President Abdullah Gül reiterated Turkey's support for the Palestinian cause of becoming an independent state at a meeting he had with Palestine President Mahmoud Abbas at the Çankaya presidential palace in Ankara on Tuesday.
The two leaders discussed the formation of a national unity government in Palestine and the state's United Nations bid as well as recent developments regarding the region during the meeting, which was held indoors and closed to the press. Turkey strongly supports international recognition of a sovereign Palestinian state, which was reaffirmed in the meeting. Abbas flew to Ankara on Tuesday with Turkish Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoğlu after attending Mevlana commemorations in Konya.
Ambassadors of Bahrain, Qatar, Iraq, Mauritania, Libya, Algeria, Egypt, Saudi Arabia, Sudan, Tunisia, Jordan and Palestine were present at Ankara's Esenboğa airport when Abbas arrived.
Speaking at a ceremony on Tuesday held to award Abbas his certificate of honorary citizenship, Davutoğlu said Turkey was pleased that Abbas accepted the title of honorary citizen from Konya province.
"We are honored to present President Abbas this certificate," Davutoğlu stated.
Also speaking at the ceremony, Abbas said he was honored to be an honorary citizen of Konya.
"We have always witnessed warm hospitality from our Turkish brothers and sisters and they have always supported the Palestinian cause. Receiving honorary citizenship from Konya is an honor for both me and the people of Palestine," Abbas said.
Mayor of Konya Tahir Akyürek said the Palestinian cause was in the hearts of Konya's residents and will also be their cause from now on as the Palestinian leader has become a citizen of Konya.
Gul's Bill Call Falls on Sarkozy's Deaf Ears
In an unprecedented move that was perceived as an act of disrespect by Turkey, French President Nicolas Sarkozy Monday refused to talk to Turkish President Abdullah Gül on the phone as he attempted to call Sarkozy to personally convey his message over the Armenian "genocide" denial bill to be voted on Thursday in the French Parliament.
The Champs-Elysee Palace was notified Monday morning that Gül would like to talk to Sarkozy in person, but the request was not met, leading Gül to issue a written statement slamming the bill, sources from the Presidency Office said.
"We have not received a reply from Sarkozy for the last two days," one source said. "Sarkozy did not have the courage to talk to Gül on the issue."
After Gül's request to speak was turned down, a presidential statement calling on French Parliament to immediately abandon the bill that would criminalize the denial of Armenian "genocide" was posted on the presidency's Web site.
The statement warned that the move jeopardizes deep-rooted bilateral ties.
"I hope that this initiative, which flouts freedom of expression and blocks even the path to objective scientific research, is dropped in the shortest possible time," Gül said. "It's strange and thought-provoking that such initiatives always coincide with pre-election periods. Judging a country's history by the way of political parliamentary moves and distorting history for the sake of political ends is inconsiderate in the least."
Turkey Urges France to Immediately Drop Genocide Bill
Turkish President Abdullah Gül has called on France to backtrack on passing a bill that criminalizes those who refuse to define the World War I-era killings of Armenians at the hands of the late Ottoman Empire as genocide as soon as possible.
Gül released a written statement on Tuesday, criticizing the latest French move to penalize denial of the alleged Armenian genocide in France. Stating that the bill is unacceptable, Gül said:
"It is impossible for us to accept a bill that is now on the agenda of the French National Assembly and which aims to eliminate freedom of denying unfair and groundless accusations directed against our country and nation. I hope France gives up this move, which is not respectable to freedom of expression and that will soon put France in a position that will not even allow objective research in France. We expect that mind and common sense rule in France, the bill in question is dropped and history writing is left to historians."
The lower house of the French Parliament will debate Thursday whether to criminalize the denial that the killings by Ottoman Turks more than 90 years ago amounted to genocide with a punishment of one year in prison and a 45,000 euro ($59,000) fine. That would bring legislation in line with how France treats denial of the Holocaust.
France's Foreign Minister Alain Juppe reminded a delegation of visiting Turkish parliamentarians late Tuesday of President Nicolas Sarkozy's call in October for Turkey to "make a gesture of memory" and recognize its history, just as France has done by recognizing the role of the French state in the Nazi deportation of Jews during World War II.
Juppe said he is convinced that ties and strategic interests between Paris and Ankara "are sufficiently strong to overcome challenges," a ministry statement said.
Turkish Parliament Foreign Affairs Committee Chairman Volkan Bozkır and members of the committee had talks with Juppe after talking to French Sarkozy's foreign affairs adviser, Jean-David Levitte. Diplomatic sources said the committee once more reiterated that the endorsement of the bill will damage Turkish-French relations, the state-run Anatolia news agency reported.
The committee will conclude their trip after meeting with French Assembly Speaker Bernard Accoyer and is expected to hold a press conference later on Tuesday.
