Ship of Fools: Turkey and the European Union

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The Armenian Reporter International
New York, NY
January 1, 2005

Ship of Fools: Turkey and the European Union
By David Boyajian

In the ongoing furor over Turkey's efforts to join the European Union (EU), who has made the biggest fool of themselves?

The EU, which is too spineless and "politically correct" to tell Turkey that it's unfit to ever become a member? Or Turkey, to whom "European" means spraying itself down with deodorant, putting on a suit and tie, and legislating a few nice-sounding but unimplemented "reforms?"

Actually, the biggest fools may be those who believe that the "Christian" EU will "reform" Turkey and restrain it from ever again abusing its Armenians or attacking Armenia.

European reform of Turkey, particularly regarding Armenians, is an old idea that has never worked.


Serious reforms were first attempted during Ottoman Turkey's Tanzimat (Reorganization) period of 1839 to 1876. Pushed by Europe, Turkey declared measures, quickly proven ineffective, to safeguard the rights of its subjects, including Armenians.

A Turkish constitution was then declared in 1876 but suspended, along with parliament, just two years later.

Article 61 of the Treaty of Berlin, signed in 1878 by the European powers, Turkey, and Russia, guaranteed the safety of Ottoman Armenians but was dead before the ink dried.

Turkish "reforms" reached new levels in the 1890s with massacres of hundreds of thousands of Armenians.

In 1908 came the "reformist" Young Turk party. Inspired by European ideals, it pledged liberty, equality, and fraternity. "Reform" culminated in the cataclysm of 1915.

Turkey's next European-inspired "reformer" was Kemal Ataturk, who all but finished off the country's remaining Armenian, Greek, and Assyrian Christians, not to mention thousands of Muslim Kurds.

He seized historical western Armenia, which Europe had promised to Armenians, and attacked the just-reborn Armenian Republic while Europe looked on.

Ataturk's "reformist" legacy endures to this day: Genocide denial, the blockade of Armenia, and 80 years of military coups, human rights abuses galore, and even massacres, all tolerated by Europe.


Today comes yet another collection of Turks pledging European-approved "reform." This too will end in disaster if history is any guide.

Given Europe's wretched record regarding Armenians, there is little evidence that the EU will ever restrain Turkey against Armenia. Europe, as well as America, simply sees Turkey as more useful than Armenia.

Turkey is "terribly important," President Clinton once declared, and "should be anchor[ed] to the West" because of "the size of the country...its geostrategic significance, where it is, what it can block, and where it can open doors to."

Indeed, for centuries Europe has been propping up Turkey in order to block Russia from the Mediterranean and the Middle East. The West now also deems Turkey an important land bridge--strung with pipelines--into the oil and gas rich Caspian Sea region.

Moreover, Turkey's resurrected pan-Turkic dream--with tiny Armenia in the way--of penetrating Azerbaijan and Central Asia dovetails with the West's current objectives.


Europe's long time support for Turkey vis-à-vis Armenians has, unfortunately, not waned.

For over 10 years, for example, the EU has done nothing substantive about Turkey's blockade of Armenia. No reason exists, therefore, to believe the EU (or the US) will ever truly press Turkey on that issue.

In 1923, Europe and Turkey signed the Treaty of Lausanne, which guaranteed the rights of Turkey's few remaining Christians, particularly Armenians. Yet Turkey's own Human Rights Advisory Committee recently acknowledged that "Turkey has not honored its Lausanne obligations." Obviously, then, treaty signatory Europe has ignored its obligations, too.

The conclusion? Future guarantees by the EU to Armenia and to Turkey's minorities are probably worthless.

True, the European Parliament and a few European nations have acknowledged the Genocide, but only after being dragged kicking and screaming for years--and even then, only halfheartedly.

But didn't the EU force Turkey to stop its war against Kurds and grant them rights?

No. The Kurdish conflict has wound down only because Turkey conducted a ruthless campaign of murder, destruction, and deportation.

Moreover, Kurdish rights are still mostly words on paper. Indeed, Turkey has been legislating various EU "reforms" without actually implementing them. Even the US State Department acknowledged this year that "many of the reforms were not implemented...and some reforms adopted in 2002 still were not implemented."

That's no surprise given nearly 200 years of Turkey's ignoring or reversing "reforms" while Europe just wagged its finger.


Will Turkish membership in the EU somehow deter Turkey from military action against Armenia?

We know that the EU did not come to the aid of Armenians during the Karabagh war, when Turkey gave Azerbaijan military support and threatened Armenia. Indeed, a future Turkish thrust into Armenia might not be inconsistent with the West's own objectives.

The fact is that Turkey successfully defies Europe--Cyprus is one example--unless Europe credibly threatens military action, which it essentially never does. Moreover, notes former French President Valery Giscard d'Estaing, Turkey, with its fast growing population of 73 million people, would be the "largest state in the EU" and "a key factor in the [EU's] decision-making process."

That is, the tail (Turkey) would probably wag the dog (the EU).

And, frankly, Turks have shown again and again that they are tougher and more stubborn than Europeans, particularly wobbly-kneed Western Europeans.


If Turkey joins the EU, its economy would be enormously strengthened by European subsidies and guidance, just as Ireland's was.

Thus, even if reforms were to succeed and the EU minimally constrained Turkish belligerence, Turkey would end up much stronger economically, politically, and hence militarily, thereby canceling out any benefit for Armenia. One shouldn't want an adversary to acquire more allies and become more militarily powerful. That is axiomatic.

Some Armenians hallucinate, however, that a prosperous, confident Turkey will necessarily be less aggressive. In an analogous case, ask yourself: do you want Azerbaijan to be economically and militarily more powerful? Of course you don't.

Moreover, Turkish workers will go to EU countries under the latter's generous internal migration laws and create huge diasporan lobbies that will threaten Europe's Armenian communities. Even now, Germany is home to more than two million Turks, with perhaps one or two million living elsewhere in Europe.


Most Europeans want to keep Turkey out of the EU. Turkey, they say, is neither culturally nor historically European, is too poor, and would flood Europe with millions of migrant workers.

Unfortunately, many "politically correct" Europeans do not want to reject Turkey because they fear appearing "intolerant."

Clearly, some European businesses want cheap young Turkish labor since Europe itself is aging and has a low birthrate. Turkey will also serve as a large market for European goods and services.

President Giscard d'Estaing wisely observes that Turkey "would strike at the foundation of the still fragile" EU and "did not share any part of" Europe's heritage, including "rational and scientific thought."

That the EU would ignore such wisdom and its own citizens' misgivings suggests that it would probably disregard Armenia's opinions in the future.

The EU, unfortunately, hungers for growth and power, seeking, in President Clinton's words, to "anchor" Turkey to the West for "geostrategic" reasons.


The current Armenian strategy is simply to ask that the EU require Turkey to fulfill a few Armenian-specific requirements, such as opening the border.

That approach, however, ought to be a last resort. It sells Armenia too cheaply and gives Turkey undeserved credit for being otherwise qualified.

Instead, Armenia and the Diaspora should join hands with those principled Europeans who unequivocally oppose Turkish membership because Turkey is unqualified in general, and unfit for Armenian reasons.

Article used with authors permission.