Turkey aims to limit France’s Mideast role

Turkey aims to limit France’s Mideast role

ANKARA - Hürriyet Daily News
Turkey aims to limit France’s Mideast role

Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoğlu (R) shakes hands with his Azerbaijani counterpart Elmar Mahmadyarov during the 17th OSCE meeting in this file photo. AA photo

Turkey’s military and political sanctions against France over the adoption of a controversial “genocide” bill aim to limit French influence in the Middle East and Caucasus, two important regions associated with ongoing ethnic and sectarian conflicts.

Immediately after the French Parliament voted Dec. 22 in favor of a bill penalizing the denial of the 1915 events as genocide, the Turkish government announced that it would retaliate in kind with sanctions falling into eight categories. Four of them are military-related, three are political and the last spells out the cancelation of an economic and trade meeting.

In addition to the cancelation of joint military drills and joint exchange and training programs, Turkey has canceled annual blanket over-flight permission for French state planes and will instead issue permission on a case-by-case basis. It will also halt requests for port visits by French warships.
A very important detail suggests that these sanctions are not going to be removed even if France retreats from its position and quashes the genocide bill in the Senate. “The sanctions will continue to be valid until the Turkish government says the opposite,” a Turkish diplomat recently told the Hürriyet Daily News.

According to the diplomats, the measures will seriously affect French access to the Middle East and the region beyond Turkey.

“France has intense ties with so many countries in our neighborhood. It has military and other sorts of cooperation with these countries. They gained a great advantage in reaching out to these regions using the blanket permission we have long provided to them,” a diplomat told the Daily News. “Now they will lose time and money in doing so.”

Two of the Middle East’s key countries, Syria and Lebanon, where France replaced the Ottoman Empire as the colonial power after World War I, are seen as being crucial for the entire region’s stability and still have close ties with Paris. Though the turmoil in Syria precipitated rapprochement between Turkey and France, recent developments indicate that the power struggle between the two sparring countries will now be exercised in the Middle East.

“Turkey will do everything to prevent a meeting on Syria and other key topics under the aegis of France,” a diplomat said.

However, this development has seriously disturbed the United States since the tension is likely to weaken the international community’s position vis-à-vis Syria.

Baku evaluates Turkish move

The political storm between Turkey and France will also have ramifications in the Caucasus, developments suggest.

Even before the adoption of the law, Turkish Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoğlu complained about France’s membership in the Minsk Group at a meeting with Lamberto Zannier, secretary-general of the Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe (OSCE). The Minsk Group was established in 1992 to solve the dispute between Armenia and Azerbaijan and consists of France, Russia and the United States.

“We have made clear to the OSCE secretary-general that France membership in the OSCE [Minsk Group] would damage the group’s works as Paris openly took sides with the Armenians on this issue due to strong pressure from the Armenian diaspora,” a diplomat told the Daily News.
But the diplomat said Turkey had not made any official application to the OSCE after the adoption of the law and had not asked Azerbaijan to do so either.

On Dec. 23 President Abdullah Gül asked for France’s immediate removal from the Minsk Group membership on the grounds that it had lost its neutrality on the matter.

“Evaluations on Turkey’s views are underway,” an Azerbaijani official told the Daily News yesterday, adding that the France’s adoption of the controversial bill had caused a serious reaction in Baku as well.

Though the government has remained silent on the issue, Deputy Parliamentary Chairwoman Bahar Muradova said, “Such behavior by France puts its impartiality and objectivity in doubt as a co-chairman of the OSCE Minsk Group in resolving the Armenian-Azerbaijani Nagorno-Karabakh conflict.”