24th Mar 2023

Turkey and France clash over Armenia 'genocide'

Turkey has recalled its ambassador to France in protest against a French bid to criminalise denial of the alleged Turkish genocide of Armenians in the early 1900s.

Turkey has always rejected claims by international historians that 1.5 million Armenians died between 1915 and 1923 as a result of systematic genocide while modern-day Armenia was under Turkish Ottoman control.

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  • A new law could create "irreparable damage" in Turkish-French relations. (Photo: European Commission)

A spokesperson for the foreign ministry in Ankara said on Monday (9 May) that the ambassador was recalled for a short time to discuss what Ankara calls the "baseless allegations of Armenian genocide" in France.

Later this month French parliamentarians are set to discuss and vote on a law that would make denial of the so-called Armenian genocide a crime.

The law would mirror existing French legislation against holocaust-denial, carrying a sentence of up to five years' prison and a €45,000 fine.

"The adoption of these texts will provoke irreparable damage to Franco-Turkish relations," a Turkish government spokesperson said, according to French media.

Ankara recognises just 500,000 Armenian deaths during "the Ottoman war," and rejects the "genocide" tag saying both sides suffered severe losses, with Armenia allied to Russia at the time.

Brussels MEPs, acting on a French initiative late last year, also demanded that Ankara recognises the genocide of Armenians as a "prerequisite for accession to the European Union."

The European Commission's translation database, IATE, defines genocide as "harmful acts...committed with intent to destroy, in whole or in part, a national, ethnical, racial or religious group."

A commission official told EUobserver that Brussels' enlargement unit avoids using the word because "the commission is a forward-looking institution."

Trade sanctions mooted

The head of the Turkish parliament's foreign affairs commission, Mehmet Dulger, said this weekend that Turks could boycott French products and French firms could lose lucrative contracts if the legislation is passed, according to Reuters.

"Turkey will not accept becoming a toy in the French election campaign," Dulger said, with a nod toward the French presidential race in 2007.

He added that he would lead a group of Turkish lawmakers to Paris this week to lobby against the bill.

In 2001, Turkey cancelled multi-million euro deals with French enterprises after the French parliament officially recognised the genocide.

Turkish lawmakers are also preparing a rival law accusing France of committing genocide during its colonial rule in Algeria.

The legal proposal has also come under fire from less politicised voices, with Turkish and French intellectuals protesting over the "inflation of laws of memory" and criticising the government's "promulgation of official truths."

Meanwhile, an open letter to "our French friends" signed by nine groups of Turkish entrepreneurs and trade unions, published in several French daily newspapers, said "it is not up to the law to describe history."

Turkey and Armenia have no diplomatic relations and closed borders, with the landlocked country keen for Turkey to open up highways for trade to western Europe.

"We are too small to have enemies," an Armenian diplomat said.

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