Turkey refrained from taking fresh retaliatory measures against France on Tuesday, with Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan indicating that Ankara hopes a French bill outlawing Armenian genocide denial will be vetoed by President Nicolas Sarkozy.
Western news agencies reported that Erdogan condemned the bill, approved by both houses of France’s parliament, as “discriminatory and racist” and again warned of its grave consequences for Turkish-French relations. “We will not allow anyone to gain political benefit at the expense of Turkey,” he told his AK Party's deputies in the Turkish parliament.
In a speech that was not as strong as expected, Erdogan expressed hope that Paris “will correct its mistake.” “We have not yet lost hope. We must be patient,” he said.
Sarkozy is expected to sign the bill into law before the French parliament is suspended in February for a presidential election. However, it could still be rejected if about 60 lawmakers agree to appeal the decision at France's highest court and this body considers the text unconstitutional. The Constitutional Council would have one month to make its decision.
Erdogan warned that Ankara will impose unspecified sanctions “step by step” if Sarkozy does ratify the text. “We'll publicize our action plan according to the developments on the ground,” the AFP news agency quoted him as saying.
News reports from Ankara said Turkey could reduce diplomatic ties with France to charge d'affaires level and close Turkish airspace and waters to French military aircraft and vessels. According to Reuters, French firms stand to lose out in bids for defense contracts and other mega-projects such as nuclear power stations.
Turkey cannot impose other economic sanctions on France, given its membership of the World Trade Organization and its customs union accord with Europe. Also, the Turkish government has so far avoided calling for a full boycott of French products under pressure from the Turkish business community.
French Foreign Minister Alain Juppe, who has been personally against the new law, said it is “ill-timed” but called on Ankara to remain calm. “We need good relations with it and we need to get through this excessive phase,” Juppe said on Canal+ television. “We have very important economic and trade ties. I hope the reality of the situation will not be usurped by emotions.”
Reuters reported that morning headlines in Turkish newspapers were anything but calm. “A guillotine to free thought” said “Star,” while “Aksam” described the French move as “A guillotine to history.” “Shame on France” cried the “Vatan” daily. “Sozcu,” a small newspaper that usually directs its scorn at Erdogan, found a new target with “Satan Sarkozy.”
As Erdogan spoke, several hundred protesters gathered outside the French Embassy in Ankara and Consulate in Istanbul to condemn the bill and reiterate the official Turkish version of the 1915 mass killings and deportations of Armenians. Successive Turkish governments have blamed them on fighting and starvation during World War I, vehemently denying a premeditated government effort to exterminate the Armenian population of the Ottoman Empire.