Turkish ambassador leaves France amid genocide row
Turkey's ambassador to Paris returned to Ankara for consultations Friday following a vote by the French parliament to ban the denial of the Armenian genocide, an embassy spokesman said.
Tahsin Burcuoglu left from Charles de Gaulle airport outside Paris with his wife on a 7.40am (0640 GMT) flight and is expected in the Turkish capital in the afternoon, spokesman Engin Solakoglu told AFP.
Turkey's embassy in Paris will remain open during the ambassador's absence, he said. The recall of an ambassador is a diplomatic protest and is not seen as a complete breakdown in diplomatic relations.
On Thursday, before leaving, Burcuoglu had told a news conference France's ambassador in Turkey would not be asked to leave, although French officials said he was already on a pre-arranged holiday in any case.
"We are really very sad. Franco-Turkish relations did not deserve this," Burcuoglu said, blaming Paris for the row. "When there is a problem it always comes from the French side."
Thursday's vote in the National Assembly was the first step towards passing a law that would impose a jail term and a 45,000 euro fine on anyone in France who denies that the 1915 massacre of Armenians constitutes genocide.
During World War I hundreds of thousands of Armenians died at the hands of Ottoman Turk forces. Armenia says 1.5 million died in a genocide, Turkey says around 500,000 died in fighting after they sided with a Russian invasion.
France's Foreign Minister Alain Juppe called on Turkey not to "overreact" to a bill that he insisted was a parliamentary initiative, and not a project of President Nicolas Sarkozy's government.
"The damage is already done," responded Burcuoglu. "We have been accused of genocide! How could we not overreact? Turkey will never recognise this story of an Armenian genocide.
"There are limits. A country like Turkey cannot be treated like this. We're not the Turkey of 2001 or 2006," he declared.
France has a 500,000-strong community of Armenian descent, many of whose forebears fled the killings a century ago, and French politicians assiduously court their votes every five years ahead of elections.
Turkey and many of Sarkozy's domestic opponents accuse him of jeopardising relations with a key NATO ally and trading partner to win Armenian votes.
"There has been a dramatic change since he visited Armenia," the Turkish envoy said, referring to the French leader's October visit to Yerevan, where he publicly urged Turkey to recognise the killings as genocide.
© 2011 AFP