French lawmakers in the lower house Wednesday adopted a draft law to ban the denial of Armenian genocide allegations despite fierce warnings from Turkey of a diplomatic crisis and economic consequences.
There was no official vote count since lawmakers simply voted by raising their hands. The measure now goes to the Senate, where its fate is less clear. There were only 50 deputies out of 577 present in Parliament's lower house during the vote.
Lawmakers denounced what they called Turkey's propaganda effort in a bid to sway them.
"Laws voted in this chamber cannot be dictated by Ankara," said Jean-Christophe Lagarde, a deputy from the New Center party, as Turks demonstrated outside the National Assembly ahead of the vote.
The bill's author, Valerie Boyer, a deputy from the ruling conservative Union for Popular Movement, or UMP, party, said she was "shocked" at the attempt to interfere with Parliament's work.
"My bill doesn't aim at any particular country," Boyer said. "It is inspired by European law, which says that the people who deny the existence of the genocides must be sanctioned."
She called on French businesspeople not to take "Turkey's threats" into consideration. Boyer said their goal was not to deteriorate the relations between the two countries but to protect French citizens, the Hürriyet Daily News reported.
"We're not trying to write history but to make an indispensable political act," Patrick Devedjian, a UMP lawmaker of Armenian descent, told Parliament.
He noted that several Turkish writers had been prosecuted for the reverse offence of "affirming the existence" of the 1915 genocide and claimed that Turkey had recognized in 1919 that crimes had been committed, the Agence France-Presse reported.
"Now, Turkey is falling into revisionism and denies its own history," he said to general support from his colleagues.
The law penalizes the denial of any massacre recognized as genocide by the state, but so far this list only includes the Holocaust and the Armenian genocide; Holocaust denial is penalized under French law.
In 2001, France became the first large European state to follow suit through a law stating that "France publicly recognizes the 1915 Armenian genocide," without stating that the Turks were responsible. The resolution approved Wednesday would penalize anyone who refuses to label the mass killings of Ottoman Armenians in 1915 as genocide.
Boyer "blamed Turkey's diplomatic threats."
"Some countries committed the crime of denying the incidents of 1915. Half of the Armenian population of 1914 were deported or massacred. I expect your support [to this resolution]," she said during her speech in Parliament before voting the resolution.
A total of 17 deputies addressed Parliament before the vote. More than one member of the UMP spoke against the law, which also has the support of some opposition Socialists.
"It's in no one's interests to pour oil on the fire in this fragile, sensitive and strategic region," said Michel Diefenbacher, head of Parliament's Franco-Turkish Friendship Committee, the Agence France-Presse reported. "What would we say, we French, if some other country came and told us what it thinks about the Vendee massacre?" he said, referring to mass killings in the 1790s in western France in the wake of the French Revolution.
Diefenbacher said he would vote against the bill saying that "parliamentarian role is not to write history." Diefenbacher, a member of the ruling UMP party, said the resolution was against the French constitution. He urged that if the resolution goes to constitutional court following possible objections, then the law approved in 2001 recognizing the Armenian "genocide" might be in danger too. "This resolution is not in favor of Armenians too," he said.
Francois Bayrou, the centrist Democratic Movement's candidate for presidency, also spoke against the resolution.
"There have been massacres in Cambodia, Rwanda and Vendee. Are these going to come [before us] too? I think you are entering into a dangerous road," Bayrou said, according to the Hürriyet Daily News.
French MP Patrick Ollier said the bill did not target Turkey and praised the relations between Turkey and France during his speech before the vote.
Turkey Cuts Contacts With France Over Bill
Turkey announced it cancelled bilateral military and economic cooperation and suspended all bilateral political consultation with France, describing the French vote as doing politics via racism and xenophobia ahead of presidential elections.
"This is the first state [of measures against France]. New measures could be brought to the agenda and implemented according to progress of the bill in France," Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan said Wednesday in a joint press conference with his Ukrainian counterpart.
Erdoğan blamed the French leader of trying to "gain favor over Turcophobia and Islamophobia in general terms just for individual ambitions."
The prime minister said they would travel to other countries in the world and tell of the "genocides" carried out by France, which the country had tried to make forgotten. As a reaction to Paris' vote, Erdoğan said Turkey recalled its ambassador to France.
"From now on, we cancel all bilateral military and economic visits, including courses, seminars and personnel exchange activities," Erdoğan said. Turkey would not cooperate with France in projects of the EU, he said.
