Tue, Oct 17, 2006 - Page 9 News List

French genocide decision dampens Turkish EU fervor

The Turkish public perceives the vote as demonstrating that Europe, and France in particular, are against the Muslim country's admission to the EU

AFP , ANKARA

Anti-European sentiment is likely to rise in Turkey after a bill was approved by France's lower house of parliament to make denying that the World War I killings of Armenians were genocide a crime, analysts warned on Friday.

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

The Turkish government threatened Paris with unspecified measures and a deterioration in bilateral ties after Thursday's vote on the nationally explosive issue. Ankara holds that the 1915-1917 killings 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 center 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 last October 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 spring compared to 55 percent in the fall of last year and more than 70 percent two years ago.

"At a time when relations between Europe and France are in a bad state," academic Ahmet Insel said, "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," the popular Vatan newspaper wrote. "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 opportunity 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."

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