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By Emil Danielyan
The European Parliament listed on Thursday improved relations with Armenia among the requirements which Turkey should satisfy in order to secure long-coveted membership of the European Union.

In a resolution passed by 216 votes to 75, the parliament said “good neighborly” relations between the two nations would be in line with the so-called “Copenhagen criteria” -- a list of strict political and economic terms for Ankara to meet in order to start EU membership talks.

“Of course the resolution of the Cyprus question and the normalization of relations with Armenia also form part of the fulfillment of the Copenhagen criteria,” the resolution says.

“The European Parliament calls on the Turkish authorities to promote good neighbourliness with Armenia in order to defuse tension and reduce the economic backwardness of the region affected by the ban. As a first step this could mean opening of the borders, mutual recognition and the resumption of diplomatic relations as a step towards compliance with the political criteria.”

The original version of the document, drawn up by the EU legislature’s Committee on Foreign Affairs, Human Rights, Common Security and Defense Policy, explicitly stated that Turkey should “lift the embargo against Armenia” imposed in 1993 out of solidarity with Azerbaijan, Ankara’s closest regional ally.

Successive Turkish governments have refused to establish diplomatic relations and reopen the border with Armenia until a resolution of the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict, despite repeated calls by Europe and the United States. A recent report by the U.S. State Department said Washington “continues to press the Government of Turkey at every appropriate opportunity” to lift the blockade.

The strained relations were discussed by the Armenian and Turkish foreign ministers on Tuesday at a meeting in Madrid on the sidelines of a Euro-Atlantic Partnership Council forum. It was the first high-level contact between official Yerevan and Turkey’s Islamist-leaning government that took office late last year.

The Armenian Foreign Ministry said Vartan Oskanian and Abdullah Gul agreed that improved Turkish-Armenian relations “will reflect positively on the establishment of stability and security in the region.” It did not give further details of the meeting, saying only that the two men will “continue the dialogue.”

The European Parliament further called on Turkish and Armenian academics and civil society representatives to “embark on a dialogue with each other, or to continue their existing dialogue, in order to overcome the tragic experiences of the past.” It thus indirectly approved the ongoing activities of the Turkish-Armenian Reconciliation Commission, a U.S.-backed panel of retired diplomats, political experts and public figures exploring ways of ending the long-running feud between the two peoples.

The resolution effectively reaffirmed the European Parliament’s 2002 resolution recognizing the underlying cause of the problem: the 1915 genocide of Armenians in the Ottoman Empire. The Turkish government, which denies that the mass killings constituted a genocide, had denounced the recognition as an "ugly attack" on an EU membership candidate.

Thursday’s resolution concludes that Turkey is still not ready to start membership talks with the EU primarily due to its poor human rights record and the Turkish military’s continuing involvement in political affairs. Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan predicted last week that his country will join the EU by 2012.
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