Ankara suspended all political consultations and canceled bilateral military activities and joint military exercises, he said. Turkey also canceled blanket permission for flyovers, takeoffs and landings of French military flights, Turkey's premier said, but individual permission would be applied.
Erdoğan announced Turkey canceled permissions of port visits by military ships and Turkey would not participate in a bilateral economic and trade partnership meeting in 2012, he said.
The prime minister thanked prudent French politicians who rejected the bill.
"We hope they would not go a way with no return," he said. The adoption of the bill sparked condemnations across the political spectrum.
European Union Minister Egemen Bağış denounced the bill as a breach of EU acquis.
"Freedom of expression is one of the most important goals of the EU. The EU and EU member states, which say they care about freedom of expression, are assuming a very wrong attitude by trying to limit freedom of expression," he said.
Turkey would not let this resolution affect its EU membership process, he said. Bağış also said France owed Turkey "a historic apology" for having failed to protect Turkish diplomats and other citizens who were killed on its soil by the Armenian terrorist group ASALA.
Some of the harshest reactions came from Nationalist Movement Party, or MHP, whose leader, Devlet Bahçeli, said the adoption of the bill would go down in history as "a great scandal and a black stain."
Bahçeli said the government's "submissive policies" emboldened "the enmity camp erected against our country." He said protocols aimed at normalizing ties with Armenia must be scrapped for good and the government must apologize for having launched the initiative.
Main opposition leader, the Republican People's Party, or CHP, Kemal Kılıçdaroğlu said the bill flouted France's deep-rooted liberal traditions.
"France is betraying its own history. France, the symbol of freedoms, is handcuffing freedom of expression with the decisions of politicians. It is impossible to understand," he said.
CHP Deputy Rıza Türmen, a former judge at the European Court of Human Rights, or ECHR, said Turkey has the option to sue France at the Strasbourg-based court over the bill, but the move would bear a heavy political cost.
The outcome of an ECHR case involving Labor Party leader Doğu Perinçek, now in jail over alleged anti-government plots regarding his "denial" conviction in Switzerland where there is a similar law, would be crucial, Türmen said.
The Peace and Democracy Party, BDP, joined the criticism even though it withheld support for a joint parliamentary declaration this week.
"Parliamentary decisions cannot determine historical and sociological events," the BDP's Hasip Kaplan said. However, urging Turkey to face up to its history, pointing at Germany's example.
Turkey Outraged By Genocide Bill in French Parliament
The approval of a bill by French Parliament that penalized denial of "Armenian genocide" in France has drawn strong condemnation from both the Turkish government and the opposition.
In an immediate comment on the approval of the bill, Labor Minister Faruk Çelik said he sees the measure as "pitiful."
"They assume that they can change historical facts with a law. This is a measure that is against all EU standards, norms and laws. I see this as "pitiful," he told reporters in Parliament.
Despite strong protests by Turkey, French lawmakers in the National Assembly -- the lower house of Parliament -- voted overwhelmingly in favor of the bill, which will now be debated next year in the Senate. The bill makes denial of the alleged Armenian genocide a crime punishable by a one-year prison sentence and a fine of 45,000 euros.
Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan called Wednesday on President Nicolas Sarkozy's rival, the Socialist Party, to re-evaluate the step the ruling party took and "correct the mistake" in the Senate, so that "relations can go back to their usual rhythm soon enough."
However, Socialist Party leader Francois Hollande made it clear earlier that his party was in favor of the denial bill when it was around in 2006 and would still display the same attitude this time around.
In response to questions regarding Sarkozy's refusal to return Turkish President Abdullah Gül's calls, Erdoğan called the development a "diplomatic mishap" on Wednesday.
"In international diplomacy, such mistakes and gaffes have no place. This is the type of act Sarkozy defines himself through," Erdoğan said, hinting that Sarkozy was prone to "diplomatic failures."
Prior to the French vote, thousands of Turks gathered in downtown Paris to protest the French Parliament over the denial bill, a movement organized by hundreds of Turkish-French civil society organizations. Protestors interviewed by the Reuters news agency before the voting started told the agency that they regarded the vote as an attempt at censoring their freedom of expression, as they expressed their belief that such rhetoric emerged whenever elections were held in France.
Leaders of Turkish CSOs operating in France addressed the crowd, carrying Turkish flags and banners in front of Parliament, calling them to "not only scream about it" but "return the betrayal of the lawmakers at the ballot box," the Cihan news agency reported on Tuesday.
The Turkish protestors started gathering in front of Parliament early in the morning, with thousands coming from different cities. In protest of the bill's passage by Parliament, a large crowd also gathered in front of the French Embassy in Ankara, blocking road access to passing cars and waving placards that urged reaction against the bill.
