Turkish PM accuses France of genocide in Algeria
AFP ISTANBUL THE war of words between France and Turkey escalated dramatically on Friday, when the Turkish premier accused Paris of committing genocide in Algeria and of stirring hatred of Muslims.
Furious that French lawmakers had voted on Thursday to outlaw denial of the 1915 Armenian genocide in Ottoman Turkey, 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 racism, discrimination and Islamophobia have reached dangerous levels in France and Europe,” he said.
Paris appeared to have been caught off guard by the fury of Turkey’s response.
Sarkozy, in Prague where he was at the funeral of late Czech president Vaclav Havel, was on the defensive.
“I respect the views of our Turkish friends — it’s a great country, a great civilisation — and they must respect ours,” he said.
“France does not lecture anyone but France doesn’t want to be lectured. France decides its policy as a sovereign nation. We do not ask for permission. France has its beliefs, human rights, a respect for memory.” But back in France, Foreign Minister Alain Juppe admitted that France’s vote on the genocide law had “without doubt been badly timed”. He urged calm, while adding that “certain declarations have been excessive”.
France fought a long guerrilla 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 The law will now go to France’s upper house, The Senate, and could become law next year — although Turkey will lobby hard to prevent this.
“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.