By Emil Danielyan
Armenia praised on Tuesday France for pledging to seek Turkish recognition of the 1915 genocide of Armenians in the Ottoman Empire during anticipated negotiations on Turkey’s membership of the European Union. Foreign Minister Vartan Oskanian said he believes Ankara’s refusal to open the Turkish-Armenian border will also be on the agenda of the accession talks.
“In the course of the accession negotiations, France will ask for a recognition of the tragedy at the outset of the 20th century,” French Foreign Minister Michel Barnier said late Monday. Barnier referred to the 1915-1923 mass killings and deportations of some 1.5 million Ottoman Armenians which France’s parliament recognized as genocide in 2001.
“Armenia certainly welcomes that statement,” Oskanian told reporters in Yerevan. “It once again shows that the issue of the Armenian Genocide has gone beyond the Armenian framework. It is now a truly global issue.”
Barnier made the comments in Brussels after attending a meeting of the foreign ministers of EU member states. They discussed preparations for this week’s EU summit which is expected to give the green light for the start of formal negotiations on Turkish entry into the bloc.
Turkey was quick to reject the French calls which could complicate its decades-long efforts to join the EU. “Our position is well-known. We do not recognize any so-called genocide and we will never recognize it," a Foreign Ministry spokesman in Ankara told Reuters.
Barnier clarified on Tuesday that France does not regard Turkish recognition of the genocide as a precondition for EU membership. "But when the time comes, Turkey should face up to the requirement of remembrance over this tragedy at the beginning of the century, which affected hundreds of thousands of Armenians," he told French television, according to the Associated Press. "The European project itself is founded on the idea of reconciliation.
"We have 10 years to ask it; the Turks have 10 years to think about their response," he added.
France is home to Europe’s largest and most influential ethnic Armenian community which has been lobbying Paris hard to link Turkey’s EU entry to genocide recognition. Western commentators suggest that Barnier’s statements are also meant to reassure the broader French public which is overwhelmingly opposed to Turkish membership.
Armenia’s government has also voiced strong objections, citing Ankara’s continuing denial of the genocide and, more importantly, its refusal to open the border and establish diplomatic relations with Yerevan without any preconditions. Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan listed Armenian efforts at genocide recognition among those preconditions in a newspaper interview last October.
Oskanian raised the issue in meetings last week with senior EU officials, among them External Relations Commissioner Benita Ferrero-Waldner and Enlargement Commissioner Olli Rehn. “Our efforts in recent months seem to be yielding positive results,” he said.
“Both the opening of the Turkish-Armenian border and the Armenian Genocide have really become issues of interest to the European Union … I have reason to be confident that those issues will be on the agenda of the accession talks.”