France on Saturday said it recalled its envoy to Turkey for consultations following comments from Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan, suggesting that French counterpart Emmanuel Macron needed a mental health check, which Paris condemned as unacceptable.
France and its NATO allies disagree on a number of issues, including maritime rights in the eastern Mediterranean, Libya, Syria and the escalating conflict between Armenia and Azerbaijan over Nagorno-Karabakh.
But Ankara has now been particularly outraged by a campaign promoted by Macron to protect France’s secular values from radical Islam, a debate that gained new impetus in the assassination of a teacher this month by a teacher who showed his class a cartoon by the Prophet Mohammed.
“What can be said about a head of state who treats millions of members of different faiths in this way: First and foremost, you need mental control,” Erdogan said in a televised speech in the central Anatolian city of Kayseri.
“What is the problem with the individual called Macron with Islam and with the Muslims?” Erdogan asked.
“Macron needs mental treatment,” Erdogan added, suggesting he did not expect the French leader to win a new term in the 2022 election.
In a very unusual move, a French presidential official said the French ambassador to Turkey was recalled from Ankara for consultations and would meet with Macron to discuss the situation in the wake of Erdogan’s outburst.
“President Erdogan’s comments are unacceptable. Excessive and rude is not a method. We demand that Erdogan change his policy because it is dangerous in every respect,” the official told AFP.
The Elysee official, who asked not to be named, also said France had noticed “the absence of messages of condolence and support” from the Turkish president after the beheading of teacher Samuel Paty outside Paris.
The official also expressed concern over Ankara’s calls for a boycott of French goods.
Macron this month described Islam as a “crisis” religion worldwide and said the government would present a bill in December to strengthen a 1905 law that officially separated church and state in France.
He announced stricter supervision of schooling and better control of foreign funding of mosques.
But the debate over the role of Islam in France has hit a new intensity after the beheading of Paty, which prosecutors say was carried out by an 18-year-old Chechen who had contact with a jihadist in Syria.
Turkey is a Muslim majority, but a secular country that is part of NATO but not the EU, where its membership offer has stalled for decades through a series of disputes.
“You are constantly choosing Erdogan. This does not serve you well,” the Turkish leader said.
“There will be elections (in France) … We will see your (Macron’s) fate. I do not think he has a long way to go. Why? He has not achieved anything for France and he must do for himself . “
‘Behind the disasters’
The second new divide between the two leaders is over Nagorno-Karabakh – a majority ethnic Armenian outbreak area within Azerbaijan that declared independence when the Soviet Union fell, triggering a war in the early 1990s that claimed 30,000 lives.
Turkey strongly supports Azerbaijan in the conflict, but has denied claims by Macron that Ankara has sent hundreds of Syrian militias to help Azerbaijan.
On Saturday, Erdogan accused France – which, along with Russia and the United States, is co-chairing the Minsk group tasked with resolving the conflict – of “being behind the disasters and occupations in Azerbaijan”.
He also reiterated previous allegations that France, which has a strong Armenian community, is arming Yerevan. “You think you want to restore peace with the arms you send to Armenians. You can not because you are not honest.”
But the Elysee official said Erdogan had two months to respond to demands for a change of attitude and that it would end its “dangerous adventures” in the eastern Mediterranean and “irresponsible behavior” over Karabakh.
“Measures must be taken before the end of the year,” the official said.