Turkey prefers fistfight to legal battle with France
I cannot recall any other example in the recent past of Turkish foreign relations in which relations with a certain country are connected to such a degree to just one person.
Turkey’s ties with France have now taken a unique character. Even if by some miracle the law criminalizing the denial of Armenians’ genocide claims fails to pass the Senate, it has become apparent that as long as Nicolas Sarkozy remains French President, it will be difficult to put Turkish-French relations back on track.
Sadly, not only relations with France, but also the fate of Turkey’s EU relations are tied to the presidential elections in France. An electoral victory for Sarkozy will strengthen the hands of those in Turkey that favor a drastic review of relations with the EU. Even if those who are favoring a break up with the EU fail to get the upper hand in Turkey, we will definitely see hibernation in Turkish-EU ties if Sarkozy’s electoral victory is followed by that of German Chancellor Angela Merkel next autumn.
So a “war of attrition” with Sarkozy will probably take its toll on Turkey’s relations with the EU as well.
And indeed, signs coming from Ankara indicate that yesterday’s vote was more important in terms of the consequences it will have on relations with France than the damage it might inflict on Turkey’s international position with regard to claims of genocide. The government is inclined to see this initiative as a hostile act towards Turkey. Ankara believes Turkey has become an expandable country in the eyes of Sarkozy. “We are not going to let France bully Turkey like that,” a high level foreign ministry official told me. His rhetoric reminded me of the atmosphere that followed the flotilla crisis with Israel.
In the case of Israel, in addition to sanctions, Turkey sought to confront Israel on international platforms, despite the legal risks of challenging the Gaza blockade.
In the French case, Turkey’s hand seems to be much stronger legally. French experts have told Ankara that the law would be considered unconstitutional by France’s constitutional court.
There is also the European Court of Human Rights (ECHR). Turkish citizen Doğu Perinçek filed a lawsuit with the ECHR against Switzerland, as he was sentenced in 2007 for having denied genocide claims. There is a high likelihood that the ECHR will decide against the Swiss, arguing that the Swiss court verdict is against freedom of expression. Ankara fears, however, that in its verdict the Court might, for instance, say that there is general recognition that the 1915 events amount to genocide, which in turn might strengthen the hands of Armenians.
There is also the Taner Akçam case. The ECHR has already found Turkey guilty of launching an investigation into Akçam for having said that there was Armenian genocide. The verdict does not carry any judgment on the validity of genocide claims, as the court limited itself to the issue of freedom of expression. The Turkish Justice Ministry, however, wants to appeal that decision, saying the investigation was later dropped and that there was no conviction anyway. The Foreign Ministry wants to leave it at that, fearing that there might be a “road accident” along the way.
Such risks are making Turkey hesitant in resorting to legal means. Ankara prefers to present the case with France as an act of hostility, preferring fistfights to legal battles.