image of jerusalem 2013

Dreaming West & Moving East?
The European Union & Turkey

31 August 2004   |   Armenian Issues   |   Subject  Middle East & North Africa (MENA)


Earlier this month, Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger, Prefect of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith at the Vatican, expressed the opinion that Turkey’s candidacy to the European Union would be inadvisable since it would run against the ethos of Europe’s present club of 25. Citing the Ottoman Turkish Empire’s past incursions into the heart of Europe as proof of its disqualifying ‘otherness’, he added that Turkey is ‘in permanent contrast to Europe’ and it would be a mistake to link a predominantly Muslim secular republic of 70 million people to Europe within the framework of the Union.

In an acerbic editorial entitled Saying No to Turkey, the New York Times upbraided the top Catholic theologian for being a ‘meddlesome cleric’ who was inflaming an important debate. It suggested that the Vatican was adopting this approach because it had failed to persuade Europe’s leaders to enshrine Christianity in the final draft of the EU Constitution. The editorial continued its criticism by adding that ‘it would be refreshing if the cardinal had chosen to emphasise the positive potential in combining the best Christian tradition of charity and the best Muslim tradition of social justice.’

Conversely, other commentators stressed that the Eurocentric values of the European Union would be seriously undermined by Turkey’s accession. They opined that the Council should not begin formal accession talks with Turkey [in December 2004] unless it improved its human rights record - one that is still noticeably chequered despite some noteworthy efforts by Turkish Prime Minister Recip Tayyip Erdogan. Many lobbying groups also added that Turkey should address its illegal occupation of northern Cyprus and its continuing denial of the Armenian Genocide of 1915 concurrently with the requisite economic re-adjustments and socio-political improvements that were called for by the Council of Europe under the five criteria framed in Copenhagen in December 2002.


In an article in Zaman on 7 August 2004, Etyen Mahcupyan focused on the Turkish Prime Minister’s recent visit to France. He argued that François Hollande, leader of the French Socialist Party, had insisted to the Turkish Prime Minister that the Armenian issue should be taken up in the human rights context. Although the Copenhagen criteria do not include the recognition of the Armenian Genocide as a precondition for future accession, the Party leader had emphasised the unchanging policy of the Socialist Party that Turkey ought to accept that those events ‘took place’.

Mahcupyan’s article reminded his readers that ‘the European Union institutions, the Armenian Diaspora, Armenia, the government of the Turkish Republic as well as the state, and finally, the Armenian congregation in Turkey, all have different perceptions of the “Armenian issue”, and that the political functions and meaning of these approaches may differ from one other.’ He suggested that three factors should be factored into the EU strategy: (i) Turkey’s own objectives and its responsibility toward itself and its own society, (ii) the role of political globalisation within the EU process, and (iii) honesty over historical facts and truths. From a pan-Armenian perspective, he added, this would imply that Turkey should stop dodging the “Armenian issue” [by acknowledging its responsibility for the events of 1915].

In an earlier article in Le Figaro on 26 July 2004 entitled Les raisons de refuser la candidature d’Ankara, Alexandre Del Valle argued against Turkey’s EU membership. He stressed that Turkey is historically as much European as colonial France could ever be considered African. He suggested that Turkey’s history, values and ‘civilisational conscience’ are Asiatic and that the Golden Age was the apogee of the Ottoman Empire. Those few Turks in Istanbul who feel European are offset, he added, by the huge masses that identify themselves more closely with their Iraqi neighbours than with Europeans. The author of La Turquie dans l’Europe, un cheval de Troie islamiste?, who is viewed in some circles as a controversial anti-Islam iconoclast, cited the pan-Turkish policies in Central Asia and the Caucasus as a sign that Turkey is a country that ‘dreams west and moves east’.

Del Valle disputed the ‘irreversibility’ of Turkish EU candidacy on the basis that it had signed an Association Agreement in 1963, or that it was a member of NATO and the Council of Europe. He reminded his readers that the official request for adhesion submitted by Ankara in 1987 was voted down by the European Parliament, which had in turn demanded the recognition of the Armenian Genocide, the improvement of minority rights and the withdrawal of Turkish forces from Cyprus as preconditions for membership. To date, Turkey has not fulfilled all those pre-conditions. Furthermore, Del Valle disputed the claims that Turkey remains a ‘lay exception’ and a natural ally against the rise of Islamism. He wrote that an emerging Turkish re-Islamisation under Menderes, Demirel and Turgut Ozal has led to the death of Kemalism and that all indications of a re-Islamised society - from veils to blasphemy cases - are becoming stronger every day.

