By Nicolas Tavitian
EUOBSERVER / COMMENT –
A case in point: the recent vote in the French parliament in favour of criminalising the denial of the Armenian genocide. The vote generated an unprecedented interest in relations between
This is a welcome crisis. In 2000, the European Commission and the council [EU member states] both curtly dismissed the entire matter as a “historical debate,”and left it off the agenda of enlargement negotiations.
They should have known better. The issue is anything but historical. The
The issue of the Armenian genocide is quite different: most of the million or so Armenians in the EU are the descendants of the survivors of the 1915 genocide, which happened on the territory of modern Turkey but which is still being denied by Ankara. Without dwelling on the point, let us note the incredibly dehumanising barbarity of the event. It marked the survivors, and their descendents, for generations.
The current blockade of
The Armenian government, by contrast, pins its hopes on the beneficial transformation of
At the same time, a great many Turks – businessmen in particular – would like to see the Armenian border opened. Many more aspire to opening up Turkish society and rediscovering its past. But Turkish leaders are unlikely to take the political risk of engaging with
The EU could help. Regrettably, over the past four years, the commission not only ignored the whole problem, but helped it fester on occasion.
In 2002, Guenter Verheugen, enlargement commissioner at the time, persuaded the European Parliament not to include wording on the closed border and the genocide in one of its
The Armenian members of this commission, who saw the dialogue was being abused as an excuse for EU inaction, soon after withdrew from it.
Yet there is another way. By addressing the question of relations between
In the first place, the EU should contribute to the establishment of two dialogues: one governmental and one between civil societies. The first is to be conducted between the republics of
The second dialogue should involve Turkish society and EU citizens of Armenian descent – the Armenian Diaspora. That will be a more open and diffuse process, but it is indispensable to
It must involve the rediscovery by
The experience of the only existing Turkish-Armenian group, the Turkish-Armenian Business Development Council, should be valuable in this regard. Since 1997, against the odds, this non-governmental network has helped establish links between Armenians and Turks at all levels, and on several continents.
Both these dialogues must be sponsored and monitored by the EU. Without a credible mediator, and publicity where possible, dialogues are unlikely to produce results.
Secondly, the EU should lay down the rules with clarity. The commission has indeed relentlessly and effectively fought for freedom of expression. But
It should be made quite clear to the country that it will not join the EU until those borders are opened and trade relations fully functional.
Finally, whatever else it does, the EU should not subsidise the blockade of
Ultimately, the EU public opinion's acceptance of Turkish membership depends in large part on whether it feels that Europe is changing
Nicolas Tavitian is director of the Turkish Armenian Business Development Council (TABDC) in the EU and also heads the Inside Europe Resource Centre, a public policy centre dedicated to EU affairs relating to
Source: EUOBSERVER, 01 November 2006