Armenia row hits Turkish-French relations

Egemen Bagis.jpg

Relations between Turkey and France could be headed for a new crisis after French President Nicolas Sarkozy urged Ankara to recognise the mass killings of Armenians by the Turkish army in 1915 as genocide, the Turkish press reports.

On a visit to Armenia on 7 October, Sarkozy said he wanted Turkey to recognise, before the end of his mandate in May 2012, that the mass killings of hundreds of thousands of Armenians amounted to genocide, as France did in 2001.

"It is not the role of France to set an ultimatum to whoever, it is not the right way to do things […] but for reflection, I thing the time from 1915 to 2011 is sufficient," he said.

If Turkey does not recognise the genocide claims and step toward reconciliation, the French president said he would consider proposing the adoption of a law criminalising the denial of the killings as genocide.

An earlier attempt by the French government was rejected by the French Senate in 2009.

Turkish EU Minister Egemen Ba??? criticised Sarkozy, describing him as "totally helpless" and adding that the French president would do better extricating the euro zone from the economic crisis rather than play historian on the Armenian question.

“It would be better… if Mr. Sarkozy abandons the role of historian and looks for ways to solve the economic problems of the European Union, of which his country is a member,” Ba??? said, calling Sarkozy’s recent remarks “attempts to abuse the domestic politics” of France.

Ba??? suggested that Sarkozy was trying to use international issues to rally support at home ahead of the Presidential elections next year.

"Sarkozy must have been frightened with the results of recent political surveys in France so that he is assuming such approaches," Bagis said, apparently referring to polls which indicate that Socialist François Hollande would win the presidential election if it was held today.

According to commentator Murat Yetkin writing for the daily Hürriyet newspaper, Sarkozy's aim at Turkey could be explained by the assertive role of Ankara in the Mediterranean, where he said France was losing influence.

"This year marked the 100th year of Turkish withdrawal from Libya and Algeria to leave the rule of the lands to Italy and France respectively. Perhaps that was the reason why Sarkozy, having British Prime Minister David Cameron as a companion, rushed to Benghazi a day before Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdo?an visited the Libyan city," Yetkin writes.

According to the journalist Sarkozy sees Turkish Prime Minister Tayyip Erdo?an as an obstacle to France's comeback in the Maghreb following the Arab Spring.

"Perhaps it was a subconscious reflex that pushed Sarkozy to the Turkish and Russian backyard of the Caucasus to disturb Turkey’s balances there," he wrote.

Azerbaijan, a country which is entangled in a "frozen conflict" with Armenia over Nagorno-Karabakh, made a statement in support of Turkey.

"Azerbaijan does not share French President Nicolas Sarkozy's views regarding the issues of 'genocide' and opening of borders," the head of the public and political affairs department at the Presidential Administration of Azerbaijan Ali Hasanov was quoted as saying.


Hundreds of thousands of Armenians died during forced removals in 1915 by the Ottoman army from what is now Eastern Turkey, but Turkey denies that the move constituted genocide. 

Turkey closed its border with Armenia in 1993 to lend support to its traditional Muslim ally Azerbaijan over the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict. 

Armenia has controlled Nagorno-Karabakh, which lies wholly within Azerbaijan, since a war that broke out in the final days of the Soviet Union. A ceasefire in Nagorno-Karabakh, brokered by Russia, has held since 1994. 

The stand-off between Turkey and Armenia has destabilised the energy-rich Caucasus region, isolated impoverished Armenia and obstructed Turkey's efforts to join the EU. 

Turkey and Armenia in 2008 launched high-level talks on establishing diplomatic ties after a century of hostility. Officially Turkey is pursuing a "zero problem" policy with its neighbours.

However, last year Turkey's prime minister Tayyip Erdo?an warned that Ankara might deport up to 100,000 Armenians living in Turkey without citizenship, after resolutions were passed by US and Swedish lawmakers defining First World War-era killings of Armenians by Ottoman Turks as genocide.

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