ANKARA, Turkey – Turkey has suspended military relations with France in a dispute over whether the mass killings of Armenians early in the last century amounted to genocide, a top army commander said Wednesday.
The move was the latest backlash against French legislation that, if approved by the Senate and president, would criminalize denial that the killings of Armenians in Turkey were genocide.
"Relations with France in the military field have been suspended," Gen. Ilker Basbug said in Ankara, according to state-owned Anatolia news agency.
The two NATO allies have had close military ties and Turkey has purchased French-made weaponry, but the Turkish military has in the past blacklisted several French firms in similar disputes over the deaths of the Armenians in 1915.
Gen. Basbug, commander of land forces, disclosed the suspension of military ties with France in comments to reporters at a reception in Ankara, the Anatolia news agency reported. The French bill still needs approval from the Senate and President Jacques Chirac to become law.
Asked whether any military missions between the two nations had been canceled, Basbug said: "There are no high-level visits between the two countries."
Turkey sees the French bill as a hostile, anti-Turkish move, and has warned that the lawmakers' vote has already damaged Turkish-French relations.
Turkey vehemently denies that it committed genocide against Armenians, though many nations have classified the killings as such.
The United Nation's 1948 Genocide Convetion makes genocide a crime, and defines it as killing or injuring people "with intent to destroy, in whole or in part, a national, ethnical, racial or religious group."
Turkey acknowledges that large numbers of Armenians died in mass expulsions and fighting, but says the number of dead is exaggerated and that most were killed in interethnic violence that erupted as the Ottoman Empire collapsed.
Armenians and many nations say some 1.5 million Armenians were killed in a genocidal campaign devised and executed by Turkish leaders.
The European Union and European media have 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.
The United States also criticized the French bill, saying that it gets in the way of reconciling the Turks and Armenians.
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.