- The Washington Times - Wednesday, May 10, 2006

NICOSIA, Cyprus — Turkey this week summoned its ambassadors to France and Canada for consultation in an escalating row over the World War I massacres of more than 1 million Armenians.

The government in Ankara has warned of “irreparable damage” to its relations with France if the National Assembly approved law to make any denial of the massacre a criminal offense.

In Canada, Prime Minister Stephen Harper recently referred to the deaths of Turkish Armenians as genocide, drawing Turkish ire.

In an unusual move, the Turkish Foreign Ministry has suggested that the French government should prevent the adoption of the denial bill by the lower house of parliament.

“Accepting this draft law would cause irreparable damage to Turkish-French relations. It should not be permitted,” the ministry said.

Unlike Germany, which has acknowledged the Holocaust of the Nazi era and compensated some of the survivors, Turkey dismisses the massive documentation of the Armenian massacres by the Ottomans.

The European Parliament has already approved a nonbinding resolution requiring Turkey to recognize the death of Armenians as genocide before it is admitted to the European Union.

The draft bill before the French National Assembly was strongly influenced by the presence in France of some 400,000 Armenians, the largest Armenian diaspora in Europe. Many are active in French political life.

Turkish authorities continue to oppose any public discussion of the Armenian problem. Several journalists have been charged with violating the code on “insulting Turkishness” for writing about the 90-year-old massacres.

However, under strong EU pressure, similar charges were dropped against Orhan Pamuk, an internationally known Turkish novelist who had called on Turkey to admit its guilt.

According to the prevailing Turkish version, Armenians living in Turkey had to be resettled in the desert areas of the Ottoman Empire because they were “the fifth column” on behalf of Russia and the Western Allies.

Turkey fought on the side of Germany and Austria in World War I.

According to the version of the London-based Minority Rights Group, in the spring of 1915, less than a year after the start of the war, “Turkish Armenians in the Ottoman army were disarmed and herded into labor battalions where they were starved, beaten or machine-gunned.

“A ‘resettlement campaign’ followed in which most Armenian men were summarily executed while women and children were “forced to walk southward in huge convoys to the burning desert of northern Syria. Few survived the privations of these terrible death marches.”

The Minority Rights Group concluded that before 1914 over 2 million Armenians lived under the Ottomans, but the figure has hardly exceeded 100,000 since World War I.

“Thus the number of Armenian dead may safely be put at around 1,500,000. Another half a million became homeless refugees whose descendants, with their tragic memories, can be found today in a score of countries.”

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