AFP, Associated Press
Turkey's ambassadors to Canada and France have returned to their posts after being been recalled to Ankara because of disagreements on whether the massacres of Armenians during World War I constituted genocide, a Turkish diplomat said on Thursday.
The ambassador to Paris, Osman Koruturk, and the ambassador to Ottawa, Aydemir Erman, "have returned" to their posts after talks with Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan and foreign ministry officials, the diplomat told AFP on condition of anonymity.
The foreign ministry said on Monday the two had been summoned to Ankara "for a short time" for consultations. Turkey has warned Paris that bilateral ties will suffer if the French parliament adopts a bill that would make it a punishable offence to "deny the existence of the 1915 Armenian genocide".
A first reading of the French bill, proposed by the opposition Socialist Party, is scheduled for May 18. It follows a 2001 French law officially recognizing the Armenian massacres as genocide and, of approved, would provides for a five-year sentence and a 45,000-euro (57,000-dollar) fine for any person who denies that the 1915-17 massacres constitute genocide.
"I believe the French parliament will probably not introduce the so-called Armenian genocide like a virus between two countries that have such important ties. I believe common sense will prevail," Erdogan told reporters on Wednesday.
In Istanbul, about 30 protestors from the small left-wing Workers' Party gathered in front of the French consulate on the European side of the city to protest against the bill. "We are addressing a friendly message to France: Do not legalize the lie of the genocide," said Erkan Onsel, a party leader, before the group dispersed peacefully.
France said Wednesday that it is "very attentive" to Turkey's anger over the bill. The comment from France's Foreign Ministry came as Turkish legislators lobbied their French counterparts to vote down the Armenian genocide bill.
The visiting Turkish legislators from Erdogan's ruling party and the opposition met with senior French legislators from the ruling right and opposition left. Lawmaker Onur Oymen said they "relayed the Turkish people's strong reaction to our French colleagues" and warned that there were calls for a boycott of French goods in Turkey and that Turkish-French relations would be severely harmed if the bill is passed, Turkey's Anatolia news agency reported.
Turkey was also angered when Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper referred to the "Armenian genocide" as fact during commemorations of the 91st anniversary of the killings on April 24. The foreign ministry said at the time that Harper's words were "appalling" and would "negatively affect" bilateral ties. In protest, Turkey withdrew from a planned multi-nation military exercise to be held in Canada, officials in Ottawa said on Wednesday.
In 2002, the Canadian Senate recognized the massacres as the first genocide of the 20th century and the House of Commons followed suit two years later.
In a related development, Bulgaria’s parliament refused to recognize the mass killings as a genocide, saying this could endanger relations with neighboring Turkey. Legislators voted 81-56 with 33 abstentions against a draft resolution proposed by the ultranationalist party Ataka, calling for "the recognition of the Armenian genocide by the Turks."
The motion was rejected with the votes of the parties from the Socialist-led ruling coalition that also includes a mainly ethnic Turkish party, the Movement for Rights and Freedoms. "This is a resolution ... that aims to complicate our relations with neighboring Turkey," Socialist lawmaker Mihail Mikov told parliament.
According to official statistics, Bulgaria - a tiny Balkan country of 7.8 million - has an 800,000-strong ethnic Turkish minority. About 11,000 ethnic Armenians also live in Bulgaria, and most of them are heirs of Armenian refugees who fled Ottoman Turkey during the early 20th century massacre.