Turkey is suspending military ties with France and recalling its ambassador to the country. Ankara is making the move in protest after the French parliament passed a law making the denial of the Armenian holocaust a crime.
The French lawmakers put the 1915 atrocity on a par with Holocaust denial by simple raising their hands on Thursday in overwhelming majority. The measure now goes to the Senate, which this year has killed an earlier attempt at passing the criminal law.
In 2001 France, sheltering the largest ethnic Armenian community in Europe, officially recognized the mass killing of Armenians by Ottoman Turks, but did not institute a penalty for those who deny the genocide or "outrageously minimize" the killings. Now, the proposed law carries a penalty of up to one year in jail and a fine of 45,000 euro ($58,870).
France does not view the bill as "an attack against Turkey," since it applies to all genocides and is not specifically about the Armenian killings.
"The government backs the idea that genocides cannot be denied," said government spokeswoman Valerie Pecresse after a weekly cabinet meeting. "Each and every country must have the courage to … assess its history with lucidity."
Turkey insists up to 1.5 million Armenians killed in 1915-1916 were victims of World War I and rejects the term "genocide." Ankara called the measure "petty political calculations", suggesting President Nicolas Sarkozy is seeking the support of the Armenian community in France in the upcoming presidential poll.
In its campaign against the legislation, Turkey has warned France of "grave consequences" to economic and political ties. About 4,000 members of the Turkish community gathered behind France's National Assembly in Paris on Thursday to protest against the bill.
The Armenian genocide has already been acknowledged and condemned by a variety of institutions, states and regions, including the European Parliament; Argentina, Canada, Poland, Russia, Venezuela, Vatican City; 43 of the US states, the Basque Country and Catalonia in Spain, the Crimea in the Ukraine, and others.
Ankara says closer to 300,000 people died, and points out that Turks were also killed in the conflict between the Armenians and the Ottoman Empire, complicated by an intervention of Russian troops.
Pierre Guerlain, a professor of political science at Paris West University, has called the proposed bill “a political disaster” for Franco-Turkish relations. But local political gains seem to have obscured a broader reality in the French political world.
“Most probably, [the bill] will not go to the Senate before the presidential election – and maybe it will die out before this,” Guerlain told RT. “A little political game is being played here by various political parties.”
“The key issue now for the President, who is in a tight corner as he is lagging in polls, is to ensure that he locks in the Armenian vote, so the rest is secondary,” Guerlain added.