Turkey could downgrade its diplomatic ties with Paris and cut cooperation in education and culture as part of a second round of sanctions against France if the country's Senate approves a bill criminalizing the denial of the Armenian genocide today.
The French Senate is set to discuss the bill Monday at 3 p.m. local time.
Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoğlu canceled a trip to Brussels, where he was supposed to meet with European Union foreign ministers to discuss the Arab Spring, a diplomatic source said.
"He wanted to stay in Ankara to speedily evaluate the voting results of the French Senate and take necessary actions. Relations will never be the same. We have made it very clear that they are about to lose the friendship of Turkey," the source told the Hürriyet Daily News over the weekend, confirming that the package of sanctions was almost finalized.
The Turkish government earlier announced that it had prepared three different sets of sanctions against France, with each of them to be activated in line with the legislation's gradual passage through the French parliamentary system. The first package was composed of eight measures and mainly focused on military and political cooperation. The second, however, will be harsher than the first one, according to the diplomats.
The contentious bill threatens to punish those who deny that the 1915 events constituted genocide with a year in jail and a 45,000 euro fine.
The most important measure is expected to include the downgrading of diplomatic relations; it will also likely see French ambassador to Turkey, Laurent Bili, leave Ankara a year after he began his term. Turkey will also withdraw its ambassador to Paris, Tahsin Burcuoğlu, for an indefinite time, a sign that restoring ties will take much longer than the French government believes.
A heavier move could see the cancelation of a bilateral treaty that helped pave the way for the establishment of Galatasaray University in 1992, following a treaty signed between the two countries. The move will not change the nature of the education at the university, the only institute of higher learning in Turkey whose language of instruction is French, but will end any official French involvement in academic work.
For Bili, there have been harbingers of harsher Turkish measures in recent days as the Lycée de Charles de Gaulle in Ankara was subjected to a tax audit by Turkish state authorities, even though the school belongs to the French Embassy and is not governed by Turkish regulations.
"This is an unprecedented move for an embassy school. This school is beyond Turkish legislation. It's not a private school either. It's a non-profit state school subordinated to French regulations," Bili said in an interview with the daily Cumhuriyet over the weekend.
The package, which will be announced immediately after the voting at the Senate, is not expected to step into the economic and trade fields of economic and trade.
At the same time, the government is not expected to discourage boycott campaigns against French products by civil society. Bili said an overreaction by Turkey would hurt Turkey's image in the eyes of the French people.
"While showing reaction, one should also think about the future and not cut off all ties," he said.
Current Charter has 'Passed Expiry Date,' Parliamentary Speaker Says
Turkey's current charter is "passed its expiry date" and is incapable of carrying Turkey into the future, according to Parliamentary Speaker Cemil Çiçek.
"Those who say the current Parliament is [unable] to produce a new constitution only have fantasies in their minds," Çiçek said Sunday at "Turkey Speaks," a meeting organized by nongovernmental organizations in the Central Anatolian province of Konya.
"The four parties of this Parliament cannot accept these arguments. The current Parliament will produce the new constitution. Our aim is to present it to our people by the end of this year."
Çiçek also said the Constitution Conciliation Commission, which has an equal number of representatives from each party represented in Parliament, will come up with a draft charter.
"Every segment of society is needed during the preparation period. We want to see what people have in mind. I believe society has been wasting its time for the past 30 years, arguing about the Constitution -- let's not waste that energy anymore," he said.
Kurdish Group to Demand Autonomy in New Charter
The Democratic Society Congress, or DTK, an umbrella organization that brings together various Kurdish groups and politicians, has submitted its proposal to Parliament for the new constitution and is expected to renew its demand for democratic autonomy.
DTK Co-Chairman and Mardin Independent Deputy Ahmet Türk is scheduled to meet with the Constitution Conciliation Commission Monday, Democratic Society Party, or DTP, Diyarbakır Deputy Altan Tan confirmed to the Hürriyet Daily News.
While the DTK had declared its proposals of "democratic autonomy" in the past, this marks the first time the demand was brought to an official commission. Türk's verbal pitch to Parliament Monday was sent in writing last week; it includes radical demands from the DTK, compiled from meetings with citizens of Kurdish origin, NGOs, opinion leaders, intellectuals, writers and artists.
