French genocide bill angers Turkey

The Turkish prime minister said France should look into its own past

Turkish MPs and businessmen are calling on French leaders to oppose criminalising the denial of the mass killing of Armenians by Ottoman Turks during World War I as genocide.

The French lower house of parliament is due to consider a bill that proposes a one-year prison term and a heavy fine.

Turkey has warned of irreparable damage to ties if the legislation is passed.

Armenians say up to 1.5 million people died during mass deportations. Turkey puts the figure at closer to 300,000.

Ankara says Turks were also killed when Armenians rose up against the Ottoman Empire during World War I when Russian troops invaded eastern Anatolia, now eastern Turkey.
'Grave consequences'

Last week, Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan wrote to French President Nicolas Sarkozy warning him that the proposed legislation, set to go before the National Assembly on Thursday, was "hostile" and directly targeted Turkey and Turks living in France.

Continue reading the main story
Turkey and the Armenians
Hundreds of thousands of ethnic Armenians died during mass deportations by Ottoman Turks in 1915-6
More than 20 countries say it was genocide
Turkey and some historians say it was part of widespread turmoil in World War I in which Muslims also died
Estimated 500,000 ethnic Armenians now in France
Turkey closed Armenia border in 1993 because of conflict in Nagorno-Karabakh
Turkey signed 2009 deal with Armenia to examine 1915 killings and open borders: ratified by neither side

"Such steps will have grave consequences for future relations between Turkey and France in political, economic, cultural and all areas, and the responsibility will rest with those behind this initiative," the Anatolia news agency quoted him as saying.

Mr Erdogan also told a news conference on Saturday that the National Assembly should instead look into France's actions in Africa.

"It could investigate how many people French soldiers massacred in Algeria, and their involvement in the killing of 800,000 people in Rwanda [in 1994]," he said.

Trade sanctions against France have also been mooted. Almost 1,000 French businesses are said to be active in Turkey.

Future Airbus orders by Turkish Airlines and major government investment in energy were held out as examples of potential targets for retaliation by a senior member of the Turkish delegation sent to Paris to lobby against the legislation.

The delegation is due to meet Mr Sarkozy's diplomatic adviser, Jean-David Levitte, and French Foreign Minister Alain Juppe on Tuesday.

'Ally and partner'

Volkan Bozkir, head of Turkey's foreign affairs committee, said the delegation aimed to have the bill removed from the National Assembly's agenda, and failing that, to have it voted down by the upper house of parliament, the Senate.

The terms of the bill are similar to one that was passed by MPs in 2006 but not debated by the Senate.

Although the new bill has been proposed by a member of Mr Sarkozy's UMP party, Valerie Boyer, the government argues that it is not behind the initiative.

Speaking on French TV on Tuesday, government spokeswoman Valerie Pecresse said the debate would go ahead as planned.

"It doesn't involve a legal proposal on the Armenian genocide," she stated.

Rather, she said, it was about "all acts that resemble genocide".

Ms Pecresse added that France saw Turkey as an ally and partner.

Q&A: Armenian genocide dispute

Arguments have raged for decades about the Armenian deaths

The mass killing of Armenians by Ottoman Turks during World War I remains a highly sensitive issue.

Turkey has resisted widespread calls for it to recognise the 1915-16 killings as genocide, while historians continue to argue about the events.

What happened?

There is general agreement that hundreds of thousands of Armenians died when the Ottoman Turks deported them en masse from eastern Anatolia to the Syrian desert and elsewhere in 1915-16. They were killed or died from starvation or disease.

The total number of Armenian dead is disputed. Armenians say 1.5 million died. The Republic of Turkey estimates the total to be 300,000.

According to the International Association of Genocide Scholars, the death toll was "more than a million".

What is genocide?

Article Two of the UN Convention on Genocide of December 1948 describes genocide as carrying out acts intended "to destroy, in whole or in part, a national, ethnic, racial or religious group".

Were the killings systematic?

The dispute about whether it was genocide centres on the question of premeditation - the degree to which the killings were orchestrated.

Many historians, governments and the Armenian people believe that they were; but a number of scholars question this.

Turkish officials accept that atrocities were committed but argue that there was no systematic attempt to destroy the Christian Armenian people. Turkey says many innocent Muslim Turks also died in the turmoil of war.

What was the political context?

The Young Turks - an officers' movement that had seized power in 1908 - launched a series of measures against Armenians as the Ottoman Empire was crumbling through military defeats in the war. The Young Turks - calling themselves the Committee of Unity and Progress (CUP) - had entered the war on Germany's side in 1914.

