- The Washington Times - Saturday, October 14, 2006

NICOSIA, Cyprus — Despite threats of retaliatory action and national anger, Turkey appears to be stepping back from a prolonged clash with France over a French parliamentary bill on the 90-year-old Armenian massacres.

“The focus is on limiting the damage” after the French National Assembly voted on Thursday to make any denial of the Ottoman mass killings of Armenians a punishable offense, according to one diplomatic report.

France’s leading politicians, including President Jacques Chirac and his rivals, are on record in favor of keeping Turkey out of the European Union unless it admits the massacres as genocide.

However, the French political class generally has remained lukewarm following the decision by the lower house of Parliament, influenced by the vocal Armenian lobby.

Only 106 of the 577 Assembly members voted for the proposed law, with most others absent during the vote.

In his latest statement on the subject, Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan said his government was studying retaliatory measures, although the French Senate still would need to approve the National Assembly’s action for it to become law.

“Turkey’s foreign trade volume with France is $10 billion, and this is equal to 1.5 percent of France’s whole trade,” Mr. Erdogan said. “We are going to make the proper calculations and then take the necessary steps.”

A potential, though unofficial, act of retaliation occurred yesterday, when a statue in Chaville, France, to commemorate the Armenian massacres was reported stolen.

The bronze monument, installed in front of the train station in the Paris suburb of Chaville in 2002, disappeared either Friday night or yesterday morning, said authorities for the Haut-de-Seine region.

The police have not ruled out the possibility that the statue, which weighs several hundred pounds, was stolen to be sold as scrap metal, said Stephane Topalian, who serves on the board of the local chapter of the Armenian church. However, Mr. Topalian stressed the timing of the robbery, which followed the bill’s approval in France’s lower house of Parliament.

The European Union, locked in difficult accession negotiations with Turkey, opposes the French bill as provocative and fueling Turkish nationalist anti-European sentiments. For their part, the nationalists said they feel that Turkey has been slighted by the barrage of EU demands to adjust its laws to European requirements.

Can Baydarol, a Turkish analyst, said the French vote was “proof of the hostile attitude of France” to Turkey’s EU candidacy.

Last year, French voters rejected a proposed European Constitution, in part because of fears that its adoption would facilitate Turkey’s entry into the European Union.

The Armenian quest for international recognition of their national tragedy received a significant boost when Orhan Pamuk, Turkey’s best known novelist and critic of its treatment of minorities, received the 2006 Nobel Prize for literature — on the day of the French Parliament’s vote.

A succession of Turkey’s republican governments systematically has denied any policy targeting its Armenian population but admits that several hundred thousand Armenians died of ethnic strife and hardship during a “resettlement march” to Syria between 1915 and 1917.

Members of the Armenian diaspora, mainly descendents of those who escaped the massacres and settled in other parts of the world, claim that Ottoman troops killed up to 1.5 million of their compatriots.

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