Yes to Civilized Turkey; No to Barbarians at Europe's Gates

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Harut Sassounian Commentary 2004 December

Now that the European Union has set October 3, 2005 as the start of membership talks, the Turks have a lot of work ahead of them. So do the Armenians!

Even though the Armenian communities of Europe did everything in their power to make the recognition of the Armenian Genocide and the opening of the border with Armenia pre-conditions for Turkey's membership, the EU did not include these requests in its agreement with Turkey for the start of the talks. The 25 heads of the EU member states, not only ignored the Armenian issues, but more significantly, they did not demand the withdrawal of the Turkish occupying forces from Cyprus -- the territory of an EU member state! Since the decision to start the talks with Turkey had to be unanimous, the negative vote of even a single country would have cut short Turkey's dreams of joining the EU. Despite the fact that most Europeans are strongly opposed to Turkish membership, the heads of these states overlooked the wishes of their own citizens and chose to set a date for talks with Turkey.

Even more amazing is the fact both Greece and Cyprus - having the right to veto the start of talks with Turkey -- chose to go along with the rest of Europe. The Greek and Cypriot leaders may have felt that by allowing the Turks to begin the membership process, they would have more leverage in the long run, than rejecting them outright. It remains to be seen whether the Turks can dupe the Europeans into accepting them into the EU more than 10 years from now, by simply making a lot of cosmetic changes in their laws and giving the appearance of complying with all the EU requirements. Of course, the Turks could also face a rude awakening. If 10 years from now the Turkish troops are still occupying Cyprus, there would be practically no chance that Turkey would be admitted to the EU. The Cypriots would certainly use their veto then.

Ironically, some Armenian officials are much more accommodating to the Turks than most Europeans, by contending that Turkey as a member of the EU would be much more amenable to recognizing the Genocide and lifting the blockade of Armenia. I believe that the opposite is true. Once Turkey joins the EU, its huge population would entitle it to have the largest number of deputies in the European Parliament and the largest number of votes in the European Council, enabling it to win every dispute with Armenia, a non-EU member. Armenians would then be completely blocked from pursuing their demands through the EU.

The time to pressure the Turks is prior to their joining the EU, not afterwards! Armenians should use their lobbying clout as leverage to get what they want now from the Turks. The Turks should be told in no uncertain terms that unless they open their border with Armenia, recognize the Armenian Genocide, make amends for the Armenian losses, and restore the cultural, religious, and educational rights of the Armenian minority in Turkey, Armenians would create incessant obstacles to Turkey's EU membership!

Armenians, of course can't do this alone. As non-members of the EU, they have to work closely with the larger and more powerful European political forces that are already opposed to Turkey's EU membership for their own reasons.

While the Turks are celebrating their temporary victory this week, anti-Turkish demonstrations have been held in Italy. More than 50,000 supporters of the Italian populist Northern League Party took to the streets to protest the EU decision.

Trouble also looms for Turkey in several other European countries. The Chancellor of Austria announced shortly after the EU vote that his country would be joining France in holding a referendum on Turkey's accession, thus adding a major potential obstacle in Ankara's path.

Nicholas Sarkozy, former Finance Minister and rising star of French politics, is against offering Turkey full membership in the EU. Sarkozy has a good chance of replacing Jacques Chirac as French President in 2007.

The Turkish plans could also suffer a major setback in Germany if the main opposition party, which opposes Turkey's EU membership, comes to power in 2006.

Unless Turkey becomes a true democracy, it should not be allowed to join the union of civilized European nations.