Turkey’s ambassador was to leave Paris yesterday in a row with France over a law making it a criminal offence to deny that a massacre of Armenians by Ottoman troops in 1915 amounted to genocide.
Ankara froze military and diplomatic ties with Paris on Thursday after the French parliament approved the draft law, while the Turkish embassy in Paris said its ambassador had been recalled and would leave yesterday.
“This is politics based on racism, discrimination and xenophobia,” Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan said on Thursday, warning of “irreparable damage” to relations and suspending 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.”
Under the draft law, people can be jailed for a year and fined 45,000 euros (US$58,800) for denying that the killings of hundreds of thousands of Armenians by Ottoman Turk forces during World War I amounted to genocide.
In retaliation, Turkey’s prime minister said the country would rule on a case-by-case basis on any French request to use Turkish airspace or military bases and would turn away French military vessels from Turkish ports.
Turkey would also boycott an economic committee meeting in Paris in January, Erdogan said — a move that will worry business leaders in both countries fearful for the fate of 12 billion euros in annual trade.
In Paris, French Foreign Minister Alain Juppe termed Turkey’s decision regrettable and urged the country not to “overreact.”
“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.
“What I wish is that our Turkish friends will not overreact to this decision by the French National Assembly [parliament],” he said.
Supporters say the draft law, which will now be debated by the Senate and parliamentary committees and may be enacted early next year, is an overdue measure to ensure that one of the 20th century’s worst massacres is not forgotten.
Turkey says Armenia’s estimate of 1.5 million dead is exaggerated. It puts the death toll at about 500,000 and denies the genocide label.
The US urged France and Turkey to de-escalate the 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,” a US senior diplomat said on condition of anonymity.
Erdogan accused French President Nicolas Sarkozy of pandering to domestic voters and warned of an escalating scale of Turkish sanctions against France.
“History and people will never forgive those exploiting historical facts to achieve political ends,” he said.
Sarkozy’s government insists 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.