18th Feb 2020

Turkey threatens more sanctions over French genocide law

  • The French bill is causing a rift with Turkey (Photo: svenwerk)

French senators on Monday (23 January) voted in a bill to outlaw denial of the Armenian genocide at the hands of the Ottoman Turks in 1915, prompting strong threats of economic retaliation from Ankara.

President Nicolas Sarkozy is widely expected to ratify the new measure in February in a move that Turkey said it would punish with "permanent sanctions if it is passed to law."

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"This is totally unfair ... The historical interpretation of events cannot be judged by French legislation. No parliament has such a right nor such a competence," Turkey's spokesperson for foreign affairs Selcuk Unal told EUobserver from Ankara on Tuesday.

Unal declined to comment on details of any future sanctions, adding that the main issue at stake is freedom of speech and expression.

Anyone caught denying the Armenia genocide, or the Nazi Holocaust, can face up to one year in prison and a €45,000 fine.

The vast majority of France's lower-house voted in the draft law last month. The December vote also prompted a stern response from Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan, who retorted that France itself committed genocide in Algeria when it wiped out 15 percent of its population.

Erdogan also claimed the bill is a stunt by Sarkozy to garner support in the upcoming presidential elections from the 500,000 or so ethnic Armenians residing in France.

Ankara has since cancelled all economic, political and military meetings with Paris, reports Reuters. Its ambassador has also left.

Turkish foreign minister Ahmet Davutoglu cancelled a planned trip to Brussels on Monday. He had been scheduled to meet with EU foreign ministers over the Iranian oil embargo before heading off to Tehran.

Meanwhile, Turkey's state-run broadcaster said it plans to suspend its 15.5 percent partnership with Lyon-based Euronews if Sarkozy approves the bill, Bloomberg news reports. Other French business interests in Turkey are also under pressure, including car maker Renault and French bank BNP Paribas. Both have assets worth over €20 billion in the country.

"There will be more sanctions and this time, the sanctions will be permanent, until the change in French position," Turkish foreign minister Ahmet Davutoglu said over the weekend.

Press reports indicate that around 15,000 Turks from around Europe staged a peaceful protest against the law in Paris on Saturday.

Ankara vehemently denies the genocide charge and claims the new law is both an affront to freedom of speech and an insult to Turkey.

"Politicisation of the understanding of justice and history through other people's past and damaging freedom of expression in a tactless manner are first and foremost a loss for France," Turkish authorities said in a statement released Monday.

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