkozy is resented by many Turks for blocking the bid. Even if Hollande reverses the French position, many Turks believe that the Erdogan administration is not sufficiently committed to making the necessary reforms.
As one Turk interviewed in the streets of Istanbul by FRANCE 24 said: "Journalists are in jail, political thinkers are in jail, so many people are in jail. It makes you question how advanced democracy is in Turkey. I'm not very optimistic."
But for Cengiz Aktar, a political analyst, Turkey's EU membership remains a long-term project that must continue despite the political turmoil.
"Just as you should not judge the European stance based on passing politicians like Nicolas Sarkozy, you should not judge the situation in Turkey or its potential membership in the European Union based on what the government of Mr. Erdogan does or not does not achieve," Aktar told FRANCE 24.
Date created : 2014-01-28