By Serge Sarkisian
YEREVAN, Armenia — Over the past few months, attention in Europe has focused once again on the genocide of the Armenian people. The debate in the European Parliament over whether Turkey's recognition of the genocide should be a precondition for membership in the European Union, and the French National Assembly's bill criminalizing genocide denial, have put the spotlight on this tragic period of Armenia's history.
I want to look to the future and I hope that Turkey's negotiations for EU membership will provide the long-awaited opportunity for our two countries to establish civilized relations for the benefit of our peoples and the region. Armenia is part of the new European Neighborhood Policy and is seeking closer ties with the EU. As the country with the oldest Christian community in the world, we are a neighbor to Europe, but also to Georgia, Azerbaijan, Iran and Turkey.
Turkish-Armenian relations and the genocide are, of course, important factors that need to be considered during Turkey's negotiations for EU membership. It is important to remember the past to ensure that such crimes against humanity are not repeated. Nevertheless, Armenia has a very straightforward and practical position in terms of future relations with Turkey. We would welcome starting normal diplomatic and other relations — without preconditions. That includes not tying the establishment of diplomatic relations to recognition of the genocide. More importantly, we want to profit from such diplomatic relations as a means to overcome the issues that burden our relations. We cannot expect solutions to come before we start talking to each other. Solutions will only arise when we work hard for them, starting by establishing an open dialogue.
In addition to building diplomatic ties between our two countries, we believe that in negotiating for membership — and perhaps as a future EU member state — Turkey will contribute to an economically stronger and more stable neighborhood. This is in the interest of both Turkey and Armenia. EU membership would also make Turkey much more predictable. It is always easier to deal with a predictable neighbor.
Sadly, in the past Turkey's response to Armenia's desire for normal, diplomatic relations has been to punish and threaten those who have recognized the genocide. The breakthrough promised 15 years ago when Ankara announced its recognition of Armenian independence remains unfulfilled. Turkey refused then to establish diplomatic relations with my country — and refuses to do so to this day. The result is that our bilateral relations are zero. Worse, Turkey maintains closed borders with Armenia despite growing international pressure and condemnation, throws every effort into isolating landlocked Armenia from international and regional transportation projects and does not play a constructive role in the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict. While these policies contradict contemporary principles of international relations and world order, Armenia does not regard Turkey's potential membership in the EU as a threat to national security. Quite the contrary. We hope it will mean that Turkey will change, and be in a better position to face both its history and future.
The entry negotiations hold seeds of hope that the impasse between Turkey and Armenia can eventually be broken. If Turkey lifts the blockade of its border with Armenia, my small country becomes geopolitically closer to Europe. Armenia already shares a common interest with the EU on a large range of issues ranging from regional security to democratic development.
The statehood that both Armenia and Turkey enjoy is not an apartment. You cannot sell it and leave it. Neither Turks nor Armenians will leave the region. The logical solution is to have normal relations with each other. That's what neighbors seek to do in today's world.
I do not say that Armenia should resolve its relations with Ankara at any price. What I do say is that it is ready to regulate its relations with Turkey without any preconditions. Armenia is committed to doing everything it can to find a way to develop bilateral relations, as much as we are seeking close cooperation with the EU. We look forward to the EU becoming increasingly involved in finding a way to a breakthrough for relations between Turkey and Armenia.
Finally, let me make yet one more appeal to Turkey. We cannot be permanent enemies — and even if we could, there is no need or sense in being such enemies. So for the sake of our future, let us move forward.
Source: “The Wall Street Journal”, December 22, 2006
Mr. Sarkisian is Armenia's defense minister.