Turkey Shouldn't be Admitted to EU On the Centennial of the Genocide

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Harut Sassounian Commentary 2004 October

Turkey took a major step forward last week when the European Commission recommended that the country is sufficiently ready to start talks for possible eventual membership in the European Union (EU). The leaders of the 25 EU member states will take up the Commission's recommendation on December 17.

The Commission gave Turkey a "qualified yes" or a green light with "strings attached." It warned that any reversal in Turkey's progress towards democracy, human rights and the rule of law would automatically bring to a halt the negotiating process. The Commission also stipulated that the EU might impose controls on the free movement of Turkish workers, should a large number of them try to immigrate to Europe, if and when Turkey joins the EU. It also said that the talks would last for a decade or more with no guarantees that membership would be inevitable.

Turkey has a long and arduous road ahead. During the next 10 years, it has to overhaul practically its entire political and economic system. To conform to European standards, it needs to adopt around 80,000 pages of EU laws. Furthermore, the EU has made it clear that the Turks should focus on implementation, rather than mere passage of legislation.

Europeans are seriously concerned that Turkey's membership would: flood Europe with millions of more Turkish immigrants; cost the EU around $25 billion a year in various subsidies in order to bring it up to EU standards; and give Turkey the largest number of votes in the European Council and the largest number of deputies in the European Parliament, as it would be the most populous member shortly after joining the EU.

Turkey's biggest obstacle, however, is the fact that most Europeans object to its membership, simply because they do not feel that it is a European country. There are already calls in several countries to hold a referendum on Turkish entry. A negative decision by just one of the 25 EU countries would preclude Turkey's membership, depriving it of the required unanimous approval.

In addition to Turkey not fulfilling the various criteria for the start of talks for membership, the report issued by the EU last week urged Turkey to recognize the Armenian Genocide (without referring to it as genocide), lift its blockade of Armenia, and remove the various restrictions placed on the Armenian minority in Turkey. The euphemistically worded segment of the EU Report on Armenian issues is found in the following three paragraphs:

"The accession of Turkey would extend the EU's borders to Armenia, Azerbaijan and Georgia. Through Turkey the EU could have a stabilizing influence in Southern Caucasus, provided that Turkey is willing to try to solve conflicts with its neighbors already before its accession. In particular, its relations with Armenia will need to be improved with the establishment of diplomatic relations and the opening of the land border which is currently closed. As regards the tragic events, in particular the human suffering in the region in 1915/1916, the prospect of Turkey's accession must lead to an improvement in bilateral relations with Armenia and to reconciliation as regards these events. It is also important that Turkey should contribute to easing tensions between Azerbaijan and Armenia in the dispute concerning Nagorno Karabakh.

"The history books for the 2003-2004 school year still portray minorities as untrustworthy, traitorous and harmful to the state. However, the authorities have started to review discriminatory language in schoolbooks and, in March 2004, a Regulation was issued in which it is stated that school textbooks should not discriminate on the basis of race, religion, gender, language, ethnicity, philosophical belief, or religion.

"The dialogue with the authorities on the issue of the dual presidency in the Jewish, Greek and Armenian schools (the deputy head of these schools is a Muslim representing the Ministry of Education and has more powers than the head) is ongoing. In May 2004 the Ministry of Education stated that children with mothers from the minority could also attend these schools (previously only those with fathers from the minority could attend).

However, the declaration by parents of their minority status will be subject to an assessment by the Ministry of Education. The Greek community has encountered problems obtaining the approval of new teaching materials and the recognition of teachers trained abroad. Moreover, in contravention of the 2003 Labor Law and in contrast with the situation of their colleagues of Turkish origin, Greek minority teachers are only permitted to teach in one school. The Armenian community has expressed its concern regarding the inadequacy of the teaching of the Armenian language." Under these circumstances, what should the Armenian strategy be regarding the talks for Turkey's membership in the EU? Some Armenian officials and analysts have argued that after joining the EU Turkey would be more amenable to recognizing the Armenian Genocide and granting more rights to its Armenian minority.

In my opinion, this is wishful thinking. Turkey would not take such positive steps on its own initiative. It would have no incentive whatsoever to do so, once it acquires EU membership. A good indication of Turkey's negative intentions is the passage of a law by the Turkish Parliament on the eve of the issuance of the EU report, making the recognition of the Armenian Genocide a criminal act punishable by up to 10 years of imprisonment.

Rather than throwing away the valuable trump card Armenians hold, they should take a very hard line and make it clear to Ankara that unless their demands are met, they will counter Turkey's efforts every step of the way, by joining forces with all Europeans who are opposed to Turkey's membership. Turkey cannot qualify to enter the EU as long as it does not uphold European values, it occupies part of Cyprus (the territory of an EU member), it blockades Armenia, it violates the rights of Kurds and all other minorities (Armenians, Greeks, Jews, Assyrians, and Alevis), and it not only refuses to acknowledge the Armenian Genocide, but bans any mention of that crime against humanity.

After initially refusing to comply with the Armenian demands, as the years pass and their frustrations mount, the Turks would be forced to start making deals with all those opposed to their EU membership, including the Armenians.

Only by taking such a tough stand could Armenians make sure that Turkey does not become a member of the EU on the 100th anniversary of the Armenian Genocide, unless it first acknowledges and atones for the Genocide!