'Genocide' vote drives wedge between Turkey, Europe

13th October 2006, Comments 0 comments

ANKARA, Oct 13, 2006 (AFP) - Anti-European sentiment is likely to rise in Turkey after a French vote to make it a crime to deny that the World War I killings of Armenians were genocide, analysts warned Friday.

ANKARA, Oct 13, 2006 (AFP) - Anti-European sentiment is likely to rise in Turkey after a French vote to make it a crime to deny that the World War I killings of Armenians were genocide, analysts warned Friday.

This could weaken Ankara's hand in pushing through reforms to boost its struggling EU bid, they noted.

Ankara threatened Paris with unspecified measures and a deterioration in bilateral ties after Thursday's vote on the nationally explosive issue of the 1915-1917 killings Turkey says were not an act of genocide.

For the Turkish public, the French vote means France is opposed to Ankara's EU aspirations and is another European affront to Turkey's future membership, said Cengiz Aktar, director of the EU centre at Istanbul's Bahcesehir University.

"The vote goes far beyond the Armenian issue," Aktar said. "The deep rationale behind it is the way the French political elite is looking at Turkey. There is a deep mistrust of Turkey's candidacy and future membership.

"The Turkish man in the street will interpret the French vote as a vote coming from the whole of Europe," he said.

Turkish public support for EU membership has been declining since Ankara began accession talks in October 2005 amid widespread scepticism on whether this mainly Muslim country has a place in Europe.

According to an EU survey, the ratio of Turks supporting EU membership dropped to 44 percent last compared to 55 percent in the fall of 2005 and more than 70 percent two years ago.

"At a time when relations between Europe and France are in a bad state," commented academic Ahmet Insel told AFP, "this confirms that France considers itself as the anti-Turk shield of Europe.

"The more we try to get closer to Europe, the more Europe tries to move away from us," he said.

Sedat Laciner of the International Strategic Studies Institute described the French action as a reflection of an EU-wide "identity crisis" on what Europe really is and whether a Muslim country can belong.

"The issue is related to the Armenians, but on the other hand it is a blow below the belt to Turkey's bid to join the EU," he said.

"Opponents of Turkey's membership instinctively overemphasize tension between Muslims and Christians, placing 'barbarian non-European Turks' on one side and 'poor Christian victims' on the other," Laciner said.

The Turkish press also largely saw the French vote as a bid to block Turkey's EU bid, warning Ankara to act sensibly and not slacken its drive to bring itself up to European standards.

"Arrogant France does not want to become equals in the EU with the Turks it despises," wrote the popular Vatan. "It is trying with this unjust act to anger Turkey and make it feel insecure in order to sap its will and determination" to join the EU.

The mass-circulation Sabah said the French vote was a blow to freedom of expression and presented an opportunity to Turkey to shine in the EU membership talks by becoming a champion of rights and freedoms.

"Let us use... this unique oportunity to embarrass those who accuse us of limiting freedom of expression," it said, urging Ankara to amend a controversial penal code article that has been used to prosecute a string of intellectuals for their dissident views.

Turkey is under EU pressure to guarantee freedom of expression by amending Article 301 of the penal code, which stipulates a prison term of up to three years for "insulting Turkishness".

Among those prosecuted under the article was Orhan Pamuk, who won the 2006 Nobel Literature Prize on Thursday; the charges, triggered by Pamuk's remarks challenging the official line on the Armenian massacres, were dropped on a technicality.

But Laciner said this would not be an easy task for the Ankara government in the current climate.

"Article 301 could have been easily amended but the climate has worsened -- the government's maneuvering room has narrowed and it has difficulties in defending the EU process, especially ahead of elections next year," he said.

Aktar predicted that such a move could create public backlash.

"Any political party in Turkey, especially when heading for elections, will find it very difficult to make more democratic openings. It would be difficult to explain this to the Turkish public," he said.

Copyright AFP

Subject: French news

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