Turkey Says French Law Damages Freedom of Expression

Zvi Bar el

A Holocaust must not be denied, according to France, be it the Jewish Holocaust or the Armenian. While the French Parliament passed a law in 1990 against denying the Jewish Holocaust and against manifestations of anti-Semitism, the Armenian Holocaust has not won identical status. The lower house last week passed a bill defining denial of the slaughter of the Armenian people as a crime, but it still needs the Senate's approval to become law.
Turkey is not waiting. Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan has already imposed a string of sanctions on France, including a prohibition on the landing of French warplanes and the anchoring of French warships in Turkish territory. More sanctions, including a trade freeze between the two countries, are expected, and if the law is passed in the Senate, Turkey is liable to widen the breach.
Although the murder of approximately 1.5 million Armenians - or the death of Armenians in a situation of war, as the Turkish version has it - took place in 1915, under the Ottoman Empire, Turkey sees the definition of genocide as casting direct blame on it. This is not just a matter of legal repercussions that might stem from casting blame. In Turkey s view, refuting this accusation is a matter of pride, as Erdogan has defined it, or more precisely: a correction of an historical distortion.
Turkey says the French law damages the freedom of expression.
Erdogan is not a champion of freedom of expression. The Turkish writer Orhan Pamuk, a Nobel laureate for literature, can testify to the travails he endured at the hands of the Turkish legal system for his statements on the slaughter of the Armenians.
In a conflict between freedom of expression and honor, honor will win. Israel, too, has learned that the red line in Turkish foreign policy is honor - whether the subject be the killing of Turkish citizens on the Mavi Marmara or casting historical blame. Thus, Turkey froze trade with France in 2001 when a law similar to the recognition of the Armenian genocide came up before the French Parliament. Similarly, Turkey narrowed its relations with Israel because of an apology that has not been made and the refusal to pay compensation for the Turks who were killed. Turkey also decided to cut relations with Syria when Syrian President Bashar Assad thumbed his nose at its requests and warnings to cease the bloodshed.
Ostensibly, Turkey is operating contrary to the principle coined by its foreign minister, Ahmet Davutoglu, that his country aspires to zero problems with the neighbors. As for Armenia, Turkey is waging an international campaign against the recognition of the genocide; it is also describing events in Syria as a bloodbath. The warm relationship between Erdogan and Bashar has burst like a bubble.
In its relations with Iran, Turkey had aspired to establish a diplomatic axis, but things are tense in the context of Turkey s policy toward Syria. As for Iraq, Turkey is attacking the bases of the Kurdistan Workers Party (PKK ) and is liable to enter into conflict with the Iraqi regime. As for Cyprus - one of the main problems impeding Turkey s entry into the European Union - no solution is in sight. According to Erdogan, Turkey will sever ties with the EU during Cyprus  stint in its rotating presidency.
Now, France has joined the list of hostile countries.
Turkey s foreign policy is not detached from domestic political considerations, which dictate its conduct. In each of the crises Erdogan can rely on broad public support and in some of them, as in the cases of France and Syria, the opposition also supports him. Turkey defines its foreign policy as based on values - not on interests. The assessment of the policy shapers is that a crisis with a neighboring country in the context of damage to Turkey s honor or damage to interests that are important to Turkey merits diplomatic and political investment even if in the short term Turkey pays a price.
Turkey can return to Syria as a hero after Assad s fall; Iran will be needy for purposes of maintaining order in Iraq. Turkey has earned political capital among the Palestinians from its punishment of Israel. It will also be hard for France to relinquish the activity of about a 1,000 French companies in Turkey and trade worth an estimated $12 billion. 
"Haaretz," December 28, 2011

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