Armenians Should Squeeze Concessions Out of Turkey During EU Negotiations

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Armenians Should Squeeze Concessions Out of Turkey During EU Negotiations

By Harut Sassounian

Publisher, The California Courier

October 13,2005

Turkey finally embarked on a journey that it had been anxiously awaiting for more than 40 years. The long and arduous negotiations for Turkey’s membership in the European Union officially started last week and are expected to last 10 or more years.

Armenians are of two minds over the benefits of Turkey joining the EU. Some of them are of the opinion that Armenia is better off if its old nemesis is kept under check by EU’s strict code of conduct. Armenians in this camp believe that a “civilized Turkey” is more apt to recognize the Armenian Genocide, lift its blockade of Armenia, and conduct peaceful relations with its neighbors.

Other Armenians believe that Turkey is simply going through the motions of transforming itself, without having any honest intentions of doing so. Besides, these Armenians believe that there are no guarantees that “an enlightened Turkey” would be more inclined to recognize the Genocide. Turkey could well become an EU member, and like Britain, still refuse to acknowledge the Armenian Genocide. Even worse, should Turkey not change its denialist policy after joining the EU, Armenians would be deprived of whatever clout they may have had in creating obstacles for its EU membership. Furthermore, Turkey would have by then the largest population among the EU countries, and thus be entitled to have the largest number of votes in various EU councils. Turkey could thus block pro-Armenian initiatives and help pass pro-Turkish and pro-Azeri resolutions in the EU. Therefore, the time to get any possible concessions out of Turkey is now, before it joins the EU.

Whether or not Turkey eventually becomes an EU member in 10 or 15 years from now is very difficult to determine in advance. To begin with, no one really knows with any degree of certainty the domestic and foreign developments that would shape Turkey’s decisions and as well as the attitudes of Europeans about Turkey years from now. Here are some of the factors that could influence the outcome of Turkey’s EU membership negotiations:

1) The social, economic and political conditions within Turkey that would impact its government’s desire to make the extensive changes required by the EU negotiations framework;

2) The stability of neighboring Iraq and the repercussions on Turkey arising from Iraqi and Turkish Kurds pursuing their national aspirations;

3) The social, economic and political conditions within various EU member states, particularly the attitude of their citizens towards the influx of more foreign workers at a time when they may be suffering from high unemployment and social unrest;

4) The state of negotiations on the settlement of the Cyprus problem;

5) The clout of the US government in terms of its ability and willingness to influence the EU on Turkey’s membership;

6) Whether or not more terrorist acts are committed by radical Islamist groups, particularly in Western Europe;

7) The results of the referendums that are to be held in several European countries on whether to allow Turkey to join the EU; and

8) The status of Armenian-Turkish relations that are partly linked to the outcome of the negotiations on the Karabagh conflict.

While Turkey will most probably have to lift its blockade of Armenia, since “the EU-Turkey negotiation framework” document requires that it unequivocally commit to “good neighborly relations,” the recognition of the Armenian Genocide by Turkey is not certain at all. Aside from the repeated non-binding resolutions adopted by the European Parliament demanding Turkey’ s recognition of the Armenian Genocide, the EU itself has not made such acknowledgment a part of its requirements for membership.

It would be naïve, if Armenians believe that they could block Turkey’s EU membership because of its non-recognition of the Armenian Genocide. If several years from now, Turkey successfully fulfills all EU requirements and settles the conflict in Cyprus, its EU membership would be just about guaranteed. Armenians should not expect European countries to rise to their defense, at the expense of their own self-interests. The Europeans would care about Armenian issues only when they happen to coincide with or serve their own national interests.

To be able to squeeze the maximum concessions out of Turkey, Armenia and the Diaspora would need to make common cause with the majority of Europeans who are strongly opposed to Turkey’s EU membership. Turkish officials must realize that unless they sit down at the negotiating table with Armenians and try to accommodate some of their grievances, Armenians would work tirelessly for the next 10 or more years to ensure that Turkey’s membership is delayed indefinitely. It is not in Armenians’ interest to block Turkey’s EU membership, but to drag it out as long as possible. The longer the negotiations take, the more concessions can be squeezed out of Turkey. This is the logic behind the positions of Cyprus and Greece. Despite the fact that they could have vetoed the start of Turkey’s EU talks, Cyprus and Greece allowed the talks to go forward with the aim of extracting concessions from Turkey during the negotiating process. Had they used their veto last week, they would have deprived themselves of the opportunity to get any concessions from Turkey.

The interest of Armenians requires that, on the EU issue, Turkey remain a bridesmaid, as long as it refuses to pay the dowry to become a bride!

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