Bloomberg News

Turkey Freezes Ties With France Over Genocide-Denial Bill

December 27, 2011

(Updates with Erdogan’s comment on Algeria in fifth paragraph, Juppe’s comment in eighth.)

Dec. 23 (Bloomberg) -- Turkey froze political and military relations with France in retaliation for the approval by the French parliament’s lower chamber of a measure that makes it a crime to deny genocide against Armenians a century ago.

The government recalled its ambassador from Paris for consultations, canceled a joint meeting of economy and trade ministers in January, and halted all programs for training and cultural affairs, Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan said yesterday in televised remarks in Ankara following the vote.

Turkey has been warning France for the past week that its fast-growing economy means it can hurt companies such as Airbus SAS and Electricite de France SA if the measure goes through. It was presented by a member from the party of President Nicolas Sarkozy, who is seeking re-election in April and trailing his socialist opponent in the polls.

The French legislation is “unjust, inaccurate and Turkey condemns it vehemently,” Erdogan said. “People will not forgive those who distort history, or use history as a tool for political exploitation.”

The premier said Ottoman Turkey hadn’t committed genocide against Armenians. The French Algeria in 1945 “massacred 15 percent of the population; this is a genocide,” he said in Istanbul today.

Turkey will take incremental steps against France and “apply them with determination as long as this position continues,” Erdogan said.

Punishing Denial

The French parliament approved legislation that would punish denial of any genocide recognized by French law with a prison term of as long as a year and a 45,000-euro ($59,000) fine. The motion was backed in a voice vote and now moves to the Senate, which hasn’t set a timetable to debate it.

“I’ve called on Turkish authorities not to overact to the parliament’s vote,” Foreign Minister Alain Juppe told reporters today in Bordeaux. “I have seen some declarations that are excessive. There are many reasons to maintain relations of confidence and friendship between France and Turkey.”

Armenians say 1.5 million ethnic Armenians were killed from 1915 to 1923 in a deliberate campaign of genocide. About 20 countries including Greece, Canada and Russia, Turkey’s second- biggest trading partner behind Germany, recognize the events as genocide.

The Turkish government says mass killings of Armenians took place as part of clashes in which thousands of Turks and Armenians died after Armenian groups sided with the invading Russian army.

Little Progress

Turkey and its eastern neighbor Armenia have made little progress toward establishing relations as set out in protocols signed in 2009. Still, that agreement to set up joint commissions of historians to examine what took place showed that “Turkey has moved from complete negation toward a much greater awareness of what happened,” according to Hugh Pope, a project director in Turkey for the International Crisis Group.

“The French bill is counter-productive because the emotional reaction in Turkey can set back the cause for years,” Pope said by telephone. “That’s why France is so short-sighted to introduce this bill.”

After the French lower house approved similar legislation in 2006, Erdogan blocked Gaz de France SA’s participation in the 7.9 billion-euro Nabucco pipeline and suspended military relations. Turkey last year temporarily withdrew its ambassador from the U.S. after a House of Representatives committee approved a resolution recognizing the killings as genocide.

Nuclear Plant

Electricite de France SA is lobbying to build a nuclear plant on Turkey’s northern Black Sea coast, Istanbul-based Aksam newspaper reported in August. Turkey has also held talks with Japanese and Korean companies.

Turkey’s economy grew an annual 8.2 percent in the third quarter, a pace only exceeded by China among the Group of 20 major economies.

French carmaker Renault SA employs 6,800 people in Turkey and is pressing on with production because the “French decision is a political development,” Ibrahim Aybar, chief executive officer of Renault Mais, Renault’s Turkey sales unit, said today in an interview with CNBC-e television.

French carmakers including Renault control a fifth of Turkey’s auto market and French banks including BNP Paribas SA have assets in the country exceeding $20 billion. French direct investment in Turkey between 2002 and 2010 was $4.8 billion, the Turkish Embassy in Paris said.

--With assistance from Ali Berat Meric in Ankara and Gregory Viscusi in Paris. Editors: Digby Lidstone, Heather Langan, Karl Maier

To contact the reporters on this story: Steve Bryant in Ankara at sbryant5@bloomberg.net; Emre Peker in Ankara at epeker2@bloomberg.net

To contact the editor responsible for this story: Andrew J. Barden at barden@bloomberg.net


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