Turkish premier asks French companies to lobby against genocide bill

October 7, 2006
Source: International Herald Tribune

By The Associated Press

ANKARA, Turkey Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan met with representatives of French companies doing business in Turkey on Saturday and asked for their help to thwart a French bill that would make it a crime to deny that World War I-era killings of Armenians amounted to genocide, the state-owned Anatolia news agency reported.

French lawmakers, who had caved to pressure from Turkey and put off sensitive debate on the issue in the lower house in May, are scheduled to debate the bill on Thursday.

Meeting behind closed doors, Erdogan told company representatives that the bill could harm economic ties between Turkey and France, the agency reported.

"I ask that you make all effort possible to prevent this," Anatolia quoted him as saying.

French companies represented at the meeting included Danone, Peugeot, Renault and Lafarge, Anatolia reported.

Erdogan also said the Turkish public view the bill as a "hostile act," and said the legislation was against freedom of thought, the agency reported.

On Friday, Foreign Ministry Spokesman Namik Tan also warned that the bill would "inflict an irreparable heavy blow" to French-Turkish ties. Last week, Turkey said it was out of the question to accept a call by French President Jacques Chirac for Turkey to acknowledge the mass killings of Armenians in the early 20th century as genocide.

Under the bill, people who contest that there was an Armenian genocide would risk up to a year in prison and fines of up to €45,000 (US$57,000).

Armenians claim that as many as 1.5 million of their ancestors were killed in 1915-1923 in an organized campaign to force them out of eastern Turkey, and have pushed for recognition of the killings around the world as genocide.

Turkey acknowledges that large numbers of Armenians died, but says the overall figure is inflated and that the deaths occurred in the civil unrest during the collapse of the Ottoman Empire. But Ankara is facing increasing pressure to fully acknowledge the killings, particularly as it seeks membership in the European Union.