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Zealous French mayor accuses Turkish consulate of provocation

Monday 25 February 2008, by Mustafa Oguz

The next local elections in France slated for March 9 and 16 have had the unlikely effect of pitting a commune mayor against the Turkish consulate general in Lyon.

The socialist mayor of Villeurbanne, a commune of Lyon, Jean Paul Bret accused Turkish officials in the city of pressurizing the Turkish community into endorsing an official view on Armenian claims of genocide, in comments to the Turkish Daily News over the weekend.

Bret is said to have obliged French Green Party candidate, Sırma Oran, who prepared to make it into the common list with the socialists in the upcoming local elections, to pay homage to a monument in Lyon commemorating Armenian claims of genocide. Oran refused Bret’s bidding and although she consented to categorize the 1915 killings as genocide she faced continued pressure from Bret finally withdrawing her candidacy at the end of last month. Oran lamented the negative image of Turks in France fomented by some lobby groups afterwards and argued that for the last three years the Turkish community has been exposed to immense pressure.

When the TDN asked the mayor his view on Oran’s words, his office brushed away claims that any such pressures were exerted on Turks, and put the blame on the Turkish consulate general.

Bret accused the Turkish Consulate in Lyon of putting pressure on the Turkish community in the city. “Turkish authorities in the city exert pressure on elected officials as well as on the mayor himself,” Bret’s office said. The mayor also castigated Turkey’s rejection of classifying the 1915 killings as genocide and alleged that it prevented further reconciliation between Armenians and Turks.

An archetype of prejudicial thoughts

Turkish Consul General in Lyon İsmail Hakkı Musa dismissed Bret’s allegations and said the mayor’s arguments betray a prejudice against Turks, who are thought of as a people easily manipulated, in an interview with the TDN. “There are 120,000 Turks settled in Lyon and we are merely 15 or 20 officials at the consulate. It is Turks themselves who proved to be sensitive on these issues,” said Musa.

Turkish associations frequently visit the consulate and reiterate their willingness to integrate into French society, he added. “Turks in Lyon see their origins as an asset but they also endorse French citizenship,” said Musa, and noted that the Turkish community considers Turkey and France as two home countries. “However, they can not bear to hear unfounded accusations about their ancestors,” said Musa.

Expressing contempt for Bret’s charges on the Turkish state of being “négationniste” (rejecting the genocide claims) and causing amity between Armenians and Turks, Musa emphasized that Bret is one of the politicians who backed the resolution on Armenian claims of genocide in the French Parliament in 2001.

Bret, a “sui generis” case

The consulate nurtures very friendly relations with the French authorities, said Musa and underlined that the incident in Villeurbanne stands out as an exceptional one. “One should not generalize the incident and think of Bret’s attitude as endemic in French political life. Many Turks willingly participate in elections under various French political parties’ banners, including socialists,” Musa said.

The Socialist Party’s candidate in Strasbourg Roland Ries similarly decried the treatment Oran was put through. “It is unacceptable to force candidates on subjects irrelevant to local elections,” he said. Two Turks in Ries’ candidacy list, Mine Günbay and Şaban Kiper said they were not confronted with similar obligations.

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Source : Tuesday, February 12, 2008 TDN

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