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December 23, 2011, Friday

Trying to understand France

It is not our job to lecture France, as this country is already full of thinkers, politicians and scientists.

Besides, as we are in a country which does not have a brilliant record on human rights and liberties, it becomes particularly difficult for us to be convincing when criticizing a country like France. It is not like we have faced our own history’s every aspect bravely.

The French authorities had certainly known that the bill aiming at criminalizing the denial of the Armenian “genocide” would be met with Turkey’s tough reaction. Perhaps France imagined that these reactions would have no serious or concrete results after all. Or perhaps the French government deliberately wanted to derail bilateral relations. That is why it is important for us to understand what kind of political and diplomatic outcomes France expected through this legal initiative.

This first option is that France had wanted to turn the ongoing tension between the two countries into an all-out crisis. Perhaps they thought that this crisis would hit the Turkish economy hard and then Turkish and French businessmen would use all their clout to convince the Turkish government to come around. The business world’s efforts may provide some kind of economic rapprochement without any political settlement. To say the truth, this is exactly what Nicolas Sarkozy has in mind for French-Turkish relations. President Sarkozy opposes Turkey’s membership in the EU; he does not want Turks to have voting power in the union’s institutions, but he also wants them to act together with Europe in the military, security and economic fields. Of course, he never could explain why Turkey would accept this without EU accession on the horizon.

The second option is to use the ongoing tension between the two countries as a threat against Turkey. France is certainly aware that Turkey will take some steps to protest this law. Turkey will try to take commercial measures against France, the latter will be excluded from military procurement bids, and French institutions in Turkey, such as schools, will be put under pressure. Moreover, Turkey will probably try to oppose France in multilateral platforms such as NATO and the European Council. However, if Turkey does act like this, France will adopt a similar stance against Turkish interests. France probably believes that in such a fight, Turkey’s losses will be much more significant than those of France.

Such a fight aimed at harming each other means that France’s intention must be to make Turkey accept something. The problem is that it is not possible to understand for now what, exactly, France wants Turkey to accept. Perhaps this is all about the European Union after all. France needs Turkey to renounce becoming a member but still to protect EU interests in the Balkans, the Caucasus, the Middle East and Central Asia. When France says “the EU’s interests,” it actually means it needs Turkey to protect primarily French interests in those areas. Perhaps Turkey has as of late sent signals that it is more inclined to assist French rivals within the EU and that this is why France has now decided to compel Turkey to change its mind, by all means.

Let’s be honest: Turkey has committed many mistakes in the past while dealing with the Armenian, Cypriot and Kurdish issues. Instead of correcting its mistakes, Turkey prefers to respond with anger, and other countries use these problems as a diplomatic tool. Maybe Turkey thinks that France is easily replaceable as there are many other countries that are willing to work with Turkey. You can be sure that there are indeed several countries that will be pleased to see a break in French-Turkish relations.

We will all see together the outcome of this crisis, but it seems that France has decided to push Turkey away without any clear reason as to why.

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