17 May 2006

675) Defense contracts as a foreign policy tool / Turks, Armenians bill duel / Turkish NGOs protest French

How well can multi-billion-dollar defense contracts be as an effective foreign policy instrument? Can major buyers like Turkey have leverage on supplier countries' foreign policy by boycotting their weapons manufacturers? In theory, the idea looks plausible -- the “offended buyer” may “hurt the offending seller” by boycotting, barring, discriminating against or simply ignoring a contender in a bid competition. Judging by Turkish practice, however, one needs to be cautious.

No doubt, Turkey's military and procurement authorities are serious about, well, to put it mildly, “not rushing to French (or French-related) suppliers” in at least three critical defense contracts, worth a combined $3 billion, as the French parliament prepares to vote to criminalize denial of (alleged) Armenian genocide. But Turkey's recent and present history on boycotting selected arms suppliers based on political frictions is full of contradictions.

When the French parliament was to vote on a resolution in 2001 that recognized the tragic events of 1915-1918 as genocide, Ankara threatened that a “yes” vote would mean the end of all economic cooperation, most notably some very lucrative defense contracts in which French companies were traditionally big players.

The French parliament voted “yes,” and the only -- and immediate -- casualty was Alcatel, which had just signed a preliminary deal for the building and launching of Turkey's first military satellite, a deal worth around $200 million. The contract was scrapped.

Five years later the same contract is open to bids, and Alcatel happens to be one of the serious contenders. If Turkey was to forget “the insult of 2001,” why did it scrap the first contract and delay its only military space program for several years? If it should stick to its word, then why is Alcatel allowed to bid for the same contract? Ankara must ask itself tough questions before threatening French bidders.

For example, did Turkey altogether forget the French genocide bill of 2001? Has it digested “the insult”? More importantly, what other “boycott retaliation” has Turkey orchestrated against French companies due to the 2001 genocide law? Has Turkey's trade with France not risen since then? Has Turkey not awarded several government contracts to French bidders since 2001?

Has Turkey not sealed a multi-billion-dollar contract with French (and European) company Airbus years after the French parliament passed the genocide bill? When there is a foreign policy row, why do only defense contracts come into minds as a means of retaliation/pressuring?

Can any Ankara government really cut off the Turkish business of French civilian players like Renault, Axa or Lafarge? Will one of the world's biggest military-owned corporations, Oyak, end its partnership with French conglomerates if the French parliament illegalized Armenian genocide denial? If not, then what's the use of a “partial boycott” against French (and French-related) helicopter manufacturers only? Would it not look odd if the government/military/procurement machinery boycotted the helicopter manufacturers and carried on with other (and larger) businesses with the French?

The questions can be multiplied. Recently, Ankara barred a Swiss manufacturer, Pilatus, from bidding for a Turkish Air Forces contract -- for the procurement of basic trainer aircraft -- mainly because of the legal framework in the land of chocolate and fine watches regarding Armenian genocide claims.

It's fine, the Swiss have every right to pass every piece of legislation they like, and Ankara has every right not to buy weapons systems from Swiss companies. But if a Swiss company is barred from competition due to its cantonal or governmental policy on a sensitive matter for the Turks, why are French companies allowed to compete for military contracts when France's national (not cantonal) parliament had already recognized the Armenian genocide five years earlier? Is this not discriminating against the Swiss company? Or is it favoring the French?

Will the government of Recep Tayyip Erdogan and the famous Defense Industry Executive Committee, which he chairs, also boycott Italian weapons suppliers, including Agusta, which is bidding on the $2 billion attack helicopter contract, and will Alenia, which hopes to sell Eurofighter Typhoon jets to Turkey, be “boycotted” if new Italian foreign policy revives the days of Massimo D'Alema, probably the “best-known” Italian politician for all Turks? Remember, “Il signore” D'Alema, as the Sicilians put it in an implication that goes contrary to how the title looks, wanted to become the grand savior of the man who now resides in prison on the island of Imrali.

If Turkey has a policy of using government (defense and civilian) contracts as a foreign policy instrument, it should be consistent. Otherwise, the “threat” will always look ridiculous and unconvincing. If, in the first place, government contracts are to be used as a deterrent, they should come as a whole, not only in the defense business. It looks silly to boycott a $200 million defense deal and then approve a multi-billion-dollar civilian deal with the same country.

More importantly, Turkey should institutionalize its policy when a foreign country “offends” it. Present-day efforts to block the French bill that criminalizes Armenian genocide denial are in fact an “expression of digestion” of the law that recognized genocide five years earlier. Linearly guessing by what happened between Turkey and France since 2001 one may predict that the denial bill, too, will be “digested” by 2011 and, by then, possibly the Turks will be trying to block an even more bitter French bill on the same issue.