The DTK suggested a regional autonomy in executive, legislative and judicial areas, stating that the Turkish government's overly centrist bureaucratic structure needed to be toned down and large governments in the world were all embracing a more local approach to governing.
This change is crucial to ensure locals could contribute to the decision-making process and the region's resources were used in line with local needs, the DTK said.
The emphasis on "Turkishness" should be completely removed from the new constitution, further proposed the DTK, saying the charter must not focus on any single race in order to embrace and protect all of the ethnic and cultural groups in Turkey. The definition of constitutional citizenship should not create discrimination between Turks, Kurds or other ethnic identities.
As part of their demand for constitutional equality, the DTK further demanded education and public services in native languages as well as in scientific, religious and artistic activities.
When writing the new constitution, universal norms should be embraced, the DTK said, suggesting that in order to give power to the public's will, the guardianship of the appointed figures in the military, bureaucracy and judiciary over the elected representatives of the public should end.
Iraq Tells Turkey not to 'Intervene'
Iraq on Sunday criticized neighboring Turkey, Iran and unnamed Arab countries for trying to "intervene" in Baghdad's political crisis and not respecting its sovereignty.
The statement, posted on the foreign ministry's Web site, comes amid tensions between Baghdad and Ankara in particular over Iraq's claims that Turkey was interfering in internal Iraqi affairs.
It said that since the start of the year, statements from "senior officials in neighboring countries reflect their attempts to intervene in the internal affairs of Iraq and the lack of respect for Iraqi sovereignty and the government elected by the people of Iraq."
The statement, posted in English and Arabic, continued: "Iraq did not and will not be a follower. It will never be a pawn in the others' game nor will it be an arena of clearance between the other parties. Therefore, we call upon the friendly neighbor, especially Turkey, Iran and some Arab countries to respect the sovereignty and independence of Iraq."
Iraq and Turkey have also been at loggerheads over Baghdad's claim that Ankara was intervening in Iraqi affairs when Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan telephoned Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki on Jan. 10. Al-Maliki has since criticized Turkey for its remarks, and the two countries have made calls to their respective ambassadors to express their displeasure.
Apart from the statement, Human Rights Watch, or HRW, said Iraq is falling back into authoritarianism and headed towards becoming a police state, despite U.S. claims that it has helped establish democracy in the country in its 690-page annual report.
"Iraq is quickly slipping back into authoritarianism as its security forces abuse protesters, harass journalists and torture detainees," Sarah Leah Whitson, HRW's Middle East director, said in the statement.
Turkey Backs League Decision on Syria, Foreign Minister Says
Turkish Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoğlu said Sunday that Turkey would support a decision from the meeting of the Arab League scheduled for late Monday.
"I would like to express that we will support the decisions from the critical meeting of the Arab League this afternoon. We are in close consultations with the Arab League, but if the regional initiatives cannot produce results to end bloodshed in Syria, then it is only natural the issue becomes a humanitarian one that needs international attention and the attention of the United Nations," Davutoğlu told reporters in the central city of Konya.
Davutoğlu said he had a telephone meeting with Arab League Secretary-General Nabil Elaraby ahead of the meeting, adding the goal was to make sure that human rights violations and massacres in Syria came to an end.
"We hope the problem would not take such a dimension and the Syrian government stops this unjust fight against its own people. But if it does not, and the humanitarian tragedy continues to prompt the UN to step in, we are ready to work with the UN," he said.
Syria Rejects Arab League Call for Power Change
Syria on Monday rejected an Arab League plan for President Bashar al-Assad to transfer power to his deputy, calling the initiative a "flagrant interference," state TV quoted an official as saying.
"Syria rejects the decisions taken, which are outside an Arab working plan, and considers them an attack on its national sovereignty and a flagrant interference in internal affairs," the official said.
The Arab League on Sunday asked the United Nations to support a new plan for resolving the crisis in Syria that would see Assad transfer his power to his deputy and establish a government of national unity within two months.
Assad should "delegate powers to the vice president to liaise with a government of national unity," to be formed in two months, according to a statement read by Qatari premier Sheikh Hamad bin Jassim Al-Thani, after Arab foreign ministers met in Cairo to determine the fate of their Syrian observer mission.
The Syrian official, reacting to the Arab League's call, said the regional body should instead "assume its responsibilities for stopping the financing and arming of terrorists," the television channel reported.