Turning his attention to the geopolitical consequences of Turkish adhesion to the EU, Del Valle refuted the claim that the integration of Turkey into Europe would help enhance its democratisation process. Underlining the Greco-Roman influences as much as Judaeo-Christian culture of Europe, he argued that countries such as the Ukraine, Byelorussia or Russia are infinitely more European - and therefore more prone toward EU adhesion than Turkey. Admitting Turkey, he added, would open a Pandora’s box of EU expansion whereby another 200 million Turkic people in the Caucasus and Central Asia, let alone the people of the Maghreb, would vie for EU membership and create huge problems with water, boundaries and minorities’ rights. He concluded by emphasising that it would be a mistake to admit Turkey for the sake of preserving a Kemalist exception in a post-Kemalist country and thereby triggering an unmanageable process.

International Minorities Rights Standards

The European Council is due to decide in December 2004 whether Turkey has met the Copenhagen political and economic criteria in order to start formal accession talks, and whether it can also demonstrate the ‘stability of institutions guaranteeing democracy, the rule of law, human rights and respect for and protection of minorities.’

What, therefore, is Turkey’s determining attitude vis à vis its minorities today? Do its policies bolster its EU candidacy let alone its claims for European identity and legitimacy? How do minorities fare in Turkey today? Are Armenians, Greeks and Jews, alongside other minorities who are not recognised in the Turkish Constitution, guaranteed their human rights and fundamental freedoms?  In this context, the EU revised Accession Partnership has set out that Turkey must:

Guarantee in law and in practice the full enjoyment of human rights and fundamental freedoms by all individuals without discrimination and irrespective of language, race, colour, sex, political opinion, religion or belief in line with relevant international and European instruments to which Turkey is a party … Ensure cultural diversity and guarantee cultural rights for all citizens irrespective of their origin.

Two principal texts that set out international minority rights standards are (i) the Council of Europe’s Framework Convention for the Protection of National Minorities (FCNM) and (ii) the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR). To date, Turkey has refused to sign the FCNM despite repeated requests by the Parliamentary Assembly. It has also entered a reservation under article 27 of the ICCPR limiting the rights under this Article only to those minorities recognised under its Constitution or the Lausanne Peace Treaty.

According to Minority Rights Group International (MRG), Turkey has taken significant steps towards meeting the Copenhagen criteria. Ever since the Justice and Development Party (AKP) won the parliamentary elections in November 2002, the government has made EU accession its foremost priority. Its reforms have broken some taboos, particularly regarding the property rights of non-Muslim minorities, broadcasting in minority languages and the legalising of private language courses. However, many reliable sources in Turkey affirm that serious disparities still remain between what is on paper and what happens in practice on the ground, and significant questions therefore arise about Turkey’s basic outlook both on the concept of change and on the sustainability of those changes. If Turkey’s basic outlook were not itself altered, the regulations that are issued regarding the implementation of the laws could become inconsistent with the laws themselves and thereby introduce further restrictions. As a result, the whole purpose of reform would be compromised and public officials could effectively end up forestalling their implementation.

According to a recent MRG Briefing, Turkey should re-engage further its policies toward minorities’ rights in:

  • International commitments and issues of recognition
  • Religion
  • Education
  • Political participation
  • Freedom of expression and broadcasting
  • Alphabet, using personal and place names, and using language in administrative and judicial services
  • Association and peaceful assembly
  • Freedom of movement and internal displacement
  • Discrimination as an EU acquis communautaire

The Armenian Genocide 1915

Most Armenians view the Armenian Genocide as a weal on their collective psyche. Writers like Yehuda Bauer, Robert Melson, Howard M Sachar and Samantha Power also suggest that it provided a template for the Jewish Holocaust. Yet, the United States of America, the United Kingdom, Germany and Israel are complicit in this Turkish denial and do not seem to regard Turkey’s persistent denial of its past Ottoman history as a violation of a whole people’s human rights.

The issue is not solely whether one million Armenians, or more or less, were exterminated during this period. Nor could it be about the Turkish feeble riposte that Turks massacred Armenians because the latter allied themselves during WWI with Russia against Turkey. After all, the number of Armenian Turks turning against Turkey in 1915 was very small. Besides, the huge Hamidian massacres against Armenians in 1895, or those by Turks and Kurds in 1909 just before the Balkan Wars, occurred not at a time of war but at a time of peace. The issue is moral, and the facts do not exonerate Turkey from its erstwhile intent to destroy a whole ethnic and religious group in Turkey by killing its members.

