EU Says Ankara Must Come to Terms With Past

BRUSSELS (RFE/RL)–The European Parliament Wednesday said it is "indispensable" for Turkey, together with Armenia, to come to terms with its past and reiterated its call for Ankara to recognize the Armenian Genocide. The parliament toned down its original report, removing a reference to the recognition of the Armenian genocide as a precondition for Turkey’s entry into the EU. By a vote of 283 to 320 the European Parliament rejected a provision that would have otherwise called the recognition of the Armenian genocide a "precondition" for Turkey’s entry into the EU. The author of the report, Dutch Member of the European Parliament Camiel Eurlings, said it was "indispensable" for Turkey to come to terms with its past. "Officially, formally, recognition is not a criterion [for accession], which is the truth, but it is indispensable for a country on the road to membership to come to terms with its past," Eurlings said. "So, let the message not be misunderstood. We really urge Turkey, together with Armenia, to get over the past." The European Parliament said it "reiterates its call on Turkey to recognize the Armenian genocide, as called for in previous European Parliament resolutions." In a non-binding report highly critical of Ankara’s compliance with EU membership criteria, the assembly said it "reiterates its call on Turkey to acknowledge the Armenian genocide, as called for in previous European parliament resolutions." However, EU lawmakers voted to remove a key clause that would have set genocide recognition as a precondition for Turkish membership in the bloc. The clause had been included into the original version of the report that was approved by the parliament’s Committee on Foreign Affairs on September 5. Turkey rejected that demand, with Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan saying that expecting Ankara to recognize the genocide is tantamount to "chasing a dream." Reports from Strasbourg said that the precondition, which has been set in previous European Parliament resolutions, was deleted under pressure from the decision-making European Commission. Reuters news agency quoted European Commissioner Louis Michel as saying that keeping the clause in the text would mean "moving the goalposts." Recognition of the Armenian genocide is not among the Turkish membership criteria that have officially been set by the EU’s executive body and member governmen’s. Still, a number of EU nations, including France and the Netherlands, have separately termed the 1915-1918 mass killings a genocide, ignoring strong protests from Turkey. Turkey will need to win the parliament’s formal approval of its membership should it successfully negotiate the accession talks it began last year. The debate in the European Parliament reflects growing concern within the EU that Turkey is dragging its feet over key political reforms. One particular object of EU ire is Article 301 of the Turkish Penal Code, which makes offending "Turkishness" a criminal offense. Officials note it was recently used to jail a Turkish-Armenian publisher for publicly referring to the fact that some European countries have recognized the mass killings of Armenia’s as genocide. Eurlings Wednesday reiterated criticism expressed by many other EU representatives when he said the article runs counter to freedom of expression. "Article 301 is not in line with the European Convention on Human Rights," Eurlings said. "It is very vaguely formulated, and it will always grant judges and prosecutors [who] don’t want a modern Turkey, [who] don’t want a Turkey of freedoms, it will grant them the opportunity to indict people for a nonviolent expression of opinion." Members of the parliament called on the government in Ankara to recognize the Republic of Cyprus, withdraw its forces from the island and lift its embargo on Cypriot vessels and aircraft. The report reminds Turkey that a lack of progress in implementing the Ankara protocol "will have serious implications for the negotiation process, and could even bring it to a halt." It also calls on "both Greece and Turkey to refrain from tension-prone military activities." The European Commission will release its own report on Turkey on November 8, expected to criticize slow reforms and continued tensions with EU member Cyprus. However, officials in Brussels say they hope Turkey’s entry talks can continue.

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