Turkey vehemently rejects the term genocide. It insists the deaths occurred during civil unrest as the Ottoman Empire collapsed and that there were losses on both sides. It has threatened to withdraw its ambassador to France if the bill is passed and warned of "grave consequences" to economic and political ties.
The genocide bill threatens to further strain Turkish-French relations already tense over Sarkozy's opposition to Turkey's bid to join the European Union. Signs of the tensions were evident Tuesday, Gul's media adviser, Ahmet Sever, told The Associated Press, adding that the Turkish president decided to issue the statement after Sarkozy failed to take his calls.
"We tried (to reach Sarkozy) for the past three days, but his aides gave excuses to string us along," Sever said. "He (Sarkozy) shied away from talking to us."
No one was immediately available for comment at the French president's office.
In October, Sarkozy traveled to Armenia and urged Turkey to recognize the 1915 killings as genocide, hinting then that failure to do so could force France to change its law and make such denials a criminal offense.
"Turkey, which is a great country, would honor itself by revisiting its history like other countries in the world have done," Sarkozy said during his visit to the Armenian capital, Yerevan.
France went into damage control on Tuesday, ahead of a meeting between Juppe and the Turkish parliamentary delegation, headed by Bozkır, visiting France to lobby French legislators against the bill. Foreign Ministry Spokesman Bernard Valero said France wanted to stress to the visitors that the proposal to be debated Thursday by lawmakers is a "parliamentary initiative," a way of distancing Sarkozy and the government from the measure.
Earlier, government spokeswoman Valerie Pecresse did likewise, stressing that the draft bill does not simply target the Armenian genocide. The text is "very broad in a way that it can apply to all genocide recognized by France in the future," she said, noting that it also covers slavery.
Both she and the Foreign Ministry stressed the importance of ties between Paris and Ankara, from their common strategic interests in reaching peace in Syria and Afghanistan to their roles as NATO members and bilateral ties. The bill would make it a crime to deny any genocide, war crime or crime against humanity recognized as such by French laws, and put Armenian genocide denial on a par with Holocaust denial, which was banned in the country in 1990.
President Gul Issues Hanukkah Message
President Abdullah Gül honored the Jewish holiday of Hanukkah on Tuesday and stated that he welcomes the Jewish holiday with all his sincerity.
"All of our citizens, regardless of their faith and ethnicity, have an equal share in our republic and are an inseparable part of the nation," Gül said in a message released on the Presidency's Web site, adding that the country's Jewish citizens have lived in harmony and peace with their neighbors for centuries.
Hanukkah is a significant religious holiday for Jews around the world. During the holiday, which lasts eight days, Jews commemorate the rededication of the Second Temple in Jerusalem following the Maccabean Revolt of 165 B.C.
Raids in KCK Probe a 'Civilian Coup,' BDP Says
The Peace and Democracy Party, or BDP, slammed as a "civilian coup" in the latest wave of detentions in the probe into the Kurdish Communities Union, or KCK, accused the government of direct involvement in the process.
"The incidents that happened [Monday] are clearly a process of a civilian coup," BDP Deputy Group Chairman Hasip Kaplan said in a press conference in Parliament Monday after about 40 people, among them many journalists from Kurdish media, were detained across Turkey.
The operation aims to "bully and silence free media and dissident press organizations and render them ineffective," he said. "All those political detention operations are being carried out as part of a concept activated not by the judiciary but the government."
The ruling Justice and Development Party, or AKP, "is trying to finish the job started by Kenan Evren and the fascist junta," Kaplan said, referring to the general who led the 1980 military coup in Turkey.
Human Rights Watch: Turkey, Iran Blamed for Civilian Deaths
Iran and Turkey's cross-border attacks in northern Iraq killed more than a dozen civilians and displaced thousands between mid-July and November, including in areas that did not appear to have military targets, Human Rights Watch, or HRW, said Monday.
Iran and Turkey said they were responding to cross-border attacks from armed terrorist groups. But local Kurdish residents and officials in Iraq claimed the targets were civilians.
"Iran may say it is responding to armed attacks from Iraqi Kurdistan, but its own attacks, including indiscriminate use of rockets near civilian villages, are causing grave harm to civilians," said Sarah Leah Whitson, the Middle East director at HRW.
HRW also called on the outlawed Kurdistan Workers' Party, or PKK, which fights against Turkey, and the Iranian Kurdish Party for Free Life in Kurdistan, or PJAK, which fights against Iran, to avoid military operations within or near densely populated areas.
In a recent attack, Turkish warplanes bombed multiple areas in Sulamaniya and Arbil provinces in Iraq on Nov. 22, injuring a 20-year-old civilian and causing heavy damage to farms and livestock, without any apparent military target, local officials told HRW.
"Turkey and Iran need to live up to their responsibilities toward civilians even if they live near places where military operations are ongoing," Whitson said. "The PKK and PJAK should not unlawfully endanger civilians, either in the way they conduct their operations or by operating from or near civilian areas."