Prime Minister Tayyip Erdoğan turned his anger on French President Nicolas Sarkozy on Friday in a historical row, accusing France of colonial massacres in Algeria.
Erdoğan returned to the attack a day after the lower house of the French parliament voted to make it a crime to deny that mass killings of Armenians in Ottoman Turkey in 1915 amounted to "so-called genocide". Personalizing the standoff, he said on live television that Sarkozy's father might have direct knowledge about French "massacres" in Algeria where Algerians were "martyred mercilessly" and "en masse".
"In Algeria from 1945, an estimated 15 percent of the population was massacred by the French. This is a genocide. The Algerians were burned en masse in ovens. They were martyred mercilessly," Erdoğan said. "If the French President Mr. Sarkozy doesn't know about this genocide he should go and ask his father, Paul Sarkozy. "His father served in the French Legion in Algeria in the 1940s. I am sure he would have lots to tell his son about the French massacres in Algeria," Erdoğan said.
Speaking in Prague where he attended the funeral of former Czech President Vaclav Havel, Nicolas Sarkozy responded to Erdoğan's comments. "I respect the convictions of our Turkish friends. It's a great country with a great civilization, (but) it has to respect our convictions," the president said.
French Foreign Minister Alain Juppe described Turkey's reaction as "in all likelihood excessive", but struck a conciliatory tone. "There are many reasons to keep alive a relationship of trust and friendship between France and Turkey," Juppe said, adding that personally he had not been in favour of the vote. TURKISH ANGER The French bill, which will be debated in the Senate next year, has caused outrage in Turkey, which argues killings took place on all sides during a fierce partisan conflict. Erdoğan condemned the bill shortly after the vote, suggesting Sarkozy was angling for ethnic Armenian votes in next year's presidential election. He recalled Ankara's ambassador to France for consultations and cancelled all joint economic, political and military meetings. On Friday, he vowed to take more steps. "We will take gradual measures as long as the current (French) attitude is maintained," he said without elaborating, but added Turkey's stance was not directed at the French people. "The vote in the French parliament has shown how dangerous racism, discrimination and Islamophobia have become in France and Europe." Faced with Sarkozy's open hostility to Turkey's stagnant bid to join the European Union, and backed by a fast-growing economy, Ankara feels it has little to lose in a political fight with Paris.
ECONOMIC MUSCLE The country's economy minister weighed in late on Thursday, saying the bill was based on "a crisis of jealousy". "There are nearly 1,000 French capital investors in Turkey. Created on the basis of trust and belief in the Turkish economy, these investments are as secure as our own investments," Zafer Çağlayan said in a written statement. "However, ... the Turkish people are very sensitive regarding this issue and this cannot be ignored."
Largely unaffected by the financial crisis dogging Western European countries, Turkey has been increasingly flexing its economic and political muscle on the world stage. France could experience some diplomatic discomfort and French firms could lose out on lucrative Turkish contracts. "The French were warned. Turkey is showing it won't be pushed around and that Turkey is no longer desperate for EU accession, i.e. it has other options," said Timothy Ash, an economist at the Royal Bank of Scotland. "Arguably Turkey now has far more vibrancy than Western Europe. There is a deep vein of opinion in Turkey that continental European opposition to Turkish EU accession is not based on rational, objective reasoning, but more like old-style stereotypes." France is Turkey's fifth biggest export market and the sixth biggest source of its imports. About 360 French companies operate in Turkey, employing more than 80,000 people, according to export consultancy UbiFrance. Çağlayan said bilateral trade amounted to $14 billion in the first 10 months of 2011.