Prime Minister Erdoğan has reminded France’s President of his earlier vows not to pass a bill punishing Armenian ‘genocide’ denials in a strongly worded missive
Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan urged the French President Nicolas Sarkozy to keep earlier promises to forestall legislation that would criminalize the denial of Armenian “genocide” as Ankara turned up pressure on Paris, warning French businesses of serious consequences to trade links.
The bill, to be voted on Dec. 22, is threatening a fresh crisis in Turkish-French ties, long poisoned by strong French opposition to Turkey’s EU accession, just when signs have emerged of a rare rapprochement between the two countries as part of international efforts to end the turmoil in Syria.
In a letter to the French president, Erdoğan urged Sarkozy “to keep his promise that such legislative attempts would not be finalized and block irreparable developments” in bilateral relations. Prime Ministry sources said the remark was a reference to statements Sarkozy made after a similar bill was approved at the French Parliament’s lower house in 2006, but could not make it to a vote in the Senate. The French president said at the time that “he had no intention to take the bill to the Senate and did not want things to get worse,” the letter said, adding that this position was also confirmed in talks with special representatives of the two leaders.
“The advancement of such attempts will have grave consequences for ties between Turkey and France in all fields – political, economic and cultural,” Erdoğan said, dubbing the bill as a “hostile” move targeting Turkey and the Turkish community in France.
Erdoğan said that if approved, the bill would harm also efforts to normalize Turkish-Armenian ties and deal a blow to free speech. Turkey has already said it will recall its ambassador from Paris if the bill is passed.
Economic ties at stake
In an effort to enlist support from the business world, Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoğlu summoned representatives of French businesses in Turkey and Turkish companies trading with France for a meeting on Dec. 15.
The minister underlined the recent “positive momentum” in Turkish-French relations and warned that the approval of the bill would “inevitably” harm bilateral trade at a time when France is under the threat of economic depression, diplomatic sources said.
Turkish business leaders also mobilized to help head off the bill, under which anyone in France who publicly denies the genocide could face a year in jail and a fine of 45,000 euros ($58,000).
The head of the Turkish Union of Chambers and Commodity Exchanges (TOBB), Rıfat Hisarcıklıoğlu, visited French Ambassador Laurent Bili to convey his concerns over the economic repercussions of “this very serious problem that could profoundly shake relations,” a TOBB statement said.
“It’s so bad that our long-term relationship is being jeopardized in the name of short-term expectations,” Hisarcıklıoğlu said, referring to France’s presidential elections next year.
The chairwoman of the Turkish Industrialists and Businessmen’s Association (TÜSİAD), Ümit Boyner, said she was already in contact with French counterparts ahead of a visit to Paris next week. A joint TOBB-TÜSİAD delegation will hold a series of meetings with French business groups and urge them to use their influence over French politicians to stop the bill, she said.
French firms may also send letter to Sarkozy
Leading French firms in Turkey are preparing to sign a letter to be sent to French President Nicholas Sarkozy, according to the chief of one of the largest French firms operating in Turkey, the Hürriyet Daily News has learned. The letter is expected to deliver a united message against a draft bill at the French parliament that will introduce punishment for the denial of the “Armenian genocide.”
“We have accepted the invitation of TOBB, regarding a letter addressing the French Presidency and showed our sensitivity in respect to the matter,” said Emre Üge, general manager of Sodexo Turkey, in a written response to questions from the Daily News. “We are expecting this draft, which is a clear barrier to freedom of expression, to be rejected by the French parliament. I hope this initiative [at parliament] will be limited to being one of the negative moves that we have been seeing prior to almost every election in France.”
“Currently there is a draft letter to be sent to French President Nicholas Sarkozy,” said a TOBB source, speaking on condition of anonymity. The source said French firms operating in Turkey will put their name and signature on the letter. On Dec. 16, company representatives were discussing the content and the tone of the letter, the source added.
“French firms are used to such crises – this is not the first time,” Banu Antonetti, board member of the Turkish-France Business Council, told the Daily News Dec. 16. “Political tensions would not bring a huge change in bilateral trade and investment ties. However, companies might face difficulties regarding big tenders in both countries.”
Antonetti, also a prominent lawyer based in Istanbul, said French companies in Turkey have not displayed any concern regarding their business.
As the Daily News went to print on Dec. 16, BNP Paribas and Carrefour had not yet replied to questions. Bayraktar Holding, the Turkish distributor of Citroen, Schneider and Club Med declined to comment on the issue.