The Turkish government is pulling out all the stops to get France to shelve a bill criminalizing denial of Turkish crimes against Armenians
By Aryeh ben Hayim
Recep Tayyip Erdogan
Turkey is doing its utmost to head off a bill in the French National Assembly that would criminalize the denial of the Armenian genocide of 1915. The Armenians claim that one and a half million Armenians died as result of mass deportations by the Turkish Ottomans.
Turkish President Abdullah Gul warned the French that they were jeopardizing centuries of friendship in return for "small political calculations". The Turks view French president Nicolas Sarkozy as hostile to them and a major roadblock in their quest to join the European Union. The political calculations Gul referred to were apparently Sarkozy's wish to woo voters for the National Front who regard France's Muslim population with hostility.
Turkish Prime Minister Recep Erdogan essentially warned the French that they were opening a Pandora's Box given French Imperial history. He recommended that the French National Assembly investigate how many people France killed during the war in Algeria or France's responsibility for the genocide in Rwanda.
The Turks are also raising the issue of free speech by claiming the right to dispute the Armenian version. A Turkish academic interviewed by the pro-government Zaman said “Neither those who say that it was genocide nor those who say that it was not should be punished”. This is a bit rich for a for a country that punishes people for insulting "Turkishness.".
The major Turkish retaliatory threat is in the economic realm. Turkey can boycott French cars in a country where French carmakers have a 20% market share. Turkey can refuse to buy Airbus planes thus impacting the French job market.
As the Turkish economy grew by 8.2% compared with France's anemic growth the Turks believe that they hold the economic upper hand and can force France to cave.