Unprecedented European Armenian Convention Ends Issues Declaration

BRUSSELS–The first Convention of European Armenia’s closed on Tuesday with the adoption of a final declaration affirming its support for fundamental European values–the need for the increased promotion of Armenian identity within Europe–further integration of Armenia into the European family of nations–and strong opposition to Turkey’s candidacy for membership in the European Union.

The more than two hundred and fifty delegates to the European Armenian Federation for Justice and Democracy (EAFJD) Convention unanimously affirmed these points. The declaration will be sent to the twenty-five member states of the European Union.

Tuesday’s program opened with a panel on The challenges of the enlargement process–moderated by Phillipe Kalfayan–the Deputy Secretary General of the International Federation of Human Rights (FIDH). In a sweeping introduction to this topic–Kalfayan touched on the security–religious–and cultural dimensions to Turkey’s candidacy–as well as the impact of internal Turkish policy on its relations with European institutions.

The first speaker–noted historian and the Rector of the Catholic University of Louvain–Prof. Bernard Coulie–alluding to the reservoir of historical understanding of Armenia’s longstanding relations with Europe– discussed the prospects for Armenia and Armenian diaspora drawing closer to the European Union.

He noted with certainty that Armenia–as a member or close neighbor–will either be in or on the border with the European Union. The Armenian community of Europe–he explained–will become a vital catalyst in bringing Armenia and Europe closer together.

The second speaker–Chairman of the Armenian Liberal Democratic (Ramgavar) Party Jean Varoujan Sirapian–point by point spelled out why Turkey’s acceptance into the European Union would contradict the spirit of the Union’s founding–and would ultimately undermine the interests and values of the vital institution. He sharply criticized recent reports pointing out Turkey’s many failures–nonetheless still recommending opening talks on membership. He announced the publication of a report by the Chobanian Institute that makes the case against Turkey’s acceptance into the EU.

The next speaker–the Vice-President of the Socialist Group in the European Parliament Harlem Desir–stressed the that though Turkey must be held accountable for meeting EU criteria–once these have been met–Turkey could–nevertheless–rightfully be considered for membership. He stressed his efforts and the work of his Party in pressing Turkey to recognize the Armenian genocide and noted his regret that the EU did not formally set Armenian genocide recognition as a precondition for membership.

Turkey must do what Germany and France have done–Desir stressed–and come to terms with their history. The EU–he noted–should use Turkey’s interest in membership as leverage to secure continued reforms.

In a spirited and compelling presentation–the next speaker–Frank Biancheri–analyzed the practical prospects for Turkey’s acceptance into the EU. Biancheri–the Chairman of the think tank TIESweb–argued that for a myriad of domestic and international reasons–Turkey’s membership is highly unrealistic during the next twenty years. "The fact is," he said–"that the forces against Turkey’s membership have set forth argumen’s that have resonance across Europe–while pro-Turkey elemen’s have been limited to parts of ruling European elite. Given the likelihood of referendums on Turkey’s acceptance–the chances for approval are very low." He argued–instead–for a Privileged Partnership relationship as a realistic alternative.

The final speaker on the panel–Charles Papazian–representing the Western Europe branch of the Armenian Revolutionary Federation–argued that acceptance into the EU would run counter to European values and public opinion across the continent.

He outlined the basis for this opposition–on issues ranging from genocide denial–blockades–human rights–treatment of minorities–the continued occupation of Cyprus–and the role of religion in Turkish society. He stressed the growing gap on this issue between governing European elites and the broad cross section of popular opinion. In closing–he discussed ARF’s advocacy and grassroots efforts in Brussels and throughout Europe in opposing Turkey’s membership to culminate in a demonstration outside of the European Commission building on December 17.

The especially spirited question and answer period–which lasted nearly two hours–raised issues on the lowering of EU standards for Turkey–the role of public opinion on Turkey’s candidacy–and the sincerity of pronouncemen’s by elemen’s of Turkey’s governing elite concerning the EU. Charles Tannock–MEP–(Christian Democrat–UK)–criticized the moral double standard being applied to Turkey–and warned of the large costs of taking Turkey into the Union and stressed that serious attention should be devoted to the issues of fundamental cultural differences–and the role of Islam in Turkey. He predicted that the top-driven agenda of getting Turkey into the EU will come to a halt as national referendums are held on this issue.

Following the question and answer session–Hilda Tchoboian–the Chairperson of the EAFJD–read the Declaration of the Convention–which was approved unanimously by acclamation.

In his closing remarks–ARF Bureau member and the Chairman of the Armenian National Committee international coordinating body Garo Armenian–praised this historic beginning and noted the progress made by Europe’s Armenian community in emerging as a political force on the European stage. He stressed the success of the EAFJD in developing a Europe-wide consensus–and organizing focused and effective advocacy in the key European capitals. He closed his commen’s by noting for all in attendance that the real work for Europe’s increasingly vibrant Armenian community lies ahead.

Following the formal program–Hilda Tchoboian and EAFJD Executive Director Laurent Leylekian held a press conference for the several dozen print and broadcast journalists at the Convention.

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