By John Keating
France on Thursday sought to mend strained ties with Turkey over the decision by the French Parliament to adopt a law punishing anyone questioning the Armenian “genocide” of 1915.
Estimates at the higher end put the number of Armenians killed by Turkish forces in that period at around 1.5 million but Ankara forcefully disputes the figure, which is says was in the low hundreds of thousands and says many people died from non-violent causes.
Turkey has warned France that the adoption of the law by its parliament and its subsequent approval in the Legislative Commission would have “irreparable” consequences on relations between the two countries.
The law was passed after a strong Armenian lobby pressured the political classes here by claiming they had suffered just like Jews in the Holocaust. There is already a law on the French books that penalizes any questioning of the existence of the Holocaust or makes racial slurs against Jews.
“Turkey is a very important partner and ally for France,” Foreign Ministry spokesman Bernard Valero said in response to questions on strained relations with Turkey.
“We attach the greatest importance to our exchanges with Ankara, notably on international and regional subjects,” Valero added.
France is closely consulting with Turkey on the Syrian and Iranian files and Juppe was in Ankara only weeks ago to discuss the crisis in Syria, notably.
Senior diplomats have told KUNA here that France is counting heavily on Turkey to play a leading role in the Syrian issue and in helping support change in that country.
A regional solution, including Turkey and the Arab League, is viewed as essential by diplomats because of the failure to get progress on the Syrian issue in the UN Security Council, where Russia is blocking a resolution sanctioning Damascus.
“Syria has a major country sitting on top of it, geographically,” one senior diplomat said to KUNA recently, adding that Turkey would not be unhappy to see a different regime in Damascus, for political, economic and other reasons.
Concerning the controversial law on Armenia, Valero said that the legislation was part of a general French approach which “aims to penalize racist statements” or those that negate historical events.
But as Turkey disputes the Armenian version of events, the French explanation is not certain to appease Ankara.