Daniel Korski

Turkish anger, French parochialism, British benefit

Turkish anger, French parochialism, British benefit
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The relationship between Turkey and France — which started with the alliance between Francis I and Suleiman the Magnificent — is in precarious territory following the French Parliament's decision to ban denial of the Armenian Genocide.

Turkey's moderate Islamist government has taken as hard a line on the issue as previous Kemalist governments did, and has announced, in response to the French move, that Turkey would halt 'all political consultations, joint military activities and manoeuvres.' Not content with a formal rebuke, Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan has sought to make the conflict personal; claiming (falsely) that Sarkozy's father served in Algeria in the 1940s and would have direct knowledge of 'massacres' committed there by French troops.

The conflict is driven by political ambition on all sides. President Sarkozy is facing a tough battle for re-election in 2012, and the bill will ingratiate him with the 400,000-strong Armenian community in France. So what — the Elysee seems to think — if a key NATO ally is upset in the process and cooperation over Syria, Libya and Lebanon suffer?

Prime Minister Erdogan, in turn, also has presidential ambitions, and is keen to portray himself as a defender of Turkey's history. His reaction highlights how irascible Turkey's foreign policy has become under his leadership. The country has already cut off ties to Israel, tried to bully the US, and will now freeze links to France. That does not look like the 'zero problems' foreign policy the Turkish government once claimed it would pursue. More like a 'zero in on problems' foreign policy.

The Armenian Genocide should of course be beyond doubt by now — even if the exact number of people killed in 1915 remains in dispute. But a parliamentary bill in a third country like France will do little to establish a commonly-agreed narrative of the past between neighbours Turkey and Armenia. The dispute is likely to have one upshot, though: British-Turkish relations will probably improve, as Ankara will look to London for support and cooperation.