- The Washington Times - Monday, May 15, 2006

NICOSIA, Cyprus — Turkey remains adamant in rejecting foreign pressure to admit guilt for the 90-year-old massacres of Armenians, at the same time intensifying its military buildup on its border with Iraq.

After a tense period of what some analysts describe as “rejectionist diplomacy,” Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan reiterated his government’s unswerving opposition to a proposed French law that would make denial of the World War I massacres of 1.5 million Armenians a criminal offense.

The French draft bill is “like a virus,” Mr. Erdogan said after ordering the withdrawal of a Turkish component from NATO military maneuvers in Canada because Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper described the massacres as genocide.

Some analysts say Turkey has painted itself into a “diplomatic corner” at a time when it needs support in its negotiations for membership in the European Union, in which France is a key member.

On Thursday, the French National Assembly is to open debate on the bill, which calls for punishment of one year in prison and a $57,000 fine for anyone who denies the massacre of Turkish-Armenians.

Turkish officials have asked several French businessmen in Turkey to pressure lawmakers to block the bill, whose drafting was influenced by the Armenian diaspora. France was threatened with a boycott of goods even though it is the biggest foreign investor in Turkey.

Diplomats say the campaign could degenerate into a trade war and hamper Turkey’s EU aspirations. The Erdogan government has staked its prestige on EU membership.

For years, the denial of the deaths of the Armenians during a forced “resettlement march” in 1915 has marred Turkey’s relations with several European countries, tarnishing its human rights record.

The political and diplomatic skirmishing over the issue has been accompanied by a systematic military buildup along Turkey’s border with northern Iraq, where diplomats estimate about 200,000 troops and paramilitary forces have been massed.

During her visit to Ankara in April, Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice warned Turkey to keep out of Iraq regardless of its assertion that northern Iraq harbors bases of separatist guerrillas of the Kurdistan Workers Party.

Washington and some of its allies worry that a Turkish incursion into Iraq would represent yet another destabilizing factor in the troubled country.

Turkey says its forces in the area are a “shield” to prevent rebel infiltrations in a war with Turkish Kurds that since 1984 has claimed more than 37,000 lives and devastated hundreds of villages.

“If the conditions arise,” Gen. Bekir Kalyoncu has said, “Turkey will use its right as any sovereign country.” Turkish officials have said the United Nations charter, which authorizes “the right to self-defense in case of attack,” justifies the right to “hot pursuit.”

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