Turkish propaganda at the time presented the Armenians as saboteurs and a pro-Russian "fifth column".

Armenians mark the date 24 April 1915 as the start of what they regard as the genocide. That was when the Ottoman government arrested about 50 Armenian intellectuals and community leaders. They were later executed.

Armenians in the Ottoman army were disarmed and killed. Armenian property was confiscated.

Was anyone held to account?

Several senior Ottoman officials were put on trial in Turkey in 1919-20 in connection with the atrocities. A local governor, Mehmed Kemal, was found guilty and hanged for the mass killing of Armenians in the central Anatolian district of Yozgat. The Young Turks' top triumvirate - the "Three Pashas" - had already fled abroad. They were sentenced to death in absentia.

Historians have questioned the judicial procedures at these trials, the quality of the evidence presented and the degree to which the Turkish authorities may have wished to appease the victorious Allies.

Who recognises it as genocide and who does not?

Argentina, Belgium, Canada, France, Italy, Russia and Uruguay are among more than 20 countries which have formally recognised genocide against the Armenians.

The European Parliament and the UN Sub-Commission on Prevention of Discrimination and Protection of Minorities have also done so.

The UK, US and Israel are among those that use different terminology to describe the events.

In 2006, Turkey condemned a French parliamentary vote which would make it a crime to deny that Armenians had suffered genocide. The bill did not become law - but Turkey suspended military ties.

In March 2010, Turkey withdrew its ambassador to Washington after a US congressional committee narrowly approved a resolution branding the killings as "genocide". The House Foreign Affairs Committee endorsed it, despite the objections of the White House. Barack Obama's administration has called for the resolution not to be "acted upon" by the full Congress.

What is the political impact of the row?

The killings are regarded as the seminal event of modern Armenian history, binding the diaspora together.

Armenians are one of the world's most dispersed peoples.

In Turkey, public debate on the issue has been stifled.

Article 301 of the penal code, on "insulting Turkishness", has been used to prosecute prominent writers who highlight the mass killings of Armenians. Among them were Nobel laureate Orhan Pamuk and Hrant Dink, who was later shot dead in January 2007. A teenage nationalist is on trial for his murder.

The European Union has said Turkish acceptance of the Armenian genocide is not a condition for Turkey's entry into the bloc.

Are Armenia-Turkey relations still frosty?

After decades of hostility there has been a slight thaw. Turkey and Armenia signed a deal in October 2009 to establish diplomatic relations and open their border.

But the deal is yet to be ratified by either parliament, and some in Ankara accuse Armenia of trying to alter the terms of the deal.

A complicating factor is mutual suspicion over the frozen Nagorno-Karabakh conflict. Turkey backs Azerbaijan in the dispute over Nagorno-Karabakh, a territory inside Azerbaijan held by ethnic Armenians since a war in the 1990s.

Turkey-Armenia friendship symbol being demolished

The demolition of a huge Turkish statue devoted to reconciliation with Armenia has begun, months after the prime minister described it as a "freak".

The 30m-high statue - depicting two human figures facing each other - was erected on a mountain in the Turkish city of Kars, near the Armenian border.

Local authorities commissioned it several years ago to symbolise an end to decades of enmity and suspicion.

Artists had tried to save the statue, which could take 10 days to dismantle.

The company carrying out the demolition has already cut down one of the figures using a crane, witnesses said.

Rapprochement stalled

The work, called the Statue of Humanity, was the creation of well-known Turkish artist Mehmet Aksoy.

When finished, it would have had one figure extending a hand to the other.

"I am really sorry, sorry on behalf of Turkey," Anatolia news agency quoted the sculptor as saying. "They can demolish it, we will re-make it."

It was commissioned as a gesture of reconciliation, as Turkey and Armenia began attempts to repair relations after a century of hostility.

But that process stalled last year and there were a number of objections to the monument.

On a visit to Kars in January Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan reportedly described the monument as a "freak", and an affront to a nearby 11th Century shrine.

Critics say Mr Erdogan may have aimed his remarks at nationalists, who are strong in this part of Turkey, ahead of June's parliamentary elections.

Kars once had a large Armenian community, which was annihilated in 1915 as part of mass killings which Armenians and many historians call a genocide.

Turkey rejects the term and says atrocities were committed on both sides in World War I.

In 2009 the two countries agreed to normalise relations and, in that spirit, the former mayor of Kars commissioned the sculpture.



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