France’s Defense Ministry said Thursday there was no immediate impact from Turkey’s announced suspension of military ties in a dispute over the mass killing of Armenians in the early 20th century.
Turkey’s land forces commander, Gen. Ilker Basbug, announced the cut Wednesday amid a debate over whether 1915 killings of Armenians constitutes genocide. France’s lower house of parliament has passed a bill outlawing denials that genocide occurred, angering Turkey.
Defense Ministry spokesman Jean-Francois Bureau noted that the suspension came from a military commander, not from Turkey’s civilian government, and that French authorities had not received official word from Turkey on delays or cancellations in joint military operations.
France believes that existing cooperation with Turkey will continue. Specifically, Bureau mentioned operations in the Balkans and in Afghanistan.
“There is a relationship of work and cooperation in these operational commitments with Turkey that are extremely important and which, in our eyes, will continue,” he said.
Bureau said Turkey could retract permission for French military ships to dock in its waters and make it more difficult for France to obtain permission to fly through Turkish airspace, but that had not yet happened.
“Until now, the announcement has not had any practical and concrete effects,” he said, although he added that they could come in the future.
He described military cooperation between both countries, which include joint exercises and training as well as peacekeeping operations, as “constant” and “continuous.”
Turkey is scheduled to take over command of a NATO peacekeeping operation in Kabul, Afghanistan, from France in April 2007, Bureau said. He added that any Turkish decision to pull out of its engagements in Afghanistan would hurt NATO more than France.
The Armenian matter
Turkey vehemently denies it committed genocide against Armenians, although many nations have classified the killings as such and say some 1.5 million Armenians were killed.
Turkey acknowledges that large numbers of Armenians died in mass expulsions and fighting, but says the number is exaggerated and that most were killed in interethnic battles as the Ottoman Empire collapsed.
In France, which has a large Armenian community, the lower house of parliament infuriated Turkey in October by approving a bill that would make it a crime to deny that Turks committed genocide against Armenians. But the bill is not expected to become law because President Jacques Chirac does not approve of it.
The Armenian issue is one of the most divisive and emotional in Turkey. Those who classify the killings as genocide are often accused of treason.
EU criticizes French measure
The European Union has criticized the French bill, saying it does not respect the principle of free expression and does not promote dialogue with Turkey, a hopeful EU candidate.
French Foreign Ministry spokesman Jean-Baptiste Mattei highlighted the extent of cooperation between the two counties, saying their armed forces work together “very closely in several theaters.”
“In Afghanistan, our troops, like those from Turkey and Italy, are stationed at the same base in Kabul,” said Mattei.
“Our troops are also engaged side by side in Lebanon, Bosnia, Kosovo and in Congo,” he said, “so there is close cooperation and great mutual respect between the French and Turkish armed forces.”