First European Armenian Convention Attracts Hundreds Features Leading European Union Experts

BRUSSELS–In a landmark event that brought over two hundred and fifty Armenian advocacy leaders from more than fifteen European nations–the European Armenian Federation for Justice and Democracy (EAFJD) held the opening day of the first ever Convention of European Armenia’s in the European Parliament building in Brussels–Belgium on October 18.

The Convention–which takes place at a critical time for the more than two million Armenia’s living in the European Union–provided a forum for scholarly discussion–rigorous debate–and consensus-building on the role of Armenian culture and identity within Europe–the implications of Turkey’s candidacy for the European Union–and the expansion of the EU’s "neighborhood" to include the countries of the Caucasus. The opening day program–which included the first two of the Convention’s sessions–featured presentations by senior European policy-makers–intellectuals–and community leaders. Each presentation–which was simultaneously translated in French–English–and Armenian–was followed by a question and answer session. The day’s events ended with a reception in the European Parliament building.

Welcoming Remarks

The Convention opened with remarks from Francis Wurtz–(Member of European Parliament–European United Left)–the Chairman of the European Parliament host committee for this program. His remarks were followed by Ruben Shugarian–the Deputy Foreign Minister of the Republic of Armenia–whose responsibilities include Armenian diplomacy toward Europe and the Western Hemisphere. A welcome speech was made by EAFJD Chairperson Hilda Tchoboian–who followed her remarks by inviting Toros Sagherian–the Chairman of the Forum of Armenian Associations of Europe–to offer his thoughts to those in attendance. Messages of support were read from the His Holiness Karekin II–Catholicos of all Armenia’s–His Holiness Aram I–Catholicos of the Great House Cilicia–and His Beatitude Nerses Bedros–XIX Patriach of Armenia’s Catholics.

Armenian Culture And Identity in Europe

The first session covered the issue of "Armenian Culture and Identity in Europe," a topic of pressing concern to community leaders committed to seeing the Armenian contribution to Europe fully recognized and appreciated. The four member panel was chaired by Alexis Govciyan–the Chairman of "Europe de la Memoire." The discussion started with a presentation–titled "The European Linguistic Policy: Commission’s Planning 2004-2006," by Jacques Delmoly–the Head of the Language Policy Unit in the European Commission’s Directorate General. He stressed the importance the Commission places on promoting a favorable climate for the learning of languages based on a policy of linguistic diversity in an environment of integration. He spent considerable time explaining the role of the Armenian language–which he cited as an official European minority language–within this system of language education.

Delmoly’s official perspective on Armenian language education was followed by Haroutioun Kurkjian–an Athens-based author of Armenian language text books. After reviewing the context in which the Armenian community has evolved within Europe–Kurkjian–in his presentation on "The Armenian Culture and the European Union," stressed the need for the European Union to create a favorable environment for multiculturalism–one that is conducive for the development of Armenian language and culture. He noted his dissatisfaction with the failure of schools and the media to sufficiently propagate the Armenian language–and called for the European Armenian community to undertake the gradual "cultural rearming" of the Armenian diaspora.

The third speaker on the first panel was Prof. Mihran Dabag–the Director of the Institute of Diasporas and Genocide at Bochum University in Germany. His commen’s–titled "The Armenian Experience in the Context of European Policies of Remembrance," examined European attitudes and policies dealing with the Armenian genocide and other aspects of Armenian history within the context of traditional and modern European models of remembrance. He noted that Europe’s remembrance has not normally been understood as including the Armenian genocide–despite the fact that this crime falls well within the European experience on a number of fronts. The Armenian genocide should be recognized as part of European history–he argued–not simply as an element of the Turkish-Armenian relationship. Prof. Dabag cited the new Turkish Penal Code–which criminalizes discussion of the Armenian genocide–as a prime example of Turkey’s refusal to come to terms with this matter. Europe–he said–needs to provide a political answer to the political issue of Turkey’s genocide of the Armenian nation. Moving beyond the genocide issue–he stressed that the Armenian community must make concerted efforts to create a framework that will ensure that Armenian literature is accepted by Europeans as part of their own tradition.

The final speaker in the first panel was Jules Mardirossian–Chairman of the Armenian Studies–Information–and Documentation Center in France. The commen’s by this long-time intellectual and community leader were on the theme of "New Identities–Political Challenges–and the Issue of Transfer of Culture." In his presentation–Mardirossian explored the transformation of individual and collective identity and values of Armenia’s in Europe. Starting with a theoretical discussion of the nature of identity–he then described the reality of the post-modern–traditional–and transitional models of Armenian community identity today. Mardirossian ended his sweeping review of the identity challenges and opportunities facing the Armenia’s of Europe with the insight that culture without politics cannot survive–while politics without culture is sterile.

Questions for the first panel included requests for additional insights into how to secure EU funding for Armenian language education–the potential loss of the Melkonian School as a center of diasporan education–and the broader neglect of identity building outside of Armenia. A spirited exchange on these issues lasted an hour–and was only adjourned to make time for the group to break for lunch.

