Turkey quickly condemned approval by the French senate early Wednesday of a bill recognizing the killings of Armenians in the Ottoman Empire in 1915 as genocide and said the vote had already harmed relations between the two states.
"This decision means the merciless distortion of historical facts and the blackening of the name of an antire nation with baseless claims," the Turkish foreign ministry said in a statement.
"We condemn and reject this unfortunate decision that constitutes a mistaken step," it said.
The foreign ministry summoned France's ambassador to Ankara, Bernard Garcia, for talks over the adoption of the bill, a diplomat, who asked not to be named, told AFP.
The genocide bill was adopted in the French upper house with an overwhelming majority early Wednesday amid cheers from a crowd of Armenians who cried "bravo" and sung the "Marseillaise" the French national anthem.
The measure passed through the Senate in the teeth of strong opposition from the French government and foreign ministry, which fear the move will jeopardize relations with Turkey.
Embarrassed by the vote, President Jacques Chirac and the Socialist-led government of Prime Minister Lionel Jospin issued a joint statement insisting "France hopes to maintain and develop close co-operation with Turkey in all areas."
"This vote was taken at the initiative of parliament ... and in no way signifies a judgement on Turkey," the statement said. "France will continue to work to bring Turkey closer to the European Union."
The bill -- sponsored by Jean-Claude Gaudin, a senator and mayor of Marseille -- stipulates that "France publicly recognizes the Armenian genocide of 1915."
The measure must now be re-submitted to the National Assembly, or lower house of parliament, and will face a long battle to become law because of procedural complications, French officials said.
The Turkish statement categorically denied the genocide claims and accused Armenian President Robert Kocharian of striving for the adoption of anti-Turkish resolutions in third countries by "provoking the Armenian diaspora".
"This policy does not serve the much-desired peace and stability in the Caucasus, increases Armenia's isolation in the region and harms the Armenian public," it added.
The statement blasted the French lawmakers for "passing judgement on another country's history" and accused them of acting "on their own political interests and vote calculations" under pressure from France's influential Armenian community.
"The stance of the French senate has undoubtedly started to harm Turkish- French relations. Our expectation at this stage from France is that the French assembly does not repeat the senate's mistake and deepen the blow inflicted on bilateral ties," it said.
The bill also drew an angry response from leaders of the conservative Motherland Party (ANAP), a member of Turkey's ruling coalition.
Kamran Inan, who heads parliament's foreign affairs commission, blasted the Senate vote as a "decision to please a handful of voters."
"If the Bill is adopted in the French lower chamber, it will deliver a heavy blow to Turkish-French relations. The position of the French government is very important now," Inan told AFP.
"If the government supports it, there will be diplomatic repercussions. If it does not, Turkey will take note of it," he added.
ANAP deputy chaiman Bulent Akarcali accused Chirac and Jospin of "doing absolutely nothing" to stop the bill.
The senators "want to try to clean their own consciences for the crimes France committed in Indochina, Africa or elsewhere, by using Turkey as a detergent," Akarcali told AFP in a telephone interview.
Two weeks ago, Turkey breathed a sigh of relief when a non-binding resolution on the Armenian genocide was pulled from the US House of the Representatives after President Bill Clinton warned it would harm Washington's national security interests.
Armenia says 1.5 million Armenians were killed in 1915.
Turkey maintains that some 300,000 Armenians and thousands of Turks were killed in civil strife during the period coinciding with the dissolution of the Ottoman Empire – ANKARA (AFP)
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