Improved Ties With Armenia Vital for Turkey’s EU Entry

ANKARA (RFE/RL)–Normalizing relations with Armenia is among the political requiremen’s for Turkey’s long coveted membership of the European Union–according to a draft resolution pending debate in the European Parliament.

The document obtained by RFE/RL is currently being discussed by a key standing committee of the EU legislature. It urges Ankara to lift its decade-long economic blockade of Armenia and establish diplomatic relations with Yerevan. It says that stems from the so-called "Copenhagen criteria" – a list of strict political and economic terms for Ankara to meet in order to start EU membership talks.

"Of course the resolution of the Cyprus question and the normalization of relations with Armenia also form part of the fulfillment of the Copenhagen criteria," reads the draft resolution put forward by Arie Oostlander–a Dutch member of the European Parliament’s Committee on Foreign Affairs–Human Rights–Common Security and Defense Policy.

Oostlander is the commission’s special reporter monitoring Turkey’s progress towards meeting its EU commitmen’s. He has concluded that the Turkish authorities should–among other things–"lift the embargo against Armenia in order to reduce the economic backwardness of the region affected by the ban." The 15-page draft calls for "mutual recognition and the resumption of diplomatic relations [between Turkey and Armenia] as a step towards compliance with the political criteria" for EU membership.

The document dated March 12–2003 needs the commission’s approval before being included on the parliament agenda. The commission discussed it Monday–but it is not yet known whether any changes were made in the original text. Its next meeting is scheduled for Thursday.

The Turkish leadership is bound to reject any linkage between its EU accession talks and relations with Armenia or any other aspect of its foreign policy–including the Cyprus conflict. Ankara refuses to establish diplomatic relations with Yerevan until a resolution of the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict out of solidarity with its Turkic-speaking ally Azerbaijan.

The EU’s main executive body–the European Commission–was due to publicize on Wednesday a long list of economic and political priorities Ankara must meet before EU leaders decide in December 2004 whether it is ready for entry negotiations. According to a Commission document disclosed by Reuters–these include strongly supporting diplomatic efforts to reunite the divided island of Cyprus–eradicating torture–expanding media freedom and guaranteeing cultural rights for ethnic minorities. There was no mention of the Turkish-Armenian relations in the news agency’s report–however.

Oostlander’s draft resolution for the European Parliament also specifically urges Turkish and Armenian "academics–social organizations and NGOs to embark on a dialogue with each other–or to continue their existing dialogue–in order to finally put the past behind them." It thus effectively endorses the ongoing activities of the Turkish-Armenian Reconciliation Commission–a US-backed panel of retired diplomats–political experts and public figures exploring ways of ending the long-running feud between the two peoples.

The European Parliament has already expressed its position on a key hurdle to that reconciliation: the 1915 slaughter of 1.5 million Armenia’s in Ottoman Turkey. In a resolution adopted in February 2002–the EU assembly reaffirmed its recognition of the genocide.

The Turkish government–which denies that the mass killings constituted a genocide–reacted angrily to move at the time–calling it an "ugly attack" on an EU membership candidate.

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