Turkey slams France over genocide bill

December 17, 2011 - 8:30 AM
Turkey Military

Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan, center, and Chief of Staff Gen. Necdet Ozel speak during a ceremony at the mausoleum of Turkey's founder Mustafa Kemal Ataturk in Ankara, Turkey, Thursday, Dec. 15, 2011. Erdogan returned to the capital Ankara to attend a High Military Council meeting after spending three weeks in Istanbul recovering from a surgery.(AP Photo/Burhan Ozbilici)

ANKARA, Turkey (AP) — Turkey's prime minister on Saturday sharply criticized France for a bill to make it a crime to deny that the World War I-era mass killing of Armenians was genocide.

Saying France should investigate what he said was its own "dirty and bloody history" in Algeria and Rwanda, Recep Tayyip Erdogan insisted Turkey would respond "through all kinds of diplomatic means."

Historians estimate that up to 1.5 million Armenians were killed by Ottoman Turks as their Empire collapsed, an event many international experts regard as genocide and that France recognized as such in 2001. Turkish leaders reject the term, arguing that the toll is inflated and that those killed were victims of civil war and unrest.

On Dec. 22, the lower house of French Parliament will debate a proposal that would make denying that the massacre was genocide punishable by up to a year in prison and euro45,000 ($58,500) in fines, putting it on par with Holocaust denial, which was banned in the country in 1990.

Erdogan lashed out at France during a joint news conference with Mustafa Abdul-Jalil — the chairman of Libya's National Transitional Council — saying there were reports that France was responsible for the deaths of 45,000 people in Algeria in 1945 and for the massacre of up to 800,000 people in Rwanda in 1994.

"No historian, no politician can see genocide in our history," Erdogan said. "Those who do want to see genocide should turn around and look at their own dirty and bloody history."

"The French National Assembly should shed light on Algeria, it should shed light on Rwanda," he said, in his first news conference since recovering from surgery three weeks ago.

France had troops in Rwanda, and Rwandan President Paul Kagame has accused the country of doing little to stop the country's genocide.

Erdogan's criticism comes a day after an official said the Turkish leader had written to French President Nicolas Sarkozy warning of grave consequences if the Armenian genocide bill is adopted. A Turkish diplomat said Turkey would withdraw its ambassador to France is the law is passed.

"I hope that the (French Parliament) steps back from the error of misrepresenting history and of punishing those who deny the historic lies," Erdogan said. "Turkey will stand against this intentional, malicious, unjust and illegal attempt through all kinds of diplomatic means."

There was no immediate reaction from France. Ties between the two countries are already strained by Sarkozy's opposition to Turkey's bid to join the European Union.