By Shakeh Avoyan
Armenia expressed on Monday its strong opposition to Turkey’s membership of the European Union, with Foreign Minister Vartan Oskanian accusing the bloc of turning a blind eye to the decade-long Turkish blockade of his country.
The Turkish entry into the EU appeared to become a matter of time last week when its main executive body, the European Commission, formally recommended the member countries to begin accession talks with Ankara. The decision was criticized by Oskanian in unusually strong terms.
“When a country continues to keep the border [with Armenia] closed, criminalizes the use of the word genocide just a few weeks before that decision … and the European Union turns a blind eye to that, we can only be seriously concerned,” he said. “Is this more of a political expediency than a real process of meeting EU standards?”
“We believe that Turkey did not deserve to get the right to begin accession talks with the European Union at this point,” he added.
In one of its three reports justifying the recommendation, the European Commission called on Turkey to establish diplomatic relations and open its border with Armenia. But unlike the European Parliament, the Commission did not list that as a precondition for the Turkish membership.
In a June 2003 resolution, the EU’s legislative body also reaffirmed its recognition of the 1915 mass killings of Armenians in the Ottoman Empire as genocide. The Commission report, by contrast, only makes a vague reference to “the human suffering in the region in 1915/1916.”
The strong Armenian criticism of the EU comes only two weeks after Oskanian’s meeting in New York with Turkish Foreign Abdullah Gul. In an interview with RFE/RL last week, Oskanian sounded very disappointed with the talks, saying that they marked no further progress towards the normalization of Turkish-Armenian ties. He also openly accused the Turks of backtracking on their earlier pledges to open the Armenian border.
Oskanian was speaking on Monday at a joint news conference in Yerevan with Jan Petersen, his visiting Norwegian counterpart. Petersen declined to comment on Turkish membership of the EU, arguing that his country is not a member of the bloc.
Petersen, whose country currently holds the rotating presidency of the Council of Europe, instead discussed with Oskanian and President Robert Kocharian Armenia’s membership commitments to the Strasbourg-based organization. He said their fulfillment is essential for Armenia’s political and economic development.
“The minister brought up issues regarding our commitments such as constitutional reform, some legislative changes,” Oskanian told reporters. “We discussed prospects and time frames for the realization of that process.”