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Talking Turkey: Rhetoric escalates as EU discussions approach

By Aris Ghazinyan

ArmeniaNow reporter

A conference entitled “December 2004 – October 2005. Has Turkey Changed?” will be held at the European Parliament, in Strasbourg September 22, initiated by the Armenian National Committee of America (Hay Dat of the Armenian Revolutionary Federation).

The organizer of the forum is the European Parliament faction of “Christian-Democratic Union” (PPE) with the assistance of European Parliament Deputy Speaker Ingo Friedrich. The holding of such a forum is one of the measures undertaken by the Armenian Diaspora and official Yerevan aimed against Turkey’s possible membership in the European Union. (The 25 EU member states are to take up debate on Turkey’s membership, starting October 3.)

Last week, Armenia’s Minister of Foreign Affairs Vartan Oskanian defined the fact of Turkey’s possible membership in the EU as one of the challenges to Armenian statehood, pointing out that Yerevan intends to hinder the process. The forum slated for September 22 is one of such manifestations of “national activity.”

“The diverse composition of the participants and speakers testifies to the serious nature of this conference,” Hay Dat Committee officials said in a press release.

Besides Friedrich, conference organizers have invited Vice-Chairman of the EU-Turkey parliamentary delegation Jacques Tubon, member of the delegation Panagiotis Beglitis, Secretary General of the International Federation of Human Rights Phillip Galfayan, Chairman of the Hay Day Committee in Europe Hilda Chobanian and others. Invited are Austrian Foreign Minister Ursula Plassnik, former foreign ministers of France Michel Barnier and Huber Verdine, ex-chairman of the European Commission Romano Prodi, leader of the European Parliament’s faction “United Left” Francis Wurtz, rapporteur on Turkey Keimiel Jorling, Turkish publisher, representative of the Association on Human Rights in Turkey Ragyp Zarkolu and others.

The forum at the European Parliament is only one link in a chain of events prepared by official Yerevan and the Armenian Diaspora to counteract Turkey’s possible admission to the EU. Among other actions, the Commission of the Federation of Armenian Organizations of the Netherlands has requested of the permanent commission on European affairs Van Heteren that issues on the recognition of the Armenian Genocide by official Ankara and lifting blockades on the borders with Armenia be included in the negotiating processes commencing October 3. Additionally, a consultative meeting of Armenians of Europe will take place in Strasbourg on September 23.

Before the closing stage of the discussions around Turkey’s membership in the EU, the states of the Old World are also finally clearing up their own positions on this issue. Approaches of European entities are not yet clear, though the European Union itself has softened requirements put forward to Ankara. In particular, the recognition of Cyprus by Turkey is no longer a precondition as it was during last year’s debates.

“Most of the states originally opposing Turkey’s membership in the EU do not look like changing their standpoints,” says political analyst Viktor Solakhyan. “France is in the forefront of these countries as this state has repeatedly declared about the perniciousness of such a scenario for European civilization. This issue is widely discussed also in the aspect of the pre-election struggle in Germany: opposition Christian Democrats are against Turkey’s full membership in the European Union. The latest opinion polls conducted by ZDF TV channel show that 62 percent of Germans oppose Turkey’s accession to the EU.”

The Vatican has weighed in on the issue. Pope Benedict XVI has spoken against the developments. Still as Cardinal Ratzinger he declared about the inadmissibility of Turkey’s membership in the in EU. “Turkey has always been a different continent and always contrasted with Europe,” the Pontiff said.

“The approaches of official Ankara were voiced by Turkish Prime Minister Racep Erdogan in early September,” the political analyst says. “Commenting on the fact of the political resistance to the membership of his country in the EU he stated that ‘the final refusal is not an end of the world for Turkey.’ He also said that if two or three members of the EU still do not wish to see Ankara in the European Union and do not reconsider their positions, then Turkey had better give up its intention. Earlier, Turkish Foreign Minister Abdullah Gul also made such a statement.”

At the same time, Solakhyan noted that in practice Turkey is making rather serious preparations for membership. In particular, authorities in Ankara are now showing a constrained position concerning an opportunity of holding a scientific conference on the Armenian question by the Turkish University of Bogazci. Originally planned for May of this year this action has been scuttled through the efforts of Justice Minister Cemil Cicek. Today he already admits the thought of holding the conference, while the country’s prime minister even stated about the possibility of his presence at it.

“I will not call on domestic specialists to either participate in this forum or boycott it,” Oskanian said on August 30. “Let the Armenian scholars decide this question for themselves, which in any case cannot affect Yerevan’s efforts directed against Turkey’s admission to the EU.”

The speech of the Patriarch of Armenians of Turkey, Archbishop Mesrob Mutafian, who was in Cologne in the middle of August to attend the forum of the World Youth Day, said:

“The fact that some external circles are engaged in issues of the national minorities of Turkey disturbs us very much. We are citizens of Turkey and if we have some problems, we solve them together with the authorities of our country. The Armenians of Turkey have the same problem as the Turkish population of Germany. So, let us not lay it on thick.”

“As a citizen of Turkey he can be and has the right to deviate from Armenia’s state policy, Solakhyan says. “However, when Armenia’s second-ranked state official allows such a thing, it is already a serious problem. The statement by Armenian Parliament Speaker Artur Baghdasaryan in Washington DC makes one doubt the presence of a government position coordinated at all levels of power in Armenia.”

On September 1, the day after the state policy of Yerevan towards Turkey’s membership in the EU was voiced by the country’s foreign minister, Armenia’s top legislator backed Turkey’s aspirations to enter the EU speaking at the Center for National and International Studies.

“What is so bad in having a neighbor that is a member of the EU?” the speaker said in Washington. “If Turkey manages to fulfill the EU requirements and enter this organization, other countries of the region may follow suit.”

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