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Turkey warns France on genocide bill

Dec. 29, 2011 at 4:00 AM   |   Comments

ANKARA, Turkey, Dec. 29 (UPI) -- Turkey warned of new actions if the French Senate approves a bill making it a crime to deny the Turkish army committed genocide against Armenians a century ago.

Turkey's National Security Council said in a statement the measure, which passed the French Parliament's lower house last week, was a "mistake" that, if passed into law by the upper chamber, would result in Turkey objecting to it "in every way" -- although Turkish officials ruled out trade sanctions because they would violate Turkey's customs union with the European Union, The Economist reported.

The council -- made up of Turkish President Abdullah Gul, Cabinet ministers and the general staff that presides over the armed forces -- said it hoped the Senate would display "common sense" when it takes up the measure after Jan. 1.

France's Parliament had no immediate comment.

Turkey halted diplomatic and military dealings with France Thursday -- recalling its ambassador, prohibiting French military aircraft and warships from landing and docking in Turkey and deciding on a case-by-case basis whether to let French military aircraft use Turkish airspace -- after the lower house, known as the National Assembly, passed the Armenian genocide bill.

The bill would impose a fine of more than $58,000 and a year in jail on those who deny the genocide of as many as 1.5 million Armenians between 1915 and 1918.

Turkish lawmakers called on France to investigate its own atrocities in colonial Algeria.

Turkey has a law that is a mirror image of the French proposal, prohibiting descriptions of the Armenian killings as genocide. Turkey says such descriptions are an insult to Turkish identity.

Turkish novelist Orhan Pamuk, who won the first Nobel Prize awarded to a Turkish citizen, was fined about $3,700 in March for telling a Swiss newspaper Turkey "killed 30,000 Kurds and 1 million Armenians."

Turkey acknowledges atrocities without any specific death toll, but says they did not constitute deliberate and systematic genocide, The New York Times reported.

Ankara argues a determination should be made by an international committee of historians with access to state archives.

U.S. President Barack Obama said during the 2008 presidential election he would recognize the genocide as president. To date, he has referred to it only by its Armenian synonym, Meds Yeghern, which means "Great Crime" or "Great Calamity."

In 2007, former President George W. Bush urged Congress to reject a resolution calling the mass killings genocide, saying that could cause "great harm" to U.S. relations with Turkey.

The chill in French-Turkish relations was initially prompted by French President Nicolas Sarkozy's fierce opposition to Turkish membership of the EU, which would dilute French influence, The Economist said.

Sarkozy faces a difficult re-election battle in the spring and may be seeking to exploit the genocide to court ethnic-Armenian votes, the magazine said. France has an estimated 500,000 Armenian-heritage citizens.

French Foreign Minister Alain Juppe said he did not support the French bill, calling it "unhelpful and counterproductive."

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