Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan has slammed a controversial French bill, which makes denying that the 1915 massacre of Armenians was a genocide a crime, for its "racist and discriminatory" attitude towards Turkey. The Turkish prime minister also threatened to implement unspecified sanctions against France if the bill is signed into law, "step by step, with no retreat."
Whilst Turkey recognizes the deaths of Armenians in 1915 during the break up of the Ottoman Empire, it refuses to accept they amounted to genocide -- contrary to the position of most historians. But with the French Senate having approved the bill on Monday, it now only needs the signature of President Nicolas Sarkozy to become law.
Erdogan was in no mood for reconciliation, however, announcing to politicians in his conservative Islamic government: "This is clearly a massacre of freedom of expression." For now, though, Turkey would not take any action, he said. "We still have not lost our hope that it can be corrected." According to Turkish media reports, possible sanctions could include expelling the French ambassador in Ankara and blocking Turkish ports to French warships.
The new law makes the denial of genocide a criminal offence. The massacre of Armenians between 1915 and 1917, with estimates of casualties varying from 200,000 to 1.5 million, has been classified as genocide in France since 2001.
Turkey, as the successor state to the Ottoman Empire, categorically denies that there was any such genocide, questioning the number of Armenians who died and arguing that many Turks were killed in the violence as well. On Tuesday, the Turkish Foreign Ministry slammed the bill as irresponsible, calling for it to be quashed in order to "avoid this being recorded as part of France's political, legal and moral mistakes."
Turkey has already suspended military, economic and political ties with Paris and briefly recalled its ambassador last month when the lower house of parliament approved the same bill.
Ankara has now increased pressure on Sarkozy, without whose signature the bill cannot become law, and who faces a re-election battle in three months' time. Some reports have claimed the bill, which was backed by Sarkozy's UMP party in parliament, is just an attempt on the part of the president to attract the votes of the estimated 500,000 ethnic Armenians living in France.
'Total Attack Against France'
Outraged Turkish hackers have threatened France with a barrage of Internet attacks. For example, in a letter to French newspaper Libération, the AyYildiz group announced it would undertake attacks on the websites of major state institutions and banks, while the hacker organization Akincilar has warned of a total attack on Sarkozy and France. Even before the vote, pro-Turkish hackers had crippled several websites, including that of UMP politician Valérie Boyer, who presented the bill to the French parliament in December 2011.
And it wasn't only in Turkey where the bill was met with a negative response: In Azerbaijan, senior government officials said that France's credibility as a mediator in the ongoing dispute with Armenia over the Nagorno-Karabakh region had been damaged beyond repair by the passing of the bill. German news agency DPA quoted the Internet portal aze.az as reporting that the Azeri Foreign Ministry also denounced the "unilateral step" taken by France as contrary to democracy, human rights and freedom of speech.
The bill has also proved controversial in France. "As foreign minister, I think this initiative was a bit inopportune. But the parliament has thus decided. What I'd like to do today is call on our Turkish friends to keep their composure," Foreign Minister Alain Juppé told Canal Plus TV. "After this wave that has been a little bit excessive, I have to say I'm convinced that we will return to constructive relations -- I extend my hand, I hope it will be taken one day."
In Armenia, however, the adoption of the law was welcomed. Speaking in the capital Yerevan, Foreign Minister Eduard Nalbandyan said: "This day will be written in gold not only in the history of friendship between the Armenian and French peoples, but also in the annals of the history of the protection of human rights."
The French Senate adopted the law late on Monday evening by 127 votes to 86. The bill had already been approved by the lower house of parliament, the National Assembly, in December. Having passed through both houses without any alterations, it is considered as having been accepted by parliament and can be put into force. It provides for a prison sentence of one year and a fine of up to €45,000 ($58,500) for the crime of denying a genocide.