Turkey accuses France of genocide in Algeria

AFP , Friday 23 Dec 2011

The war of words between France and Turkey escalates dramatically, when the Turkish premier accused Paris of committing genocide in Algeria and of stirring hatred of Muslims

Demonstrators of France's Turkish community protest outside the parliament in Paris, Thursday, Dec. 22, 2011.(Photo: AP)

Furious that French lawmakers had voted on Thursday to outlaw denial of the 1915 Armenian genocide in Ottoman Turkey, Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan hit back directly at France's President Nicolas Sarkozy.

Earlier, Turkey's ambassador to France had left Paris and Ankara had announced diplomatic sanctions -- banning political visits between the countries -- and frozen military ties between the nominal NATO allies.

"France massacred an estimated 15 percent of the Algerian population starting from 1945. This is genocide," Erdogan told reporters, accusing Sarkozy of "fanning hatred of Muslims and Turks for electoral gains."

"This vote that took place in France, a France in which five million Muslims live, clearly shows to what point racism, discrimination and Islamophobia have reached dangerous levels in France and Europe," he said.

Paris appeared to have been caught out by the fury of Turkey's response.

"I respect the views of our Turkish friends -- it's a great country, a great civilisation -- and they must respect ours," Sarkozy said in Prague where he was at the funeral of late Czech president Vaclav Havel.

France fought a long guerilla war between 1954 and 1962 to try to hang on to its Algerian colony. Estimates for the number of dead vary wildly. Algeria puts it at more than a million, French historians estimate 250,000.

Citing earlier French action against Algerian rebels in the aftermath of World War II, Erdogan said Sarkozy's father had been a French legionnaire in Algeria in 1945 and should be able to tell his son of "massacres".

In 1915 and 1916, during World War I many Armenians died in Ottoman Turkey. Armenia says 1.5 million were killed in a genocide. Turkey says around 500,000 died in fighting after Armenians sided with Russian invaders.

France is home to around 500,000 citizens of Armenian descent and they are seen as a key source of support for Sarkozy and his UMP ahead of presidential and legislative elections in April and June next year.

France recognised the 1915 killings as genocide in 2001 and on Thursday the National Assembly approved a first step towards a law that would impose a jail term and a 45,000 euro fine on anyone in France who denies this

Foreign Minister Alain Juppe urged Turkey "not to overreact" but Ankara was furious and immediately recalled its ambassador, announced a raft of sanctions and promised they were the first on an escalating list of measures.

"We are really very sad. Franco-Turkish relations did not deserve this," Ambassador Tahsin Burcuoglu said before taking a flight home. "When there is a problem it always comes from the French side."

"The damage is already done. We have been accused of genocide! How could we not overreact? Turkey will never recognise this story of an Armenian genocide.

"There are limits. A country like Turkey cannot be treated like this," he declared.

Turkey will now boycott an economic committee meeting in Paris in January -- a move that will worry business leaders in both countries fearful for the fate of 12 billion euros ($16 billion) in annual trade.

And the freeze in military and political ties will hamper France's ambition to work with fellow NATO power Turkey to bring stability to Afghanistan and Syria and to face down Iran over its nuclear programme.

Armenian Foreign Minister Edward Nalbandian thanked France, which had "once again proved its commitment to universal human values".

Franco-Turkish relations are often tense -- Sarkozy is opposed to allowing Turkey to join the European Union -- but 1,000 French firms work there.

Much of Europe, including France, is facing recession amid a sovereign debt crisis, but Turkey enjoys growth rates in excess of eight percent and, with 78 million people, it is a huge potential market.

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