Fri, Nov 17, 2006 - Page 6 News List

Turkey cuts military ties with France

HISTORY LESSON Turkey retaliated against French legislation that would outlaw denial of the Armenian genocide, further complicating its chances of joining the EU


Turkey has suspended military relations with France in a dispute over whether the mass killings last century of Armenians amounted to genocide, the Turkish land forces commander said on Wednesday.

The move raises tensions with a key member of the EU at a time when Turkey's negotiations to become a member of the 25-nation bloc look increasingly troubled, with neither side willing to give way on a dispute over Cyprus.

Turkish General Ilker Basbug said to reporters that military ties with France were suspended after lawmakers in France's lower house of parliament approved a bill last month that would make it a crime to deny that Turks committed genocide against Armenians. The bill would have to be approved by the French senate and the president to become law.

"Relations with France in the military field have been suspended," the state-owned Anatolia news agency quoted Basbug as saying.

Asked whether there were any cancelations of military visits, Basbug said: "There are no high-level visits between the two countries."

France's Foreign Ministry and Defense Ministry had no immediate comment.

The Turkish general spoke at a reception in honor of the founding of the breakaway republic in Turkish northern Cyprus.

In 1974, Turkish forces invaded the island to stop a coup by army officers that aimed to unite Cyprus with Greece. Since then, Turkey has propped up a government of ethnic Turks on the north of the island that no other nations have recognized.

In 2004, the Greek-speaking side of Cyprus joined the EU and since then the conflict has threatened to derail Turkey's hopes of also gaining membership to the union.

"If by the end of the year Turkey still does not recognize the 25 member states, notably including Cyprus, then it appears to me necessary to rethink the timetable for the adhesion of Turkey," French Foreign Minister Philippe Douste-Blazy said last week.

Both countries are members of NATO. The two nations have also participated in military exercises together, and have sent troops to serve in the international peacekeeping force in Lebanon.

But the Turkish military has also blacklisted several French firms in the past in similar disputes over the mass killings of Armenians.

Turkey views the French genocide bill as hostile, and has said that the lawmakers' vote has deeply harmed Turkish-French relations. A consumer's union in Turkey has called for a boycott of all French goods, and Turkey's broadcasting watchdog suggested a complete boycott of French films and other media.

Turkey vehemently denies that it committed genocide against the Armenians, though many nations have classified the World War I-era killings as such.

Armenians and many nations say that some 1.5 million Armenians were killed in a genocidal campaign devised and executed by Turkish leaders.

The EU and European media have criticized the French bill, saying it is not in line with the principle of free expression and does not promote dialogue with Turkey.

The Armenian issue is currently one of the most divisive and emotional in Turkey. Those who classify the killings as genocide are often accused of treason.

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