Admission before Admission: EU Parliament calls for Turkey to admit Genocide before membership

News Update: Talks begin Tuesday

Late Monday night Austria gave its approval to allow the European Union to begin membership talks with Turkey. “We have made history,” said British Foreign Secretary Jack Straw. Click these links for related news.

http://www.cnn.com/2005/WORLD/europe/10/03/eu.turkeytalks/index.html

http://www.iht.com/articles/2005/10/03/news/eu.php
http://www.timesonline.co.uk/article/0,,13509-1809898,00.html


Reaction to the European Parliament’s call for Genocide recognition came quickly and with predictable approval yesterday from Yerevan, as well as abroad from long-time campaigners for acknowledgement of Turkey’s crimes against humanity nearly a century ago.

“I am confident that the discussion of Armenian issues within the context of the EU-Turkey talks will unequivocally have a positive effect on the process of improvement of the Armenian-Turkish relations,” said Minister of Foreign Affairs Vartan Oskanian. “If Turkey wants to enter the European Union, then it should be like other participants of the EU and settle its relations with its neighbors. Of course, I regard the adoption of the resolution as a positive phenomenon. It was supposed to be like this.”

On Wednesday the Strasbourg-based EU legislative body reiterated its long-held stance that Turkey should admit it committed genocide when a million or more Armenians were massacred under Ottoman forces between 1915-18. By a vote of 356-181 (with 125 abstentions) Parliament passed a resolution stating that Turkey’s membership in the EU should be considered only if Turkey meets certain preconditions. The 3 and a half page document has one short paragraph, but one that holds volumes of thought for Armenia:

Point 5 of Section M of the European Parliament Resolution on the Opening of Negotiations with Turkey, says that the Parliament: “Calls on Turkey to recognize the Armenian genocide; considers this recognition to be a prerequisite for accession to the European Union.” (http://www.europarl.eu.int)

While the Parliament did not suggest a deadline for recognition (or other conditions), it did call on the EU’s Commission and Council to assess whether Turkey had met membership protocol by the end of 2006.

Turkey’s refusal to call the massacres genocide and Armenia’s insistence that it do so is the primary reason why borders are closed between Armenia and Turkey.

Wednesday’s vote is not the first time that the EU Parliament has favored the Armenian position on the volatile and divisive issue that has been an insurmountable obstacle to normal relations in the region. It comes, though, at a significant time, just five days before negotiations for Turkey’s membership in the EU are scheduled to begin Monday (October 3).

As of today (September 30) the opening discussions are in doubt, as Austria has said it will participate in the talks, only on condition that Turkey be considered for an alternative (rather than full) membership -- a condition that Turkey has said it will have no part of. Membership can be debated only if all 25 member states agree on the agenda. A special meeting of EU ambassadors has been called for this weekend to attempt a consensus. (http://www.nytimes.com/)

Though the resolution has no binding obligations on the final vote for membership, the Parliament’s characterization of recognition as a “prerequisite for accession” is seen by some as added weight to the Armenian position.

Turkey’s Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan, is not among those holding such a position, however. He called the EU Parliament resolution “not important”.

As preliminary debate on Turkey’s suitability for EU membership has focused on contentious issues such as its relation with Cyprus and on Turkey’s unflattering human rights record, some analysts in Turkey say that the public and leadership in Ankara are already weary of the process. And, while it may be that Turkey would be considered for a provisional membership in the EU, Erdogan has repeatedly said that he will not participate in any talks that offer anything but full membership.

According to a report in yesterday’s International Herald Tribune (www.iht.com), Erdogan is already at his limit on concessions. (The paper also quoted a political analyst who said the membership talks are “likely to last at least 10 years”.)

Yesterday, Armenian President Robert Kocharyan refrained from comment on the Parliament resolution, when he appeared in public at the opening of a jewelry trade show.

Others, however, were not as reserved.