EU-Armenia Relations

The second session–chaired by EAFJD Executive Director Laurent Leylekian–moved the focus of discussion from Armenian identity within the Europe to the EU’s relations with Armenia. This topic began with insights from Marie-Anne Isler-Beguin–the Chairwoman of the EU-South Caucasus delegation. As the point person in the European Parliament on engagement with Armenia and its Caucasus neighbors–Isler-Beguin began by noting the EU’s concern about the Armenian Cause–and stressing her appreciation of the fact that the concerns raised by Armenia’s about Turkey’s candidacy are founded in fact. While noting that the EU should use its leverage over Turkey’s entry to bring an end to the blockade of Armenia–she added that she believed that–in time–Turkey would accept its past and mutual interests would prevail over mutual hostility. On the topic of EU-Armenia relations–Isler-Begiun stated that European institutions would welcome progress by the Caucasus countries toward the EU family. She specifically expressed encouragement about Armenia’s acceptance into the EU’s new neighborhood program–the values that the EU and Armenia’share–and the prospect for continued cooperation between Europe and Armenia on specific projects.

The second speaker–Vicken Tchitetchian–who serves as Armenia’s Ambassador to the European Union–provided an in-depth review of the current status and future prospects for expanded EU-Armenia relations. He pointed out that European integration was not being imposed from the outside–but rather sought by the Armenian government–which is moving this process forward in a realistic and practical manner. Amb. Tchitetchian stressed that Armenia has made progress in its key areas of reform–despite the fact that its neighbor to the West has sought–using the last closed border in Europe–to hinder its progress at every turn.

Also presenting as part of the second panel was Vahan Zanoyan–the CEO of the Petroleum Finance Corporation and a world-renowned expert on international energy issues. Zanoyan reviewed the history and current status of the Baku-Tiblisi-Ceyhan pipeline and its implications for Armenia. He focused on two pressing challenges for backers of the pipeline–namely financing–which has largely been resolved via multilateral agencies–and the sufficiency of oil throughput for the line’s viability–which remains an open question. He then spent considerable time offering his insights on the geopolitics of the pipeline and its impact on Armenia and the region.

Richard Tibbels–the Armenian Desk Officer of the European Commission’s Directorate General–offered a presentation on "EU-Armenia relations: Challenges and Opportunities." Tibbels–who works on a daily basis with the Armenian government–stressed that Armenia has made considerable progress across a number of reform areas–including alignment with European legal standards–membership in the World Trade Organization–and in its poverty reduction efforts. He also pointed out areas for improvement including the conduct of the 2003 presidential elections–respect for human rights–and the need to address income disparity and corruption as the economy grows stronger. The neighborhood program is not a gateway to prospective EU membership–but nor does it–he explained–in any way close the door to future participation in the European Union. Tibbels closed by noting the critical role that Europe’s Armenian community plays in bringing the EU and Armenia closer together.

The next presentation began with an announcement by Amb. Tchitetchian that the speaker–Demetrio Volcic–had been awarded the "Mkhitar Gosh" award in recognition of his support for the rule of law and the virtue of justice. Volcic–a former member of the European Parliament–noted that the EU has adopted a new pattern of thinking about areas on its borders. The EU–he said–can no longer afford to ignore the Caucasus region–and should devote increasing attention to Turkey’s policies toward Armenia.

Volcic was followed by Armand Sarian–a noted economist from France–who spoke on the topic of "Economic Relations between Armenia and the EU." Sarian began by noting the economic importance of this relationship–on issues ranging from investment to foreign aid. He stressed the progress Armenia has made on economic issues–despite its lack of resources–the near total orientation of its economy to Soviet markets–the 1988 earthquake–and the ongoing Turkish and Azerbaijani blockades. He underscored the need to continue Armenia’s growth–to foster the conditions for peace–and to make Armenia increasingly attractive to outside investors.

The final speaker of the day was Prof. Otto Luchterhandt–who teaches International Law at the University of Hamburg. In his remarks–he outlined a compelling historical and legal case for Karabagh’s right to self-determination. In addition–he sharply criticized the EU’s inconsistency in identifying serious shortcoming in Turkey’s willingness to meet clear European standards–while still recommending that Turkey begin talks toward eventual membership. He stated his strong opposition to any actions by the EU that position it as a neutral party in the matter of the Armenian genocide. The proper role for the EU–he argued–is in the morally correct position of pressing Turkey to come to terms with this crime.

During the discussion period–Deputy Foreign Minister Shugarian repeated a point he had made several weeks earlier that Turkey’s recognition of the Armenian genocide represents a security issue for the Republic of Armenia. Other topics raised in questions included whether the EU was fully using its leverage to press Turkey to meet international norms domestically and in its conduct with neighboring states. Other issues for discussion included Armenia’s economic integration with Europe and the need for a differentiated EU approach to the Caucasus countries based on the merits of their respective progress in economic and political reforms.

Additional news about the second day of the Convention will be forthcoming. The EAFJD represents more than 300 Armenian organizations in Europe.


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