History consolidates the moral imperative too, since many historians world-wide - including Turkish and British historians - have acknowledged the Armenian Genocide. I need not remind the reader of the number of countries, parliaments or institutes that have already recognised this first official genocide of the 20th century. Nor do I need to quote the judgments of legal bodies such as the New York based International Center for Transitional Justice {assisting countries pursuing accountability for past mass atrocity or human rights abuse} in February 2003 stating that genocide has occurred during the multiple horrors of WWI. At a time when we have witnessed a realignment of the world order after 9/11, and where the West insists on democracy, good governance and human rights in more open societies, it is inadmissible that grave untruths are allowed to dictate let alone steer foreign policy matters.

Moreover, as Dr Alfred De Zayas, Professor of International law and former Secretary to the UN Commission on Human Rights, wrote in his Memorandum in June 2003, the Armenian Genocide fits the legal definition of the UN Convention of 1948. But Terrence Des Pres aptly reminded his readers in On Governing Narratives: the Turkish-Armenian Case, that ‘knowledge is no longer honoured for its utopian promise, but valued for the service it furnishes.’ And as Deborah Lipstadt also wrote in 1996, ‘Denial of genocide strives to reshape history in order to demonise the victims and rehabilitate the perpetrators, and is - indeed - the final stage of genocide.’

In her book Trauma and Recovery, Dr Judith Lewis Herman wrote that criminal behaviour is always defined by the perpetrator’s compulsion ‘to promote forgetting’. She added that ‘secrecy and silence are the perpetrator’s first line of defence’. If that fails, ‘the perpetrator attacks the credibility of his victim’. And if he cannot silence his victim, ‘he tries to make sure that no one listens’ by either denying or rationalising his crime. Today, Turkey might well deem that it is in its interest to deny the Armenian Genocide for reasons of pride as much as for fear over the consequences of recognition - namely restitution. However, the political and economic dividends that would accrue to Turkey and its neighbouring countries (including Armenia) as a result of good neighbourly relations in the Caucasus are enormous. Yet, to achieve this goal, recognition becomes an indispensable tool not only to globalise the whole region, but also to unburden both the victims and survivors of the Armenian Genocide of the heavy cross they have been bearing for eighty-nine years.


There are those who profess that Turkey’s membership to the EU would put a stop to its rampant nationalism and curb the stranglehold of the military establishment on democracy, human rights and fundamental freedoms. Others also use the ‘religious card’ as an argument in favour of accession. Turkey must be admitted to the EU, they say, to prove that Europe is not a Christian club. From a more subjective perspective, some Armenians also add that such a step would force Turkey to remove its blockade of Armenia and that EU citizenship would provide Armenian Turks with freedom of movement.

Notwithstanding those arguments, which could ostensibly be either right or wrong, the trenchant fact remains that Turkey has simply not fulfilled the criteria that would allow its admission into the EU club. I am not yet convinced that a credible argument could be made today for Turkey’s EU accession. Moreover, I reject the expedient religious card since it is tantamount to stating that Israel must be admitted into the Arab League to prove that it is not a Muslim club.

Four months shy of the cut-off date of December 2004, I recognise that the political and socio-economic stakes are high, and therefore the bars must correspondingly be high too. However, the pragmatist in me recognises that the ultimate decision for or against accession will be made in the uncompromisingly introverted political corridors of power - not at the European Parliament or in the intellectual and research-friendly corridors of a think tank or NGO.

Might I therefore suggest two litmus tests? The burden of proof should rest on Turkey to prove unequivocally that it meets all the Copenhagen criteria in order to ensure that its accession would enhance rather than impede the EU momentum and system of values. Turkey should also lift the fog of untruth that surrounds its denial of the Armenian Genocide by assuming responsibility for the aggregate crimes perpetrated against Armenian Turks by its predecessor regime.

If this were to happen in a transparent and verifiable way, and if reciprocity establishes its relevance in Armenian-Turkish relations, I re-iterate a promise I made to a Turkish journalist friend last week that I would personally welcome Turkey into the EU. But Merhaba is a sign of welcome that comes with definition and trust. It is not a cheap giveaway greeting!

© Dr Harry Hagopian   |   Armenian Issues   |   31 August 2004


Print or download a copy of this article.


Google: Yahoo: MSN: