Amid the risk of a new spiral in tensions with Turkey, French officials on Thursday reiterated a call at the highest level for calm relations between the two nations over the Armenian “genocide” issue which has poisoned links between the two nations since December.
Last month, the French lower house of Parliament voted a bill that makes it a criminal offence, punishable by a one-year jail term and a fine of USD 60,000, to cast doubt on the Armenian claim that Turkish forces killed 1.5 million Armenians in 1915 in what is being labelled a “genocide” by the Armenian people.
Turkey disputes the figures and says about 300,000 Armenians perished, some in an uprising against Turkish forces during WWI.
Ankara responded angrily to the French vote and cut off political and military ties and withdrew its ambassador to Paris. Turkey has also threatened retaliatory legislation that would cite the French “genocide” in Algeria during the colonial period.
Other trade and political measures could be taken if the French Senate passes, as expected, the genocide bill into law later in January.
An examination of the bill is expected to start in the coming weeks and officials here have sought to quell the rising tensions with Ankara, stressing that the legislation is not just aimed at Armenia.
Turkey is “a strategic partner with which we have never stopped working closely, either on the bilateral level or in the framework of NATO or the G20, or again to bring a halt to the violence in Syria,” Foreign Ministry deputy spokesman Romain Nadal said, echoing statements by President Nicolas Sarkozy and Foreign Minister Alain Juppe.
The Foreign Minister had made public statements in December, saying he did not believe the genocide bill was “appropriate” at this time.
Nadal also noted France and Turkey were working together to ensure peace and stability in Afghanistan and to develop cooperation in the Mediterranean.
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Trade between France and Turkey amounted to about USD 15 billion last year and there are about 1,000 French companies set up in Turkey. There are also about 5,000 French nationals living in Turkey and some 350,000 Turks officially residing in this country, according to Foreign Ministry figures. Some sources put that population at closer to 500,000.