France recalls ambassador to Turkey as tensions flare over beheading

Turkish president tells Macron to ‘go have your mental health examined’

A shoe print on a picture of President Emmanuel Macron  during a demonstration in Istanbul, Turkey,  against the  president’s comments on  Prophet Muhammad cartoons. Photograph: Getty Images

A shoe print on a picture of President Emmanuel Macron during a demonstration in Istanbul, Turkey, against the president’s comments on Prophet Muhammad cartoons. Photograph: Getty Images

 

The French ambassador to Ankara, Hervé Magro, was recalled to Paris on Sunday as tensions flared between France and Turkey.

President Recep Tayyip Erdogan criticised President Emmanuel Macron’s reaction to the beheading on October 16th of history teacher Samuel Paty by an 18-year-old Chechen immigrant.

“All one can say about a head of state who treats millions of members of different religious communities in this manner is: go have your mental health examined first,” Mr Erdogan said on Turkish television.

The Turkish leader repeated the insult on Sunday, claiming Mr Macron is “obsessed by Erdogan, night and day”. He said Mr Macron is “a case” and “really needs to get examined”.

Mr Erdogan’s statements are “unacceptable”, the Élysée told Agence France Presse.

“Being outrageous and crude is not a method. We demand that Erdogan change the direction of his policy, because it is dangerous in every way. We will not engage in pointless polemics, and we do not accept insults.”

In an unusually robust statement on Sunday, foreign minister Jean-Yves Le Drian faulted Turkey for failing to condemn the beheading of Mr Paty or express solidarity after the atrocity. Turkey has done so in response to earlier jihadist attacks.

In his homage to the slain teacher on October 21st, Mr Macron said France “will not give up the drawings, even if others pull back”.

Mr Paty was ostensibly murdered because he had shown cartoons of the Prophet Muhammad from Charlie Hebdo magazine to a class on freedom of expression.

Cairo prison

Mr Erdogan appears to want to be perceived as the leader of the world’s Sunni Muslims, particularly following the death in a Cairo prison in August of Essam el Erian, the leader of the Muslim Brotherhood.

Criticism of Mr Macron in the Muslim world has focused on the French leader’s repeated affirmations of the “right to blasphemy”. Abdoullakh Anzonov, who murdered Mr Paty before being shot dead by police, addressed a claim of responsibility “to Macron, the leader of the infidels”.  

Turkey is now engaging in “hateful propaganda and calumny against France”, Mr Le Drian said. The goal was “to fan hatred against and among us”.

The minister denounced “direct insults against the president of the republic, expressed at the highest level of the Turkish state”. Such behaviour was “all the more inadmissible coming from an ally”.

As a result, Mr Le Drian concluded: “France’s ambassador to Turkey has been recalled, and is returning to Paris for consultation.”

Recalling an ambassador is a serious step, verging on the rupture of diplomatic relations. The last time France recalled an ambassador, from Rome in February 2019, it was because the populist leader Luigi Di Maio, who was then deputy prime minister of Italy, had meddled in French politics by meeting with members of the gilets jaunes revolt.

The EU’s foreign affairs representative, Josep Borrell, called on Mr Erdogan to “cease this dangerous spiral of confrontation”.

Two weeks ago Mr Erdogan called Mr Macron’s speech on “Islamist separatism” and the need to “structure Islam” in France a provocation. A draft law against “separatism” in France will be presented in cabinet on December 9th. Turkey will be affected by clauses banning foreign funding of mosques and the training of imams outside France.

Kurdish allies

France has clashed with Turkey over its attacks on France’s Kurdish allies in Syria, the provision of weapons by Turkey to belligerents in Libya, Turkish gas exploration in Greek and Cypriot waters, and Turkish support for Azerbaijan against Armenia in the enclave of Nagorno-Karabagh.

When Mr Macron said that the North Atlantic Treaty Organisation (Nato) was “brain dead” in November 2019, Mr Erdogan told Mr Macron to “look at his own brain death”. Their countries are in theory allies in Nato.

As the dispute with Ankara escalated, hostility towards France was spread on social media in much of the Arab world. Supermarkets in Kuwait and Qatar took French cheese, dairy products and cosmetic off the shelves. Travel agents refused to book journeys to France. Demonstrations were staged in Israel and the Palestinian occupied territories.

The Jeddah-based Organisation of Islamic Co-operation, comprised of 57 Muslim majority countries, condemned the publication of cartoons of Muhammad as “a systematic and continuous attack on the feelings of persons of the Muslim faith”.

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