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  • Wednesday, December 14, 05:50

 A mild rift between Turkey and France now runs the risk of evolving into a heated debate as Turkish officials exchange words with the French president in a dispute over Turkish membership in the EU, Today's Zaman reported. The Armenian issue is once again at the forefront of relations between Turkey and
France, as the French parliament plans to vote on a resolution next week that would penalize the denial of the alleged Armenian genocide, causing fury in Ankara. Turkey has warned Paris that passing the resolution would irreparably damage bilateral relations In the midst of this, Ankara repeated its warning to the French parliament to reconsider a resolution it will vote on next week that would penalize denying the alleged Armenian genocide. On Tuesday, Ankara issued a statement through the website of the Turkish Embassy in Paris ratcheting up the tone of Friday's warning.

In Tuesday's note, Ankara indicated that "French administrators should leave history to historians," and that the French parliament should refrain from deciding on historical events, the Anatolia news agency reported. The basis of Ankara's warning was tied to a report of a French parliamentary investigation commission which ruled in 2008 that parliaments should not write about historical incidents or effect penalties. If ratified, the resolution will institute a
one-year prison term and a fine of 45,000 euros for anyone who fails to acknowledge as genocide the killing of Armenians in 1915 during the fall of the Ottoman Empire. The French parliament legally termed these events genocide in 2001, but several attempts to penalize denials of the alleged genocide failed before they reached the Senate. The French debate about penalizing denials was initially revived by French President Nicholas Sarkozy when he threatened Turkey during a visit to Yerevan in October. He said that he would initiate a move to pressure Turkey to recognize the killings as genocide. Turkey's official reaction was to dismiss Sarkozy's ultimatum as pre-election rhetoric and warned the president to back off from an issue highly sensitive for the peoples of both Armenia and Turkey. However, Sarkozy's repeated assertions that Turkey does not belong in the EU because it is not a European country have drawn a more concerned reaction from Turkey. In response to Sarkozy's comments that Turkey should be "a bridge between East and West
instead of claiming a place on either side," Turkish Minister for EU Affairs and Chief Negotiator Egemen Bags responded on Tuesday, saying that Sarkozy was "falling deeper and deeper" as he tried to set his mistake right. "Certain politicians may have engaged in some rhetoric, worried about upcoming elections in their countries," Bags said in disregarding Sarkozy's comments. He added that Turkey was concerned with its own improvements and they have not implemented reforms "to please Europeans but to increase the quality of life of the Turkish people." Turkey has engaged in negotiations to become a
part of the 27-nation bloc for years but very little progress has been made. Sarkozy remains a known opponent to Turkish membership in the EU, although he initially envisioned including the country eventually. Diplomatic sources quoted by the Anatolia news agency on Tuesday also see Sarkozy as responsible for the vote on the resolution on Dec. 19, aiming to strengthen his position with the Armenian diaspora in France ahead of presidential elections.
Sarkozy's Socialist Party rival, Francois Hollande, is also in favor of passing legislation to criminalize denials of the so-called genocide. Turkey and Armenia remain at odds in the genocide debate, an issue that goes back to the mass killings at the onset of World War I when the Ottoman Empire was about to collapse, leaving behind a large number of casualties, specifically in 1915. Modern-day Turkey claims the numbers are exaggerated by the Armenian side, which estimates the deaths at over 1 million people, and says that people from all ethnicities and religions lost their lives in the midst of a devastating civil war. Meanwhile, Turkish Parliament speaker Cemil Cicek sent a letter to his French counterpart, Bernard Accoyer, conveying Turkey's concern over the genocide-denial bill, state-run Anatolia news agency quoted Turkish diplomats on Tuesday. Cicek warned that the bill, once approved, may damage Turkish-French relations. Sources said Cicek wrote in his letter that the duty of national parliaments is not to write history and that the issue must
be left to historians and researchers.

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