Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan met with representatives of French companies Tuesday and warned them that a French bill criminalizing denial of Armenian genocide would damage relations between their countries, the state-owned Anatolia news agency reported. Erdogan's spokesman confirmed the meeting took place.
On Monday, Turkey recalled its ambassador to Paris over the proposed bill, which would make it a crime to deny that the mass killings of Armenians by Ottoman Turks at the beginning of the 20th century constituted a genocide.
The French bill was proposed by the opposition socialists and submitted to the French parliament. It is similar to a law making it a crime in France to deny the Holocaust of World War II.
Turkey has used economic leverage before to punish France for its stance on this issue: in 2001, Turkey canceled millions of dollars worth of defense deals with French companies after lawmakers in France recognized the killings of Armenians in Turkey as genocide.
Erdogan reportedly told the assembled company representatives in Ankara that he wanted them to pressure the French government not to enact it. "We expect executives of French firms to react to the draft law," Erdogan was quoted as saying, warning that its passage would negatively affect relations. Erdogan added that the law was not conducive to freedom of thought and expression, Anatolia reported.
Earlier this month, Foreign Minister Abdullah Gul was widely quoted in the Turkish news media as asking his French counterpart, "Will you throw me in jail too?" if Gul stated that the killings were not genocide, which is official Turkish government policy.
The recalling of the ambassador was a strong statement by Turkey, which faces an uphill battle to win over the French public in hopes of gaining eventual entrance to the European Union.
Turkey also recalled its ambassador to Canada over the genocide issue, saying remarks by the Canadian prime minister recognizing the genocide could seriously harm Turkish-Canadian relations. Turkey has said it would return both ambassadors after consultations in Ankara.