Turkey these days looks like a football team, now 1-0 down, but who will cheer as if it had won a trophy if it avoids a second goal.

Wednesday, May 17, 2006
Burak Bekdil

Turks, Armenians carry bill duel to newspaper pages
With only one day left before the French National Assembly discusses a controversial bill that criminalizes any denial of an alleged Armenian genocide at the hands of the Ottoman Empire in the last century, the Armenian diaspora in France has appealed to top French politicians in a full-page advertisement published in daily Liberation to back the bill.

In an attempt to increase pressure on French politicians, the Armenians said in their appeal that denial of the alleged genocide was a crime, stressing that a law was needed to penalize its denial.

Last week a group of Turkish intellectuals who are all known to be against Turkey's official stance on the Armenian issue expressed their opposition to the French bill via a joint declaration in daily Liberation.

“We need to overcome Turks and Armenians coming up against each other in an unproductive way, and we need to turn this into a humanitarian dialogue and common history by mutually relaying the two different memories to each other. We can reach this goal only by freedom of speech and debate and by free movement of all knowledge,” the Turkish intellectuals, including Elif �afak, Murat Belge and Hrant Dink, said in their appeal.

Several Turkish organizations also published an open letter in leading French newspapers calling on top-level French politicians not to back the controversial bill.

Proposed by members of the opposition Socialist Party, the bill has a first reading before the French National Assembly on Thursday. It stipulates a prison term and a 45,000 euro ($57,000) fine for denying that Armenians were victims of genocide.

The chances of the bill passing in the French assembly appear slim. The National Assembly is overwhelmingly controlled by President Jacques Chirac's conservatives, who have not passed a bill floated by the Socialist opposition since they took over Parliament in 2002.

Armenian-French group accuses Turkey of blackmailing French legislators:

An umbrella group accused Turkey of trying to blackmail French lawmakers into opposing the proposed bill.

The Council of Coordination of Armenian Organizations in France said Ankara was trying to exert pressure on France with letter-writing campaigns to French lawmakers and threats of an economic boycott, The Associated Press reported yesterday.

“The Armenian ‘genocide': Turkey's unacceptable blackmail,” the council said in a statement.

Last week, Turkey briefly recalled its ambassador to France in protest, and Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdo�an told French corporate leaders that the bill would damage bilateral ties.

Turkey also complained recently about a resolution adopted by Canada's Parliament that recognizes the killings as genocide.

The French Foreign Ministry said last week France was “very attentive” to Turkish authorities' concerns.

May 17, 2006
ANKARA - Turkish Daily News

Turkish NGOs protest French move to debate Armenian bill

Various non-governmental organizations (NGOs) and representatives of labor unions in Ankara yesterday protested a bill set to be voted on Thursday by the French Parliament which introduces prison terms for those questioning the Armenian genocide claims.

The protestors demonstrated in front of the French Embassy calling on the French Parliament not to pass the Armenian bill. Paris Caddesi, where the embassy is also located, was closed to traffic for half an hour.

The demonstrators chanted slogans against supporters of the bill and waved Turkish flags. The protest was held amid tight security and ended peacefully when the street was reopened to traffic.

In related news, the Association of Young Leaders yesterday condemned the debates that will take place in the French Parliament on Thursday by issuing a written statement.

The association expressed its disappointment over the submission of a bill that limits freedom of thought and expression to the Parliament of a country like France, known for its open attitude towards freedoms. "We hope the French Parliament won't take a decision that will deeply harm the historic relations between Turkey and France for the sake of winning a few thousand Armenian supporters in the next elections," it read.

Underlining that parliaments making rulings on claims that have not been recognized as a crime by national or international courts is unjust, the young leaders also stressed that writing history is not the business of parliaments.

"If we're forced to follow that logic then the Turkish Parliament should also enact laws that introduce punishments for those who deny the French genocides claimed to have been committed in Algeria, Rwanda and Hatay," the statement added.

Although French President Jacques Chirac last Friday gave Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan assurances that France will take Turkish concerns into consideration during the debate on the bill, French socialists last Thursday expressed their insistence on bringing the bill to the Parliament's floor despite Parliament's Law Commission having rejected the controversial bill. At debates last Wednesday in the Law Commission, ruling Union for Popular Movement (UMP) deputies sharply criticized the bill, drawn up by a group of socialist deputies. Alain Marsaud and Michel Piron from the UMP are opposed to the bill, and Piron stressed that trying to write history with laws would result in a discredited "official history." After the debates, the commission made no changes to the bill and rejected it by a majority.

However, under French Parliament's bylaws, the bill is still going to be debated by the General Assembly this Thursday. The majority of ruling UMP deputies are opposed to the bill, but if they don't participate in this week's meeting, it's expected to be approved by the National Assembly. The UMP has announced that there will be no group decision on the issue.

The New Anatolian / Ankara


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