Turkish officials earlier this week had called on all parties, the French, Turkish and Armenian communities to react to the denial bill, saying that it defied basic human rights and violated freedom of expression, a value France championed on the international stage centuries ago. Turkish Armenians reacted en masse to the bill, saying that France was abusing their pain for political reasons and expressing belief that the French Parliament was not concerned with the "genocide," but was after the political benefits they could reap.
Turks' reaction to the French Parliament was also in relation to the date of the voting, Dec. 22, which marks the 32nd anniversary of the death of Turkish diplomat Yılmaz Çolpan, murdered by Armenian terrorist organization Asala in Paris. Asala claimed responsibility for the diplomat's death, saying that they would continue to kill Turkish diplomats one by one to avenge for the death of their ancestors in Turkey.
Turkish EU Affairs Minister Egemen Bağış claimed on Thursday that it was "a matter of honor" for a country to protect its foreign citizens and that France owed Turkey a historical apology for not being able to protect Çolpan, as well as many other diplomats who were killed in France by terrorism at other times.
"How sad it is that we have to waste our time dealing with the effects of a bill discussed in French Parliament, right on the day we are commemorating Yılmaz Çolpan and feeling the pain of his loss," a written statement issued by Bağış's office said.
Last week, Turkish Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoğlu made a similar reference to the timing of the French vote, saying the move came at a significant time.
"On the same day Çolpan was murdered, French Parliament is attempting to pass a bill, as if delivering a message to the terrorists who martyred him, almost proving them right," Davutoğlu spoke last Sunday at a Konya meeting and raised doubts about the motives of the French move.
"Turkey is a democracy and has joined the World Trade Organization, or WTO, so it can't just discriminate for political reasons against countries," Europe Minister Jean Leonetti was quoted by Reuters as telling France Inter radio. "I think these threats are just hot wind, and we [have] to begin a much more reasoned dialogue."
In 2001, France recognized the so-called genocide, creating a crisis between Turkey and France, as French export levels dropped by 40 percent in the aftermath, as international media speculated that it was Ankara's unofficial messages that discouraged Turkish companies from getting involved in business deals with their French counterparts.
When a similar denial bill was brought to Parliament in 2006, Turkey froze military relations with the country and suspended over flight rights, but the 2006 bill was dropped earlier this year by the French Senate.
The disputed genocide of 1915 has been a matter of a fuming discussion between Turks and Armenians, as Armenians claim that Ottoman Turks carried out a systematic and mass murder of Armenians with the aim of eradicating them. Turks say the Armenians were deported when they took up arms against the state at a time of chaos as the Ottoman Empire crumbled and modern day Turkey's founders were fighting a political and armed war against foreign forces that tried to take over the country. Most of the casualties occurred when deported Armenians were not able to survive on the road to their destinations under extreme circumstances, as Armenians raise allegations that the deaths were intentional.
Turkey also recalled its ambassador in Paris as "the initial reaction" against French Parliament approval of the bill, a previously announced response to the possible approval of the bill.
Turkish Ambassador Tahsin Burcuoğlu has been recalled to Ankara "for consultations for an indefinite period of time" as Engin Solakoğlu, undersecretary of the Turkish Embassy in Paris, also said would happen last week.
Deputy Prime Minister Vows More Rights for Turkey's Kurds
Deputy Prime Minister Bülent Arınç promised more rights to the country's citizens of Kurdish origin in a speech in Parliament, saying all ethnic groups in the country will be granted all constitutional rights.
Turkey's Kurdish community will be granted as many rights as Turks enjoy in the country, Deputy Prime Minister Bülent Arınç said, prompting angry calls from the opposition to clarify whether the pledges reflect a government policy.
"Anybody who lives in this land, be they Kurds, Arabs or Bosniaks, should be comfortable in revealing their identity. We will respect that identity," Arınç said Wednesday during the closing debate on the 2012 budget in Parliament. "We will grant and acknowledge all the cultural and constitutional rights of that identity. Those who say they are Kurds – we will give them at least as much education, language, culture and identity rights as we all have in this country."
Arınç said the state's denial of Kurdish identity in the past resulted in the torture and extrajudicial killings of Kurds and fueled conflict. He denounced politics based on either Kurdish or Turkish nationalism.
"I believe that social peace in the country is damaged as long as such mistakes grow. We reject racism and negative nationalism," he said, in a veiled reference to the Peace and Democracy Party, or BDP, Turkey's main Kurdish party.
