Turkey has warned France against significant damage of political and economic ties if French lawmakers pass a controversial measure criminalizing the denial of Armenian claims that their ancestors were subject to genocide in Anatolia during the World War I.
Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan has sent a letter to French President Nicolas Sarkozy, warning him against the “grave consequences” of the possible passage of the bill, while Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoğlu has told French businessmen who invest in Turkey that such a move by French Parliament would also be detrimental to their business interests.
The French parliament is set to vote next week on a piece of legislation that could make denying the 1915 events that took place in Turkey as genocide punishable by up to one year in prison and a fine of 45,000 euros. The Turkish reaction escalated over the week from mild suggestion to the French to reconsider the voting, to outright warnings that France will be facing severe consequences, including the withdrawal of the Turkish ambassador from Paris, as the day of the voting, Monday the Dec. 19, approached.
Prevent the passage of the bill in question, was Erdoğan's message to the French president in the letter. He said the approval of the bill in the French parliament would result in grave consequences with regards to Turkey's multifaceted relations with France in the fields of politics, economy and culture, adding that France would be responsible for these consequences if the bill is approved.
Erdoğan recalled that the French National Assembly adopted a bill in 2006, proposing that anyone who denied the “Armenian genocide” would be punished, but the bill was dropped the same year before coming to the senate. Stating that France's new move had surprised Turkey, Erdoğan said Turkey is closely following these the recent efforts to pass the bill. “This bill directly targets the state of the Turkish Republic, the Turkish nation and the Turkish community in France and is seen as hostile. … Bills on [genocide] denial that are periodically put in front of us and hurt our bilateral relations each time, not only violate freedom of expression but also contradict principles France defends,” he said.
Noting that the approval of the bill would seriously restrict the freedom of expression of those who approach the Armenian issue from a different perspective, Erdoğan said such moves would not contribute to efforts to settle the conflict between Turkey and Armenia on the issue through dialogue. “On the contrary, they [such moves] pose as an obstacle before the emergence of the truth,” Erdoğan said.
Erdoğan's letter follows remarks by a Turkish diplomat who said on Thursday that Turkey would withdraw its ambassador in Paris if the French parliament passes the bill.
Turkish Ambassador Tahsin Burcuoğlu will be recalled to Ankara for consultations for an indefinite period of time, Engin Solakoğlu, undersecretary of the Turkish Embassy in Paris, told the Anatolia news agency. “Passing the measure will lead to irreparable damage of Turkish-French ties,” Solakoğlu also said.
Warning to French CEOs
In addition to diplomatic relations, France's business ties with Turkey are also at stake. At a meeting with CEOs of French companies that have investments in Turkey, Foreign Minister Davutoğlu made it clear that economic ties will be harmed as much as the political relations.
Davutoğlu invited the CEOs to the meeting, which took place on Thursday at the Turkish Foreign Ministry, telling them ramifications of the passage of the measure will not be confined to political ties.
“Should the bill pass, it will not be only our political ties, but also economic relation to suffer from it,” Davutoğlu warned the company executives. Paralleling the damage in Turkish-French relations, French investors will also be adversely affected, he said.
Whether company executives would act on the warning they received from him and take initiatives to influence their government is up to them, Davutoğlu added.
One of Turkey's influential business clubs, the Turkish Industrialists and Businessmen's Association (TÜSİAD), has also criticized the French move to penalize deniers of the alleged genocide, saying the bill limits freedom of thought and research. “TÜSİAD believes parliament cannot assume the power of the judiciary, that it cannot write history and that politicians cannot act as judges,” TÜSİAD Chairwoman Ümit Boyner told Anatolia.
“We would like to convey our concerns regarding this bill, which we believe runs counter to European values, to French politicians through French business groups,” she added.
Turkish officials and business people also express worry over the possibility of being arrested during their visits to France in case they express their belief that the Armenian deaths did not result from genocide. At an EU meeting at the Polish Embassy in Ankara, Davutoğlu voiced these concerns, asking if France would arrest him if he claimed that genocide did not happen. “It is a mentality from a very dark age,” Davutoğlu said in Parliament on Wednesday to highlight that the bill was in contradiction with modern European values.
Armenian groups say up to 1.5 million Armenians were killed during World War I in a systematic genocide campaign perpetrated by the Ottoman Empire. Turkey categorically rejects the charges, saying the death toll is inflated and that Turks were also killed as Armenians revolted against the Ottoman Empire in collaboration with Russian forces for an independent state in eastern Anatolia.
Ankara believes the new French drive to placate the Armenian lobby in France by passing the controversial bill is closely linked with the upcoming presidential elections.
During his meeting with French CEOs, Davutoğlu stressed that the voting was designed with concerns regarding domestic politics, referring to the upcoming elections in France, as he expressed belief that Sarkozy was behind the revival of the bill, which was dropped once before when it came to the French Senate.
The French president was a known opponent of the genocide denial bill but Ankara believes the elections drastically changed his attitude to gain favor with the strong Armenian vote in his country. His Socialist Part rival Francois Hollande is also in favor of passing the bill.