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By Leon Mangasarian
(dpa) - Armenia hopes to join the European Union within 20 years and has no objections to its arch-rival Turkey joining the bloc if Ankara meets strict membership terms, Foreign Minister Vartan Oskanian said Wednesday.

"We would like to be a European Union (EU) member .... the sooner the better," said Oskanian in an interview with Deutsche Presse-Agentur, dpa, after talks between German Chancellor Gerhard Schroeder and Armenian President Robert Kocharian in Berlin.

Oskanian said the path used by the 10 mainly east European nations, which joined the EU earlier this year, showed Yerevan the blueprint it had to follow. "More needs to be done but a lot will depend on Armenia," he said, adding Armenia had to reform its legislature, institutions and democratic system as well as fight corruption to be on track for possible EU accession negotiations.

But he stressed the process of completing reforms to meet EU standards was highly positive in itself and that the journey toward joining the Union was just as valuable as the final prize. Asked when his country expected to join, he said: "Maybe in 15 or 20 years."

Turning to Turkey's bid to join the EU, Oskanian said his government had no objections but was noting with concern that the EU seemed to have watered down some of its criteria in the case of Turkey. Armenia, he said could not understand how Turkey could be recommended for EU membership talks while its border to Armenia remained closed.

Oskanian also noted that Turkey's penal code banned any mention of the term genocide in reference to the killing of Christian Armenians by Muslim Turks during and after the First World War.

Armenia and many historians say the killings amount to a genocide as between 800,000 and 1.5 million Armenians died during this period. But Turkey has always rejected this and insisted a smaller number of Armenians were killed during the war when they rebelled against Turkish rule.

Nevertheless, Oskanian said Armenia had "no problem" with Turkish EU membership because this would lead to European standards of minority rights and full freedom of speech in Turkey as well as an EU member state bordering on Armenia. He said Turkish recognition of "genocide" was not a precondition for normal ties between Ankara and Yerevan.

Turkey is expected to get a green light at the scheduled December 17 EU summit in Brussels to begin accession talks. Turkish leaders admit it could take until 2019 before their country becomes a full member.

Turning to an uneasy truce over the mountainous Nagorno-Karabakh region between Armenia and mainly Muslim Azerbaijan which has held since their war over the region ended in 1994, Oskanian complained that Azerbaijan was backtracking on moves aimed at a final accord. Oskanian said his government wanted the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) to continue to mediate the dispute, and he opposed recent moves by Azerbaijan to shift talks to the U.N.
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