Regarding the EU, Turkey Should Be ‘Always a Bridesmaid, Never a Bride’

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Regarding the EU, Turkey Should Be ‘Always a Bridesmaid, Never a Bride’

By Harut Sassounian

Publisher, The California Courier

There has been a raging debate for some time now among Armenians on whether Turkey’s membership in the European Union would be in Armenia’s interest.

Some Armenians believe that after joining the EU, Turkey would be a more civilized and democratic nation that would recognize the Armenian Genocide, lift the blockade of Armenia and establish friendlier relations with its neighbors.

Those opposed to Turkish membership in the EU are certain that Turkey would never become a democratic state and that the paper reforms it has grudgingly enacted are meant solely to fool European public opinion. There are no guarantees that Turkey would ever recognize the Genocide and lift the blockade of Armenia after joining the EU. Furthermore, as potentially the most populous state in the EU, Turkey would have the largest number of representatives in various EU organs, enabling it to pass pro-Turkish and pro-Azeri initiatives and oppose those in Armenia’s interest.

The pro-EU group feels that since Turkey is going to join the EU anyway, and Armenians would be unable to block it, by opposing the Turkish efforts Armenians would gain nothing, but risk further antagonizing an already hostile and powerful neighboring country.

The anti-EU group, on the other hand, believes that an attempt has to be made to hinder Turkey’s membership, forcing the Turks to make some accommodating gestures to the Armenians.

In view of recent anti-Turkish developments in Europe and the souring of U.S.-Turkish relations, Armenians in both groups need to reassess their positions on this issue.

The French and the Dutch have rejected the proposed European constitution, partially out of fear for an eventual Turkish membership in the EU. To make matters worse, upcoming elections in France and Germany are expected to bring to power leaders strongly opposed to Turkey’s admission to the EU.

At the same time, the United States has softened its support for Turkey’s EU membership. It is no longer pressuring the Europeans on Turkey’s behalf. There are three possible reasons for such a switch: 1) American officials may view an enlarged Europe as a potential rival to their sole superpower status; 2) given the Turks’ anti-American attitude, the U.S. government is no longer willing to go out of its way to support them; and 3) Americans’ meddling in this exclusively European issue has created a strong resentment in Europe against both the United States and Turkey.

These negative developments have considerably lessened the chances of Turkey ’s membership in the EU and dampened the Turkish public’s European aspirations. The Turkish leaders, who were never too enthusiastic in reforming their archaic laws and society, now fear that even the paper reforms they had enacted could create a backlash from an amalgam of domestic nationalists, Islamic fundamentalists and a despotic military. This proves once again that rather than wanting to protect the civil rights of their people and caring for their welfare, Turkish officials’ real objective is holding on to power, while pretending to be interested in improving the lot of their destitute masses.

In light of the above developments, it appears that Turkey would have no chance of joining the EU in the foreseeable future. This negative turn in Turkey’s prospects necessitates a reassessment of Armenian lobbying plans on this issue. It would not be in Armenia’s interest to have Turkey either sail through the EU membership process, as it would not feel compelled to make any concessions, or be quickly rejected, as Armenia would then lose all possibility of making any demands on Turkey. Once the door for European membership is rudely shut in its face, nothing would prevent the Turks from becoming more hostile towards Armenia and Karabagh.

At this juncture, Armenia’s interests would best be served if the EU would neither accept nor reject Turkey in the short term. It would be preferable if Turkey just languished on Europe’s doorsteps for several decades, while gradually reforming its society and making more and more concessions to Armenians, Greeks, Cypriots, Kurds, Assyrians, Alawites and others. The longer this process takes, the more likely it is for these parties to obtain concessions from Turkey.

It appears that Cyprus and Greece have already adopted such a long-term “milking” strategy. Even though both countries could have vetoed Turkey’s membership at the outset, they realized that by doing so they would have eliminated their sole leverage on Turkey. They are well aware that, unless Turkey satisfies all of their demands, they could slam the door on its membership at any moment during the prolonged accession process.

The best way to obtain concessions from Turkey is neither by waiting until it joins the European Union nor by hastily blocking its membership, but by making continued demands during its prolonged years of candidacy for the EU. It is in everyone’s interest that Turkey should always be a bridesmaid, but never a bride!

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