Turkey warned the French president yesterday against signing a law that makes it a crime to deny that the killings of Armenians by Ottoman Turks nearly a century ago constituted a genocide, saying it will implement unspecified new measures against France.
France’s parliament approved the bill late on Monday, risking more sanctions from Turkey and complicating an already delicate relationship with the rising power. Turkey, which sees the allegations of genocide as a threat to its national honor, has already suspended military, economic and political ties and briefly recalled its ambassador last month when the lower house of parliament approved the same bill.
Turkey’s foreign ministry yesterday strongly condemned the decision, and called it an example of irresponsibility. It said the law should not be finalized to “avoid this being recorded as part of France’s political, legal and moral mistakes.”
French President Nicolas Sarkozy, whose party supported the bill, needs to sign it into law, but that is largely considered a formality.
“We find it useful to remind all parties that, in case of the completion of the finalization process for the law, we will not hesitate to implement, as we deem appropriate, the measures that we have considered in advance,” the Turkish foreign ministry said. Similarly, it must be also known that we will continue to strongly use our right to defend ourselves on a legitimate basis against unfair allegations.”
The debate surrounding the measure comes in the highly charged run-up to France’s presidential elections this spring, and critics have called the move a ploy by Sarkozy to garner the votes of the about 500,000 Armenians who live in France.
“It is further unfortunate that the historical and multi-dimensional relations between the Republic of Turkey and France have been sacrificed to considerations of political agenda,” Turkey said. “It is quite clear where the responsibility for this lies.”
Meanwhile, France urged Turkey not to overreact.
Speaking on Canal+ television, French Minister of Foreign Affairs Alain Juppe, who was personally against the move, said the new law was “ill-timed,” but called on Ankara to remain calm.
“We need good relations with it and we need to get through this excessive phase,” Juppe said. “We have very important economic and trade ties. I hope the reality of the situation will not be usurped by emotions.”
Turkish Ambassador to Paris Tahsin Burcuoglu said the vote on the bill would lead to a “total rupture” of relations between the two countries and Ankara could seek to downgrade its diplomatic presence in the French capital.
Armenia, backed by many historians and parliaments, says about 1.5 million Christian Armenians were killed in what is now eastern Turkey during World War I in a deliberate policy of genocide ordered by the Ottoman government. Successive Turkish governments and the vast majority of Turks feel the charge of genocide is a direct insult to their nation. Ankara argues there was heavy loss of life on both sides during fighting in the area.