French Interior Minister Sets Conditions for Turkey

PARIS, ANKARA (Deutsche Presse Agentur, Reuters, Armenpress)–A law criminalizing the denial of the Armenia Genocide in France, scheduled to be debated by parliament Thursday, has provoked rage in Turkey, prompting a war of words between Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan and the French Interior Minister Nicolas Sarkozy, who set conditions for Turkey during a conversation with the Turkish leader. The proposed law has provoked rage in Turkey, which has threatened to carry out economic boycotts against French companies. In 2001, bilateral relations suffered a similar setback when France passed a law recognizing the Armenian Genocide. Erdogan on Tuesday said the proposed law was a blow against freedom of speech and that a "populist and cheap game" was being played by French politicians. "This wrong move will change nothing for Turkey but it will change a lot for France … When did it become France’s duty to get involved in a problem between Turkey and Armenia? The world is not a campus for colonizers any more. That era is over," Erdogan said. Sarkozy said on Monday he had set three conditions for Turkey to avoid the vote in a telephone call with Erdogan. "The first is that there is a bilateral commission between Armenia and Turkey which has equal representation, so that these two countries can conduct the work of acknowledging history," he told France Inter radio. "The second condition is that Turkey reopen its borders with Armenia. And the third condition is that Turkey gives up its penal law (Article 301) which forbids people speaking of the genocide in Turkey." Sarkozy, the conservative frontrunner for the presidential race and a long-standing opponent of Turkey’s European Union entry, said he was not sure whether he had convinced Erdogan but added that the Turkish premier had taken note of them. According to officials at the Turkish prime minister’s office, Erdogan defended Turkey’s position in the phone conversation with Sarkozy. "We are the open and transparent side. We have been unable to receive the necessary response (from Armenia) to our well-intended proposal to set up a joint commission, and Article 301 has nothing to do with this issue," the officials quoted Erdogan as saying. Turkish newspapers reported Tuesday that Erdogan blasted the conditions Sarkozy set for Turkey claiming that it was the Turkish side which proposed the establishment of a joint commission for academic debates on genocide and made clear that Turkey’s good intentions were not welcomed by Armenia, which rejected the proposal. On Article 301, Erdogan said the French suggestion on that issue had nothing to do with the issue, stressing that France was not in a position to demand something from Turkey. "First of all France should take a look at itself," Erdogan said. Facing pressure from the EU to amend or scrap Article 301 under which scores of Turkish intellectuals have been put on trial, Turkey has accused the bloc of applying double standards, saying that France itself is blocking free speech under the bill that it plans to legislate. On opening the border to Armenia, Erdogan said Armenia’should first act with good will toward Turkey, saying that normalization of ties depended on Armenian withdrawal from Nagorno-Karabakh, as well as on progress in resolution of a series of bilateral disagreemen’s, including urging Armenia to stop to supporting Armenian Diaspora efforts to attain international recognition for the genocide. Meanwhile, foreign ministry spokesman Jean-Baptiste Mattei told journalists in Paris Tuesday that the bill, "does not involve the government" and "is not necessary," This dispute comes less than two weeks after French President Jacques Chirac, on a visit to Armenia, said he wanted Turkey to recognize the Armenian genocide before it could join the European Union, a condition no one else has ever set for Ankara. The EU’s Enlargement Commissioner Olli Rehn said on Monday that France’s parliament could do serious harm to EU-Turkey relations if it votes to make it a crime to deny Armenia’s suffered genocide at the hands of Ottoman Turks. He said he would be in contact with the French government before Thursday’s vote to point out the consequences. "The French law on the Armenian genocide is of course a matter for French lawmakers, but there is a lot at stake for the European Union as well, and the decision may have very serious consequences for EU-Turkey relations," said Rehn, who is in charge of Turkey’s EU membership negotiations. "Such a law would have counter-productive consequences because it would say to the Turks that there is nothing to discuss. Here you have the final truth and if you happen to deny it you end up in prison in an EU member state," he said. Turkish foreign minister Abdullah Gul reiterated on Saturday that France risked being barred from economic projects in Turkey if it adopted a bill criminalizing the denial of the Armenian genocide, AFP said. If the bill is passed, Gul said, French participation in major economic projects in Turkey, including the planned construction of a nuclear plant for which the tender process is expected to begin soon, will suffer. On Saturday, Erdogan met representatives of French companies doing business in Turkey, among them industrial giants such as carmaker Renault and food group Danone, urging them to lobby French parliament members to vote down the bill. On a related matter, the Swiss justice minister’s commen’s during an official trip to Turkey have caused an outcry at home after he appeared to criticize the Alpine country’s anti-racism laws, according to AP.. According to Turkey’s state-owned Anatolia news agency, Christoph Blocher told his counterpart, Cemil Cicek, on Wednesday that a law under which a Turkish historian is being prosecuted in Switzerland for saying "the Armenian genocide did not take place" was "a headache." Blocher then went on to say that he had invited Cicek to visit Switzerland. When Cicek asked whether he would get into trouble if he repeated the historian’s commen’s, Blocher replied: "Nothing will happen. But if it does, I’ll go to prison with him." Anatolia reported that Blocher had expressed support for a Turkish proposal to draw up a commission made up of historians to research the Armenian issue.

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