Turkey cuts some ties with 'racist' France over genocide law
Turkey reacted with fury Thursday to a vote by French lawmakers to outlaw denial of the 1915 Armenian genocide, immediately cutting military ties and warning of "irreparable damage" to relations.
"This is politics based on racism, discrimination and xenophobia," thundered Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan, ordering home Ankara's ambassador to Paris and banning political visits between the two NATO allies.
"From now on we are revising our relations with France," he added. "There was no genocide committed in our history. We do not accept this."
The French National Assembly had voted to approve a first reading of a law that would ban anyone from denying that the killings of hundreds of thousands of Armenians by Ottoman Turk forces during World War I amount to genocide.
Turkey's premier said the country will rule on a case-by-case basis on any request made by France to use Turkish airspace or military bases and will reject any French demand for its military vessels to dock at Turkish ports.
Erdogan added that Turkey would boycott a joint economic committee meeting in Paris in January, a move that will worry business leaders in both countries, fearful for the fate of 12 billion euros in annual trade between the two powers.
The United States quickly reacted urging the two NATO allies to de-escalate the angry row.
"We obviously want to see good relations between France and Turkey, we hope they can resolve differences between them, they're both stalwart NATO allies and partners," said a US senior diplomat, on condition of anonymity.
Erdogan also accused France's President Nicolas Sarkozy of pandering to domestic voters, hundreds of thousands of whom are of Armenian descent, and warned that these measures were the first in an escalating scale of sanctions.
"History and people will never forgive those exploiting historical facts to achieve political ends," he said, reflecting a view of Sarkozy's motives that is shared by many of his domestic critics.
Sarkozy's government has insisted the law was a parliamentary idea, but it was drafted by members of his UMP party and was passed in the first of a series of votes by a small number of lawmakers in a sparsely attended house.
In Paris, Foreign Minister Alain Juppe's office issued a statement to "express regret" over Erdogan's decision and calling for dialogue.
"Turkey is an ally of France and a strategic partner," Juppe said, citing work done by the states in NATO and the G20 to address the crisis in Syria, bring peace to Afghanistan and develop security in the Mediterranean.
Supporters say that the law -- which will impose a 45,000 euro fine and a one-year jail term on genocide deniers -- is an overdue measure to protect the memory of one of the 20th century's worst massacres.
But Turkey argues that Armenia's estimate of 1.5 million dead is exaggerated. It puts the death toll at about 500,000 and denies this was genocide, ascribing the deaths to fighting and starvation during World War I and accusing the Armenians of siding with Russian invaders.
The Turkish embassy in Paris said its ambassador had been recalled and would leave Friday, while angry crowds in Ankara chanted: "We have not committed genocide, we defended the homeland. Wait for us France, we will come."
The draft law will now be debated by the Senate and parliamentary committees, and may be enacted early next year.
"We're not trying to write history but to make an indispensable political act," Patrick Devedjian, a lawmaker of Armenian descent, told parliament. "Now, Turkey is falling into revisionism and denies its own history."
France is home to around 500,000 citizens of Armenian descent and they are seen as a key source of support for Sarkozy and the UMP ahead of presidential and legislative elections in April and June next year.
The Organisation for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) issued a statement of concern about the French vote setting a precedent and warned that the "criminalisation of debates on history's true course, even of obviously false and offensive statements about a nation's tragic moment, is not conducive to better understanding" among people and states.
Franco-Turkish relations are often tense -- Sarkozy is a firm opponent of allowing Turkey to join the European Union -- but 1,000 French firms work there and trade between the two is worth 12 billion euros per year.
Much of Europe, including France, is facing recession amid a sovereign debt crisis, but Turkey enjoys growth rates in excess of eight percent and, with 78 million people, it is a huge potential market.
© 2011 AFP