Turkey Pressures France Over Armenia Genocide Bill

ANKARA (Reuters)–Turkey told France on Friday a draft bill that would punish anyone denying Armenian genocide during World War One would seriously damage bilateral economic and political ties. The French parliament is due to debate the bill, proposed by the Socialist opposition, on October 12. "Approval of the law will have very negative effects on economic ties," Turkish Foreign Ministry spokesman Namik Tan told a weekly news briefing. "There have been important investmen’s between Turkey and France through history. With this decision these investmen’s, built up over years, will be ruined in one (parliamentary) session. France will, in a manner of speaking, lose Turkey." Though the conservative majority in France’s parliament opposes the bill, Turkey fears many opponents will not vote against it for fear of upsetting France’s 400,000-strong Armenian Diaspora ahead of elections next year. Tan said Turkey, too, faces presidential and parliamentary elections in 2007. "The people of Turkey will perceive this development as a hostile attitude on the part of France," he said. "This draft will deliver a heavy blow to bilateral relations and to the momentum previously achieved." Turkey’s president, Ahmet Necdet Sezer, sent a letter this week to French President Jacques Chirac on the issue and Prime Minister Tayyip Erdogan will discuss the problem on Saturday with French businessmen in Istanbul, Tan said. A delegation of Turkish lawmakers also warned of harm to French trade during a visit to Paris earlier this week. France, which has already passed a law recognizing the 1915 massacre as genocide, had $5.9 billion of exports to Turkey last year, French Trade Ministry data show. Turkey is stinging from commen’s by Chirac last weekend in the Armenian capital Yerevan that Ankara must recognize the Armenian massacres as genocide before joining the European Union. Turkey began EU entry talks last year, though is not expected to join for many years. Recognition of the Armenian genocide is not a condition of its EU membership, though some other EU politicians apart from Chirac want to make it one. Ankara says it is ironic that France is preparing to punish those who express a particular view of history at a time when Turkey is under heavy EU pressure to change some of its own laws which are viewed as restricting freedom of expression. Last week, Ankara reacted angrily to news that two Dutch political parties had dropped three election candidates, all of Turkish origin, for denying the Armenian genocide. The Netherlands, like the European Parliament and some other countries, has urged Turkey to recognize the genocide claims.

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