- The Washington Times - Friday, February 9, 2001

GENEVA A French "moral burial" of Armenians massacred during World War I has created a major crisis between Turkey and France, one of the most influential members of the European Union.

The resulting rise in anti-European feelings among the Turkish military, as well as Islamic activists, could mushroom to the point where Turkey's efforts to join the EU would be affected, diplomats and regional analysts said.

The crisis began Jan. 18 with the adoption of a French law stigmatizing the "genocide" of Armenians in Turkey. It already has caused cancellations of French arms contracts by Turkey worth more than $500 million. The future of some 250 French companies working in Turkey is uncertain.

Last fall, President Clinton persuaded Congress to withdraw a similar declaration on the Armenian massacre, arguing it would harm U.S. interests in a region where Turkey often acts on Washington's behalf.

So far, Turkey has rejected French explanations that the text adopted by the French National Assembly had nothing to do with modern Turkey, but with its Ottoman predecessor.

Between 600,000 and 1 million Armenians living in Turkey died or were slaughtered during a forced "resettlement march" in 1915.

The Ottoman rulers during that period, members of the Austro-German coalition, considered Armenians to be favorable to Russia, which fought on the side of the Anglo-French allies.

After years of pleading by the half-million strong Armenian community in France, the National Assembly unanimously approved a one-sentence law saying "France publicly recognizes the Armenian genocide of 1915." The French Senate had earlier approved the measure. Turkey's name was not included in the text.

"It was painful and endless, but today I am happy, happy for my father. I owed him this effort," said assembly member Patrick Devedjan, who lobbied for the resolution.

Although officials at the presidential palace and in the French premier's office voiced "reservations," there was no apparent effort by either President Jacques Chirac or Prime Minister Lionel Jospin to influence the National Assembly's action.

Jean-Jacques Queyranne, minister for government relations with Parliament, said that France "is a friend of Turkey," but that that law represented "a requirement of truth and justice."

Conservative Assembly member Richard Cazenave described the vote as a "message of love, a moral burial."

Turkey has recalled its ambassador to Paris, and Prime Minister Bulent Ecevit said curtly "the allegations of the so-called genocide are totally baseless. The French decision is unacceptable."

Cancellations of arms contracts affecting 1,000 tanks and 145 attack helicopters followed.

Turkish newspapers described the French vote as "totally irresponsible" or a "caricature of democracy."

A somewhat different view was voiced by columnist Mehmet Ali Birand in the Turkish Daily News, who wrote, "Let us open our archives, let us show that we have nothing to hide."

Diplomats generally believe the French National Assembly action is likely to damage efforts of Turkish Foreign Minister Ismail Cem, who has been trying to persuade military and political officials that the EU is "not a Christian club."

In Paris, Francois Rochebloine, a conservative member of Parliament, said, "This was not a condemnation of the country knocking on the door of the European Union. On the contrary, Turkey is being shown the road to the respect of human rights and confident relations with its neighbors."

Turkey's EU-membership application is opposed by some EU members, mainly on the grounds of Ankara's human rights record and the Turkish military presence in Northern Cyprus.

For years, criticism of the Armenian massacres has been a taboo subject in Turkey, particularly when it came from abroad.

Parliaments in Belgium, Italy and Russia have adopted critical statements on the massacre, but never in the form of a national law.

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