The Nationalist Movement Party, or MHP, Deputy Devlet Bahçeli lashed out at Arınç, dubbing his speech "a provocation." He urged the government to clarify whether it stood behind the pledges, recalling that Arınç took the floor at the budget debate on behalf of the government.
"The debate was a provocation. The ovations that erupted at the benches of the BDP and the AKP [Justice and Development Party] show that Turkey is knowingly being dragged in a certain direction," Bahçeli said.
If the government shares Arınç's views it must immediately stop all operations against the outlawed Kurdistan Workers' Party, or PKK, and its alleged urban network, the Kurdistan Communities Union, or KCK, and "fulfill all what the BDP and the PKK want," Bahçeli said.
Republican People's Party, or CHP, leader Kemal Kılıçdaroğlu backed Arınç's call for respect to all ethnic identities, but said the deputy prime minister had failed to clarify what he meant by pledging full rights for Kurds.
"He spoke of granting everything with respect to identity but did not elaborate. So I will not comment now," he said.
BDP co-leader Gültan Kışanak said Wednesday that Arınç's remarks should be backed by legal reforms.
"Individual rights should be backed by laws," she said. "Twenty years have passed since then-president Süleyman Demirel said he recognized the Kurdish reality. Words do not mean anything anymore, words should be echoed in the legal system."
Kışanak said the ruling AKP had a majority in Parliament, giving it the power to make legal amendments "if it is sincere."
Ankara Sees Iran Hand in Iraq Tensions
An Iraqi political crisis stemming from the Shiite prime minister's move against the Sunni vice president has rung alarm bells in Ankara, which believes Iran is orchestrating the events to protect its regional hegemony.
Although already deeply involved in the turmoil in Syria, Turkish diplomats have now placed Iraq at the top of their agenda out of fears that instability in its southeastern neighbor could endanger its political and security interests in the region.
A day after the last United States soldier was withdrawn from Iraq earlier this week, Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki issued an arrest warrant for Vice President Tariq al-Hashemi, potentially igniting a fresh conflict between the country's two largest sectarian groups. The move caused concerns in neighboring countries and the U.S. about regional stability in the Middle East, which has already been shaken by developments in Syria.
"Iran has obviously taken its gloves off," a senior government official told the Hürriyet Daily News Wednesday in an obvious hint that Tehran was behind al-Maliki's move. For Ankara, Tehran is trying to protect its Shiite hegemony in the region especially at a time when its closest ally, Syria is under intense international pressure.
"We told the Americans that this could happen. But they did not listen to us," the official said.
Al-Maliki formed a government after months of negotiations even though the Sunni Iraqiya bloc placed first in the 2010 elections. While Washington backed al-Maliki to form the government, Turkey called on the U.S. to permit a Sunni-led government.
Al-Maliki openly targeted Turkey in a recent interview as the biggest potential danger to Iraq's stability in the post-withdrawal period.
"We openly backed al-Maliki in the 2009 local elections, showing we have no opposition to any Iraqi leader. We emphasized that all politicians in Iraq should avoid making politics based on their sects," the official said.
According to Ankara, al-Maliki's move, which consolidated his power in the country, made it impossible for al-Hashemi to return to his previous job. Iraqi Kurdistan Regional Government leader Masoud Barzani's protection of al-Hashemi, who fled to Arbil, coupled with al-Maliki's challenge to the Iraqi Kurd leader, is another aspect fueling Ankara's concerns for the stability of Iraq.
The fact that al-Maliki fully controls the Iraqi army strengthens his position, according to some. After al-Maliki's move, Turkish Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoğlu called on several regional leaders, including Iranian Foreign Minister Ali Akbar Salehi and al-Hashemi, to enter dialogue on the developments.
Ankara believes it would be better for al-Hashemi to stay in Iraq, but could consider giving him refuge in Turkey if his safety becomes an issue.
Turkey has also called on Washington to impose more pressure on al-Maliki to prevent the emergence of a sectarian conflict in the country. "The Americans should be aware that if not stopped, this trend will lead to the partition of Iraq," a government official said.
Hamas' PLO Move Solidifies Palestine Unity
Divided Palestinian factions Fatah and Hamas appear set to patch up their differences following a Wednesday meeting in Egypt in which they agreed to establish a unity government and a number of joint commissions ahead of May elections.
"We agreed on the need to convene the Palestinian Legislative Council [PLC] in early February," independent deputy Mustafa Barghouti told the Agence France-Presse. Delegates agreed to set up a new electoral commission Tuesday and also set a deadline for the formation of a caretaker Cabinet of independents as envisaged in a May agreement.
Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas of Fatah and Hamas leader Khaled Mashaal met for the second time in less than a month in Cairo as part of reconciliation efforts between the rival groups.
The two men arrived in the Egyptian capital during the evening and began talks shortly afterward, said Azzam al-Ahmed, Abbas' Fatah delegation head. All the main Palestinian factions, led by Hamas and Fatah, have been meeting in the Egyptian capital seeking ways to implement a reconciliation deal signed in May.
Earlier that day, delegates discussed ways to reactivate the Palestinian national Parliament and the PLC, which has been paralyzed since 2007 when Hamas pushed Fatah forces out of the Gaza Strip, splitting the Palestinian territories into two rival administrations.
During the talks, the factions agreed to form a nine-member Central Election Commission, or CEC, under the committee's current head, Hanna Nasser. Hamas spokesman Fawzi Barhoum also said Palestinian factions had reached agreement on six steps to be taken as part of ongoing reconciliation talks, the Ma'an news agency reported.
Abbas, who has said elections will be held in May, will have to approve the composition of the CEC, al-Ahmed said. Despite the success of the recent talks, the factions have postponed debate on two key issues, namely, the formation of an interim government and unifying the disparate security forces, al-Ahmed said.
But the various factions agreed that a unity government should be sworn in by the end of January 2012. Talks were under way "to resolve the problem of the government," while a reform of the security services would be tackled only after a Cabinet had been formed, Barghouti said.
Hamas confirmed the Fatah timeline in a statement, saying it also hoped "to secure the release of political prisoners before the end of January."
On Wednesday, Abbas was expected to preside over a high-level meeting to discuss reforming the Palestine Liberation Organization, or PLO, to allow Hamas and Islamic Jihad to join.
Mashaal and Islamic Jihad chief Ramadan Shallah were also expected to attend the talks along with all the other faction heads, members of the PLO Executive Committee and the speaker of the Palestinian National Council, Salim al-Zaanoun.
The May reconciliation deal signed by the two former rivals called for the establishment of a caretaker Cabinet which would prepare for legislative and presidential elections within a year.
Turkey, Ukraine Agree to Abolish Visa Requirements
Turkey and Ukraine agreed to reciprocally abolish visa requirements between the two countries as part of their drive to boost trade volume and tourism.
Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan told a joint news conference with Ukrainian President Viktor Yanukovych on Thursday that the two countries annulled visa requirements for nations of both countries and that the nations are determined to advance their economic transactions.
Ukraine's president was in Turkey on Thursday for a one-day visit to discuss the possibilities of improving bilateral cooperation between the two countries at a strategic level.
Erdoğan was speaking after the two leaders had bilateral talks and attended Turkey-Ukraine High Level Strategic Cooperation meeting on Thursday, which Erdoğan hailed as an important institutional mechanism to improve bilateral relations with new projects.
He added that Turkey and Ukraine agreed enhancing cooperation in transportation, energy and defense and that ties between the two countries will be further advanced thanks to intense and sustained political dialogue between the two countries.
Turkish prime minister also underlined that Turkey and Ukraine agreed on free trade deal, which he said is a "very, very important step." Erdoğan said Turkey and Ukraine plan to reach $20 billion in trade volume by 2015 and $40 billion by 2020.
Yanukovych arrived in Ankara early in the morning on Thursday and met first with President Abdullah Gül at the Çankaya presidential palace, following which he headed to the Prime Ministry, where an official welcoming ceremony was held for him. Erdoğan had a meeting with the Ukrainian president in his office at the Prime Ministry.
Since the collapse of the Soviet Union, which paved the way for an independent Ukrainian state, Turkey and Ukraine have been improving cooperation in the economic sphere and developing joint measures concerning security in the Black Sea and other areas. Ukraine welcomes Turkey's support for European integration, which remains a firm priority for the Black Sea country, Yanukovych said during a visit by Erdoğan to Ukraine earlier this year.
Amid widening political rifts in domestic affairs, Ukraine fears its EU vision will be lost because of the deficiencies in its political and economic system.
In May 2010, during a visit to Kiev by Turkish Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoğlu, the two countries signed the 2010-11 Action Plan, aimed at developing bilateral relations, and initialed the High-Level Strategic Cooperation Council Joint Declaration.
In the recent past, Turkey, seeking an active role in its region, established high-level strategic cooperation councils with neighboring Iraq, Greece, Russia and Syria, involving joint cabinet meetings between Turkey and each of these countries. It is preparing to establish a similar mechanism with Bulgaria as well.