The source added that the Arab League initiative ran counter to the interests of the Syrian people and would not prevent the country from "advancing its political reforms and bringing security and stability to its people who have shown, during this crisis, their support for national unity as they have rallied around President Assad."
Deployed since Dec. 26 to oversee an Arab League peace plan, the Syrian observer mission has been widely criticized for its failure to stem the government's bloody crackdown on democracy protesters.
Earlier, Saudi Arabia's foreign minister said Riyadh had pulled its observers from the mission because the Syrian government had "not respected any of the clauses" in the Arab plan aimed at ending the crisis.
The Arab League agreed, however, to extend the mission and boost the number of observers, according to the final statement.
"We will inform the United Nations of all the resolutions of the Arab League... for its approval," Sheikh Hamad said.
The League's Secretary General Nabil al-Arabi, who attended Sunday evening's news conference in Cairo, explained that the request to support the United Nations was designed to "give more weight" to the Arab initiative.
The Arab foreign ministers urged "the Syrian government and all the opposition factions to engage in a serious dialogue under the auspices of the Arab League, within a period of not more than two weeks, to be able to achieve the formation of a unity government bringing together those in power and the opposition."
The new government's mission would be to implement the Arab League plan to end the crisis, and to prepare free and fair legislative and presidential elections under both Arab and international supervision. It would also prepare the election of a constituent assembly within three months and a new constitution which would be put to a referendum.
The ministers tasked the bloc's secretary general with nominating a "special envoy" to Syria in charge of following developments in the country.
After reading out the statement, the Qatari premier said the new plan envisaged the "peaceful departure of the Syrian regime," adding that the plan "resembles the one on Yemen," which resulted in President Ali Abdullah Saleh agreeing to step down.
"If this initiative is not put in place (by Damascus), we will go to the Security Council, where the decisions will be taken," Sheikh Hamad warned.
The Syrian National Council, the country's largest opposition group, has been lobbying in Cairo for UN intervention, and SNC Chief Burhan Ghaliun welcomed the League's statement of its intention to seek UN support.
But he insisted that "any transition in Syria should be preceded with the announcement of Assad's departure." Earlier, the SNC called for the Syria file to be transferred to the UN Security Council for referral to the International Criminal Court, so that all Syrian officials implicated in "crimes against humanity" could be prosecuted under international law.
International pressure has been steadily growing on Assad's regime, as more than 5,400 people have been killed since anti-government protests broke out last March, according to UN figures.
But a tough Security Council resolution on Syria has been blocked by veto-wielding permanent members China and Russia, with Moscow insisting the opposition is as much to blame for the violence as the regime.
A report delivered earlier on Sunday by the chief of the Arab League's monitoring mission, General Mohammed Ahmed Mustafa al-Dabi of Sudan, also blamed both sides for the bloodshed, according to an Arab diplomatic source.
There are presently about 165 Arab League monitors on the ground.
The Local Coordination Committees, which organizes anti-regime protests, said in a statement on Sunday that 976 people have been killed in a bloody crackdown on dissent since the observer mission began.
Qatar had proposed that Arab troops be deployed in Syria, but Damascus rejected that idea outright.
Murdoch Eyes Calik Assets, WSJ Reports
News Corp., the global media company owned by Rupert Murdoch, may join competition to acquire media assets owned by Turkey's Çalık Group, the Wall Street Journal has claimed.
"News Corp. is considering a bid for Sabah-ATV, according to people familiar with the matter, adding a new competitor to a small handful of big western private-equity and media companies in the running to possibly buy Turkey's No. 2 media group," a report on WSJ's Web site Jan. 20 said.
Sabah-ATV owns the Sabah newspaper and the mainstream broadcaster ATV. News Corp. also controls Wall Street Journal. TPG Capital, KKR & Co LP, Time Warner and RTL are in talks to buy Çalık assets, according to earlier media reports. News Corp. demanded Goldman Sachs, which is authorized for the acquisition process, to delay a deadline for the pre-proposal period to next week, the WSJ said.
The deadline for collecting offers was delayed to Jan. 24 from Jan. 18, Bloomberg News reported last week, said a source close to the matter. The WSJ estimated the value of the Turkish company somewhere between $700 million and $1 billion.