French President Nicholas Sarkozy, who drew sharp criticism from Turkey last week when he urged Turkey to recognize the 1915 massacre of Armenians by Ottoman Turks as genocide, has conveyed a message to Turkey through his aide, who said Sarkozy's remarks were misunderstood, the Anatolia news agency reported on Friday.
Sarkozy's aide, Jean David Levitte -- known as France's shadow foreign minister -- reportedly called Turkish Ambassador to Paris Tahsin Burcuoğlu and invited him to Elysee Palace. Citing diplomatic sources, Anatolia said during the meeting that Levitte told Burcuoğlu that Sarkozy's remarks were misunderstood in Turkey and that France does not want to face off with Turkey on this issue. Levitte stressed that France sees Turkey as a great country and that France attaches importance to Turkish-French friendship.
During the meeting, Burcuoğlu underscored Turkey's sensitivity on the issue of the World War I-era killings of Armenians and told Levitte that another bill proposing punishment for anyone who denies the “Armenian genocide” would seriously damage bilateral relations.
Sarkozy drew a strong negative reaction from Turkey when he said last week on a short trip to Armenia that Turkey should recognize the 1915 incidents as genocide, threatening to pass a law in France that would make denying this a crime. “The Armenian genocide is a historical reality. Collective denial is even worse than individual denial,” Sarkozy told reporters.
“Turkey, which is a great country, would honor itself to revisit its history like other great countries in the world have done,” the French president added. Turkey's response to the French president was harsh, with Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan saying the French leader should keep his advice to himself.
France has long been urging Turkey to acknowledge that the allegations of genocide are true. Turkey, in turn, has proposed that a committee of historians, not politicians, should decide what transpired in 1915. The French Parliament recognized the so-called “Armenian genocide” in 2001, which resulted in short-lived tension between France and Turkey. In 2006 the French National Assembly adopted a bill proposing punishment for anyone who denies the “Armenian genocide.” The bill was dropped this summer before coming to the Senate.