Bloomberg News

Turkey Calls France Racist, Holds Fire on Genocide Measure

January 26, 2012

(Updates with Armenia comment in seventh paragraph.)

Jan. 24 (Bloomberg) -- Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan accused France’s parliament of racism for a measure criminalizing the denial of genocide against Armenians in Anatolia, while holding back on announcing additional sanctions.

The law, which passed in the French Senate last night and would make the offense punishable by as much as a year in prison and a 45,000-euro ($58,518) fine, isn’t legal and Turkey will ignore it, Erdogan told lawmakers of his governing party at the parliament in Ankara. About 20 other nations including Russia and Canada recognize the events in Anatolia as genocide.

Erdogan called the French law an “error” that he hoped wouldn’t be implemented, even as he continued to threaten sanctions against France, Turkey’s seventh-biggest trading partner with $14.8 billion of goods exchanged last year. Nicolas Sarkozy is using the matter to shore up public support before elections in May, Erdogan said, appealing to the French president’s past as he promised Turkey will remain calm.

“The measure that was approved by the National Assembly of France and then the Senate is downright discrimination, racism and a very clear massacre of freedom of thought,” Erdogan said in televised comments today. “This is an effort to convert votes out of hatred of Turkey.”

Turkey ‘Patient’

Erdogan’s tone contrasts with his response in December, when Turkey froze political and military relations with France after the lower chamber backed the measure. The premier had told Sarkozy then to ask his grandfather about a French genocide against Algerians. Today, Erdogan said Turkey is “patient” and will see how the process plays out, while reminding Sarkozy of his ties to Turkey because his grandfather was an Ottoman Jew whose ancestors were banished from Spain during the Inquisition.

France follows countries such as Switzerland, which has arrested and fined at least three Turks who deny genocide against Armenians. Turkish trade with Switzerland almost doubled to $6.1 billion last year from 2003, when the country passed its genocide legislation, according to Turkey’s statistics agency.

“This day will be written in gold, not only in the history of friendship between the Armenian and French peoples, but also in the annals of the history of the protection of human rights worldwide,” Armenian Foreign Minister Eduard Nalbandian said in a statement.

Armenians say 1.5 million ethnic Armenians were killed from 1915 to 1923 in a deliberate campaign of genocide. Turkey maintains the deaths occurred as part of clashes in which tens of thousands of Turks and Armenians died after Armenian groups sided with a Russian army invading the Ottoman Empire, Turkey’s predecessor.

Seeking Signatures

Turkey is working with French lawmakers who opposed the measure to get 60 signatures and appeal the legislation to the constitutional court, Erdogan said. The French Senate’s law committee rejected the bill, saying it was unconstitutional, and recommended that the body drop it from its agenda. Senators passed the legislation by a vote of 127-86.

That vote was “inopportune,” French Foreign Minister Alain Juppe said on Canal-Plus television. “Turkey and France need each other to work together on many issues. I hope reason wins out over passion,” he said.

Thousands of Turks in Paris protested the measure outside the Senate, separated by a 200-meter (650-foot) police corridor from Armenians who backed the law, Turkey’s state-run Anatolia news agency reported yesterday. Turkish Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoglu had lobbied against the bill by summoning executives of Credit Agricole SA and Groupama SA in December.

‘Wrong Decision’

Turkey temporarily withdrew its ambassador to Paris, Tahsin Burcuoglu, after the lower house approved the measure. He may be recalled to Ankara for discussions following last night’s vote, according to Anatolia. “This is a very wrong decision,” he said.

Turkey, a North Atlantic Treaty Organization ally of France, has threatened economic as well as political reprisals over the law. French carmakers including Renault SA control a fifth of Turkey’s market and French banks such as 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 has said.

--With assistance from Helene Fouquet and Gregory Viscusi in Paris. Editors: Jennifer M. Freedman, Digby Lidstone

To contact the reporter on this story: 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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