Turkish ministers rebuff Sarkozy over Armenia 'genocide'

AFP , Friday 7 Oct 2011

Ankara rejects French President's call for Turkey to recognise World War I-era massacres of Armenians as genocide, accusing him of using the issue for domestic political gains

Turkey rejected French President Nicolas Sarkozy's call Friday for it to recognise the World War I-era massacres of Armenians as genocide.

"It would be better ... if Monsieur Sarkozy abandons the role of historian and puts his mind to getting his country out of the economic gulf in which it finds itself and comes up with plans for the future of the European Union," European Affairs Minister Egemen Bagis said.

"Our mission, as politicians, is not to define the past or past events. It is to define the future," he added on a visit to Sarajevo, quoted by the Anatolia news agency.

Bagis accused Sarkozy of exploiting the Armenia question for electoral reasons, saying, "he probably adopted this stance after being frightened by the latest opinion polls in France."

Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoglu also accused Sarkozy of "political opportunism" linked to French presidential elections next year.

"Those who tell Turkey to reconcile with its past should first look in a mirror," he said, referring to France's colonial past.

Earlier Friday, Sarkozy urged Turkey to recognise, within a "very brief" period, the 1915 massacres of Armenians under Turkish Ottoman rule as genocide.

"From 1915 to 2011, it seems to be enough (time) for reflection," Sarkozy told reporters in Yerevan on the second day of his visit to Armenia.

On Thursday, he had urged Turkey to "revisit its history" calling its refusal to recognise the deaths of hundreds of thousands of Armenians as genocide as "unacceptable".

French Interior Minister Claude Gueant, in Ankara to sign a security agreement, told journalists not to "overinterpret" Sarkozy's remarks, saying he had set Turkey no deadline.

Asked how Paris would react if Turkey were to recognise the colonial repression in Algeria as genocide, Gueant said Sarkozy had been in Algeria and expressed himself in strong terms "on this painful moment of our past.

"He has turned the page."

Sarkozy already angered Turkey ahead of his election in 2007 by backing a law aimed at prosecuting those who denied genocide, although the French lower house of parliament later rejected the measure.

The Armenian diaspora in France is estimated at around 500,000 people.

Armenians say that up to 1.5 million of their kin fell victim to genocide during World War I under the Ottoman Empire.

Turkey counters that 300,000 to 500,000 Armenians and at least as many Turks died in civil strife when Armenians rose up against their Ottoman rulers and sided with invading Russian forces.

Gueant earlier signed an accord under which France and Turkey would cooperate in cracking down on separatist militants of the Kurdistan Workers Party (PKK).

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