- guardian.co.uk, Thursday 22 December 2011 19.26 GMT
Turkey has frozen relations with France, recalling its ambassador and suspending all economic, political and military meetings in response to French MPs’ approval of a law that would make it a crime to deny that the mass killing of Armenians in 1915 by Ottoman Turks was genocide.
The furious Turkish reaction to Paris’s parliamentary vote marked an unprecedented low between the Nato partners.
The Turkish prime minister, Recep Tayyip Erdogan, cancelled permission for French military planes to land and warships to dock in Turkey, annulled all joint military exercises, recalled the Turkish ambassador to France for consultations and said he would decide case by case whether to let the French military use Turkish airspace.
He said this was just the start and “gradually” but “decisively” other retaliation measures would be taken against France. He warned of heavy diplomatic “wounds” that would be “difficult to heal”.
A majority of the 50 MPs present in France’s lower chamber approved the bill which would make denying any genocide – but implicitly the Armenian genocide – a criminal offence punishable by a one-year prison sentence and a fine of €45,000 (£37,500). The bill was put forward by an MP from Sarkozy’s rightwing UMP party, but the issue was supported by socialists.
“This is politics based on racism, discrimination and xenophobia. This is using Turkophobia and Islamophobia to gain votes, it raises concerns regarding these issues not only in France but all over Europe,” Erdogan said, accusing the French president, Nicolas Sarkozy, of deliberately courting the large Armenian-French vote ahead of next year’s election.
The French foreign minister Alain Juppé said he didn’t want “our Turkish friends” to “overreact”. Earlier, trying to smooth the row with Turkey, he dismissed the bill as “useless and counterproductive”. He said Turkey, “a proud nation”, should work on its issues of history and memory, but threatening French criminal sanctions was not the right way to make them do it.
Under Sarkozy, who opposes Turkish entry to the European Union, relations between Paris and Ankara have been difficult. But the Nato allies had been working together on key issues such as the Syria uprising. Erdogan said Turkey was now “suspending all kinds of political consultations with France”.
A Turkish official indicated the freeze would not affect the country’s membership of Nato, and that the withdrawal of military co-operation would be at a bilateral level.
Armenia, backed by many historians and parliaments, says about 1.5 million Christian Armenians were killed in what is now eastern Turkey during the first world war in a deliberate policy of genocide ordered by the Ottoman government. Ankara denies the killings constitute genocide and says many Muslim Turks and Kurds were also put to death as Russian troops invaded eastern Anatolia, often aided by Armenian militias.
The French bill criminalising genocide denial must now be put to the French senate for debate next year.