France and Turkey are heading toward a showdown this Thursday, as France moved to make denial of the Armenian genocide a crime punishable by a 45,000-euro fine and a year in jail – and an apoplexic Turkey threatened to retaliate if the sensitive matter was dealt with in this fashion
This proposed law targets and is hostile to the Republic of Turkey, the Turkish nation and the Turkish community living in France," Turkish Prime Minister Tayyip Erdogan wrote in a tersely worded letter to President Nicolas Sarkozy last week.
I want to state clearly that such steps will have grave consequences for future relations between Turkey and France in political, economic, cultural and all areas," he said.
Back in Turkey, Erdogan has gone further, threatening to raise Frances own dirty and bloody history in Algeria and Rwanda and take all kinds of diplomatic action in response to the bill, which will be brought to parliament for a vote Thursday.
Armenia, backed by many historians and parliaments, says some 1.5 million Christian Armenians were killed in what is now eastern Turkey during World War One in a deliberate policy of genocide ordered by the Ottoman Empire.
But the terming of this 1915 mass killing as genocide has long been a very touchy matter in Turkey, where the majority feel the charge is an insult and unfair. Ankara claim is that many Muslim Turks and Kurds were also put to death as Russian troops invaded eastern Anatolia, often aided by Armenian militias.
The Turks now charge that the new bill, which is being proposed by 40 deputies from Sarkozys party, is nothing but a cheap attempt by the unpopular government to play up to Frances 500,000 ethnic Armenians and garner votes before upcoming presidential elections.
Turkish business leaders, who joined a parliamentary delegation in Paris this week to lobby against the initiative, hinted that while Turkey might not go so far as to impose unilateral trade sanctions on France as a consequence of the escalating tiff, they would not hesitate to hamper French business in the country, including possibly derailing profitable defense deals and contracts to build energy pipelines and Turkey's first nuclear power station.
If it passes, the world of business between France and Turkey will be badly hit, Rifat Hisarciklioglu, chairman of the Turkish chambers of commerce, told a press conference in Paris, pointedly referring to orders made by Turkish Airlines for Airbus aircraft and billion of dollars of investment planned in the energy sector for which French companies would likely be bidders.
France is Turkey's fifth biggest export market and the sixth biggest source of its imports.
This is not the first time France has delved into the sensitive genocide waters. They passed a law recognizing the killing of Armenians as genocide all the way back in 2001, and five years ago, their lower house of parliament passed a bill criminalizing the denial of an Armenian genocide – but the bill was then rejected by the Senate.
The new bill on the table Thursday is actually far more general, and calls to outlaw the denial of any genocide, a change made reportedly in the hope of appeasing the Turks.