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As Turkey And France Clash Over Armenian Genocide Law, Ankara Plots Next Move

The French Senate passed a controversial law this week that makes it a crime to deny that Armenians were victims of a Turkish genocide. Turkey's Prime Minister Erdogan had angry words for France, but a closer look shows Ankara may have another st

France's embassy to Turkey (Panoramas)
France's embassy to Turkey (Panoramas)
Sedat Ergin

ISTANBUL - The French Senate's approval this week of a bill making it a crime to deny that Turkey committed genocide against Armenians has pushed the Paris-Ankara diplomatic standoff to a new phase. On one side is the Turkish government; on the other, a three-way coalition of President Nicolas Sarkozy, his Socialist party rival Francois Hollande and the Armenian lobby.

The turf of this struggle has now moved from the halls of Parliament to the heart of French law.

But it is first worth noting that Ankara's response to the Senate decision has been far more controlled than the virulent reaction first shown when the bill was accepted by the French Parliament in December.

One explanation of this more moderate reaction was that Ankara has delayed putting into motion a ‘plan of action" intended to truly retaliate against France. Speaking to his party's members of Parliament on Tuesday, Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan said his government's reaction would depend on how the situation evolved, and that at this stage they would be "patient." This suggests there is no great rush regarding sanctions.

Even though he used phrases such as ‘racist" and ‘the footsteps of fascism" when referring to Sarkozy, the Prime Minister's main message was that the issue would not shake Turkey. Erdogan said "Turkey would not stoop to quarrel with a small racist mentality." He added that Ankara would "act with the reason and reserve suitable to a great country,".

The Prime Minister also noted that it would take 60 signatures for the Constitutional Council, which is charged with preserving the principles of the French Constitution, to object to the bill. This suggests that he doesn't want to burn bridges with those French lawmakers who are close to Turkey.

Three options, two roads

A roadmap with three options is taking shape for Turkey.

The first, as the Prime Minister suggested, is for 60 representatives of the French Senate or 60 members from Parliament to apply to the Constitutional Council with an objection on grounds that the bill violates the French Constitution.

This would need the support of about two-thirds of the 87 senators who voted in favor of Turkey in Monday night's vote. It seems that there is a group of Senators prepared to do this. On the other hand, both Sarkozy and Hollande, who are facing off in the French presidential election, are each applying significant pressure on their parties to prevent this.

There is one significant detail to note. Even without reaching the threshold, if the Senators express their will to do this, the Constitutional Council can apply to the government and ask that the law be suspended without taking effect. If a formal petition is made, the law would likewise need to be suspended.

What if this effort doesn't produce a result? The Constitutional Council has one more option to exercise its power: in 2008, a change to the French Constitution gave French citizens the right to apply directly to the Council if there was a situation which was potentially unconstitutional.

In this case, a Turkish or French citizen who has said the events of 1915 were not a genocide and has been penalized for this by a lower court could apply to the Constitutional Council. But this objection would first need to pass a higher court. If, in the final analysis, the Constitutional Court found this person justified, it would be a considerable victory for Turkey in France.

Let us imagine that this route was taken and that the Constitutional Court nonetheless rejected this citizen's appeal. There would then be one more path to take: an appeal to the European Court of Human Rights in Strasbourg.

In this event, the European tribunal would need to ascertain whether this law violates the European Convention on Human Rights. If it does reach this stage, this case would undoubtedly be one of the most critical files the European institution has ever taken up.

Whichever route is followed, it is without question that Ankara is just at the beginning of a long, drawn-out, extremely difficult process.

Read the original article in Turkish

Photo – Panoramas

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