This past week, the French senate passed a bill which makes it a crime to deny the Armenian Genocide. Most historians consider the slaughter of 1.5 million Armenians, during the last years of the Ottoman Empire, the globe’s first Genocide. However, Turkey, the Ottoman Empire’s successor state, vehemently denies that a genocide occurred, insisting that Armenians were deported from the area in mass and that killings were rare. Turkey insists that the bill is racist and that it steps upon free speech. Also, Turkey insists that French President Nicholas Sarkozy is trying to appeal to his nation’s 500,000 Christian Armenians. In contrast, France says the bill is part of a long policy to stand up against genocide since the Holocaust.
The dispute is straining the relationship between Turkey and France. The relationship was already tense due to France’s belief that Turkey should not enter the European Union. France is Turkey’s fifth largest trading partner. It has threatened economic sanctions including disqualification of French companies from public contracts, and cancellation of military, political, and cultural functions. Turkey recalled its ambassador to France and banned the French navy from using its waters.
On the whole, the Turkey-France dispute raises a variety of issues including: To what extent should state’s water down their values to make an ally comfortable? What is the appropriate retaliatory response to another state’s domestic policies?