Turkish ties with France face crucial test on 'genocide' bill

Turkish ties with France face crucial test on 'genocide' bill

ANKARA - Hürriyet Daily News
Turkish ties with France face crucial test on genocide bill

Nearly 40,000 Turks marched in Paris on Jan 21, protesting a draft law that will be discussed by the French Senate today. Protesters carried Turkish flags and chanted slogans against French President Nicolas Sarkozy. AP photo

Turkey could downgrade its diplomatic ties with Paris and cut cooperation in education and culture as part of a second round of sanctions against France if the country’s Senate approves a bill criminalizing the denial of the Armenian genocide today.

The French Senate is set to discuss the bill today at 3 p.m. local time.

Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoğlu canceled a trip to Brussels where he was supposed to meet with EU foreign ministers to discuss the Arab Spring today. “He wanted to stay in Ankara to speedily evaluate the voting results of the French Senate and take necessary actions,” a diplomatic source said.

“Relations will never be the same. We have made it very clear that they are about to lose the friendship of Turkey,” a diplomatic source told the Hürriyet Daily News over the weekend, confirming that the package of sanctions was almost finalized.

The Turkish government earlier announced that it had prepared three different sets of sanctions against France with each of them to be activated in line with the legislation’s gradual passage through the French parliamentary system. The first package was composed of eight measures and mainly focused on military and political cooperation. The second, however, will be harsher than the first one, according to the diplomats.

The contentious bill threatens to punish those who deny that the 1915 events constituted genocide with a year in jail and a 45,000-euro fine.

French envoy to return home

The most important measure is expected to include the downgrading of diplomatic relations and will likely obligate French Ambassador to Turkey Laurent Bili to leave Ankara just a year after he began his term if the bill passes. Turkey will also withdraw its ambassador to Paris, Tahsin Burcuoğlu, for an indefinite time in a sign that restoring ties will take much longer than the French government believes.
However, a heavier move could be the cancelation of a bilateral treaty that helped pave the way for the establishment of Galatasaray University in 1992 following a treaty signed between the two countries. The move will not change the nature of the education at the university, the only institute of higher learning in Turkey whose language of instruction is French, but will end any official French involvement in academic work.

Tax audit for French school

For Bili, there have been harbingers of harsher Turkish measures in recent days as Lycée de Charles de Gaulle in Ankara was subjected to a tax audit by Turkish state authorities even though the school belongs to the French Embassy and is not governed by Turkish regulations.

“This is an unprecedented move for an embassy school. This school is beyond Turkish legislation. It’s not a private school either. It’s a non-profit state school subordinated to French regulations,” Bili said in an interview with daily Cumhuriyet over the weekend.

The package, which will be announced immediately after the voting at the Senate, is expected to include some more measures but steps in the fields of economic and trade are not likely to be on the list.

At the same time, the government is not expected to discourage boycott campaigns against French products by civil society.

But Bili said an overreaction by Turkey would hurt Turkey’s image in the eyes of the French people. “While showing reaction, one should also think about the future and not cut off all ties.”

Meanwhile, Deputy Prime Minister Bülent Arınç described the legislation as a move to attract the votes of the Armenian diaspora.

Addressing French authorities, he asked: “What will you do against Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan if he denies the Armenian genocide while visiting France? There are thousands of Turkish and French intellectuals who will take this risk.”

Arınç said he was sure the Senate would reject the bill.

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