By JOE PARKINSON and NADYA MASIDLOVER
ISTANBUL—Turkey denounced French lawmakers as racist and vowed to retaliate Tuesday after the French parliament approved a bill making it a crime to deny that the 1915 massacre of Armenians was genocide, marking the latest salvo in an increasingly toxic dispute between Ankara and Paris.
European Pressphoto Agency
Protesters in Paris Monday oppose a bill making it illegal to deny the 1915 killing of Armenians was genocide.
In a speech to lawmakers from his governing AK Party in parliament in Ankara, Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan described the bill as “discriminatory, racist and unjust.” Turkey would take a “step-by-step” approach to calculate its policy response, he added, suggesting Ankara would hold off from immediately imposing a raft of counter-measures to punish the French government.
The bill, which passed in the French Senate late Monday, is set to make genocide denial punishable by as much as a year in prison and a €45,000 ($58,572) fine for those found guilty. Ankara has always denied that the killings of Armenians in the dying days of the Ottoman Empire constituted genocide. Turkey argues the genocide issue should be left to historians to decide, rather than legislated by governments. France’s government says it is important to “take action against negationists.”
“We won’t let France gain credibility through this because their decision means nothing to us. Our sanctions will be disclosed step by step.” Mr. Erdogan said, to rapturous applause.
Analysts said the comments are likely to further strain fast-fraying diplomatic relations between France and Turkey and raise the prospect of a significant diplomatic rift between the two North Atlantic Treaty Organization allies. The dispute is also unnerving European Union diplomats who want to strengthen cooperation with Ankara amid Turkey’s increasingly influential role in relation to Syria’s uprising and Iran’s nuclear program.
“This is going to get complicated. France are usually big players in public tenders and weapons sales and they will now be completely excluded. This could get also get pretty ugly with protests at French companies. Diplomatically, there are a whole range of issues including Syria, Iran and elsewhere where the Turks may now be actively in opposition to the French position,” said Atilla Yesilada, a partner at Istanbul-based research firm Global Source Partners.
Mr. Erdogan’s pledge Tuesday to refrain from immediately unveiling new measures against Paris contrasted with his reaction in December when France’s lower house passed the bill. Within hours of the vote, Turkey withdrew its ambassador from Paris and froze political and military relations.
Despite Ankara’s refusal give details on what counter-measures could be unveiled, Turkish media Tuesday speculated on how sanctions could affect business ties with France, Turkey’s seventh-biggest trading partner with $14.8 billion of goods exchanged last year. Popular daily Milliyet reported that Ankara was mulling moves to stop French companies bidding for government contracts, permanently recalling its ambassador to Paris and close Turkish waters and airspace to French ships and planes.
The prospect of measures that could target business activities appears to be unnerving some of France’s corporate leaders. The number of French companies operating in Turkey has mushroomed in recent years with familiar French businesses like supermarket chain Carrefour SA, insurance firm AXA SA and auto giant Renault SA all holding prominent market positions. Carlos Ghosn, chief executive of Renault, which employs 12,000 workers in Turkey stressed in an interview with French radio Tuesday that; “Turkey has always worked well with French companies; I hope that this will not change.”
French Bill’s Passage Sparks Turkish Anger
European Union-candidate country Turkey can’t impose direct economic sanctions on France, because of its membership in the World Trade Organization and customs-union agreement with Europe. But the row could cost France profitable bilateral business contracts.
Some Turkish officials say retaliatory measures are unlikely to be announced until President Nicolas Sarkozy signs the bill into law, which must happen within 15 days. Dissenting French lawmakers could yet successfully appeal to the constitutional court and scupper the bill passing into law, the officials said.
France’s Interior Minister Claude Gueant indicated Tuesday that the passing of the bill, which has the support of Mr. Sarkozy and the leader of the opposition Socialists Francoise Hollande, would be a formality.
“In a republic like ours, when parliament votes a bill, it is signed into law,” Mr. Gueant said in an interview with local cable TV news channel iTele.
There were signs Tuesday that some French policy makers were becoming nervous that the rift was spiraling out of hand. France’s Foreign Minister Alain Juppe, who had earlier voiced opposition to the vote, played down the importance of the bill and urged the Turkish government to remain calm.
But the spat appears to have already aggravated the icy personal relationship between the French and Turkish leaders, embittered by Mr. Sarkozy’s vocal opposition to Turkey’s bid to join the EU. Mr. Erdogan said Tuesday that Mr. Sarkozy’s grandfather was an Ottoman Jew whose ancestors were banished during from Spain during the inquisition.
“Sarkozy cannot forget his past and cast a shadow over Ottoman tolerance,” Mr. Erdogan said.
via Turkey Slams France Over ‘Genocide’ Bill – WSJ.com.