Heikki Talvitie, the European Union’s special representative for the South Caucasus, was in Yerevan yesterday and, appearing in a joint press conference with Oskanian said: “The adoption of this resolution testifies to the fact that issues of Armenian-Turkish relations will by all means be discussed during the EU-Turkey talks.”

For his part, Oskanian also added that the opening of borders should be put on the table when membership discussions begin Monday in Luxembourg (pending this weekend's emergency session).

In Tbilisi, the Nor Serund Association of Armenians of Georgia sent a message of gratitude to head of the EU delegation there expressing gratitude to the European Parliament and all EU citizens.

The politically powerful Armenian Revolutionary Federation (Dashnaks) Hay Dat Committee in Europe Chairperson Hilda Choboyan told ArmeniaNow: “This last call before the start of entry talks with Turkey should become a guideline for the European (Union) Council and the European Commission.”

From the United States, Harut Sassounian, publisher of the “California Courier” (Armenian weekly) and a loud voice for Genocide recognition told ArmeniaNow that he is pleased with Wednesday’s resolution.

“I just hope that the EU leaders will take the European Parliament's resolution seriously and include the recognition of the Armenian Genocide as well as the opening of the border with Armenia, among many other issues involving the recognition of Cyprus, amending the Turkish Penal Code, and a major overhaul of Turkey's legal system . . .”

Meanwhile in the UK, the British Armenian All Party Parliamentary Group (BAAPPG) told ArmeniaNow the resolution is “an excellent step”, but added that it needs to be “taken further” and that “the fight for recognition must be pursued. In the UK, there is an immediate issue to follow up: the Turkish Parliament has written formally to the British Parliament asking them to repudiate the Blue Book (a document in which the massacres are reported as genocide) as baseless wartime propaganda. BAAPPG will be working against any such move and against the powerful Turkish lobby.”

But also in the UK (itself an EU member), George Jerjian, author of “The Truth Will Set Us Free: Armenians and Turks Reconciled”, (for whom its Turkish publisher was prosecuted) voiced pessimism.

“While on the face of it, this sounds brilliant,” Jerjian said, “the European Parliament deceives itself that it can actually stop Turkey from joining in 10 years time, by using the Armenian Genocide condition. Turkey will have been integrated into Europe so deeply and vice versa and it would be impossible to reverse it. That’s the reality – all else is illusion and ‘group think’.”

The opening of membership talks will come in a climate of considerable scrutiny, skepticism, and out-right disapproval from some stalwart member countries, as reflected in editorials in European press (http://newsvote.bbc.co.uk).

Outside Armenia and Diaspora, few raise the genocide question as part of their concern over Turkery's membership application. Germany, for example, (according to the “Frankfurter Rundschau”) is unhappy over Turkey’s refusal to recognize Cyprus. “The negotiations,” the newspaper writes “are therefore on the brink of failure even before the first talks have been held.”

In France, “Le Temps” voiced a similar opinion on the general mood surrounding membership talks.

“Europe,” the Paris daily says “is moving towards the opening of negotiations with a maximum of mistrust.”

Also of note: The Times (of London) began a two-part series on Turkey today. The first report takes the view that Turkey should not be admitted to the EU, which is to be followed by Saturday’s report in favor of admission.

From today’s installment (www.timesonline.co.uk): "Nowhere in Turkey feels less European than Lake Van, the starkly blue inland body of water on the country’s volcanic eastern edge. At dusk the muezzin calls the faithful to prayer, barefoot Kurdish children herd ragged sheep, and a pair of women, ageless and faceless in the all-enveloping burka, trudge through the dust to their mud-brick home.

" An hour to the east is Iran; to the south is blood-soaked Iraq, and to the north, beyond Mount Ararat, lie Armenia and Georgia. Ancient, biblical and Middle Eastern, this is the land of Noah; but if Turkey gains admittance to the EU, it will mark Europe’s eastern border . . .
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