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By Emil Danielyan
Defense Minister Serzh Sarkisian, Armenia’s second most powerful leader, looks forward to the upcoming start of membership talks between Turkey and the European Union, saying his country could have a “truly European neighbor” as a result.

In an online news conference with readers of the “Yerkir” weekly published this week, Sarkisian argued that the prospect of EU membership could lead Turkey to reopen its border and establish diplomatic relations with Armenia.

“It is my conviction that the start of membership talks between Turkey and the EU has a purely practical significance for us and will further contribute to the resolution of issues mentioned by you,” he said in response to a question about Ankara’s continuing refusal to normalize ties with Yerevan without preconditions.

“The essence of the pragmatism, the strategic considerations of Armenian policy is a positive attitude toward the need for Turkey to be scrutinized for a strict compliance of its political-legal system with EU standards,” he said, suggesting that that the Turks will have to lift the 12-year blockade as a result of the accession process.

Sarkisian added that Armenia wants Turkey to “develop progressively and at the same time restrain itself in accordance with European values and standards.” Armenians should therefore be encouraged by the “possibility of having a truly European neighbor in 15-20 years’ time,” he said.

The remarks represent the most positive assessment yet by a senior Armenian official of the EU’s decision late last year to open accession talks with Ankara by the end of 2005.

Official Yerevan’s initial reaction to the move was far more negative, with Foreign Minister Vartan Oskanian accusing the EU of turning a blind eye to the Turkish blockade. “We believe that Turkey did not deserve to get the right to begin accession talks with the European Union at this point,” he said in October.

However, Oskanian struck a more positive tone in December after receiving assurances from European leaders that they will raise Armenian grievances with the Turks during the accession process.

Sarkisian’s comments contrast even more sharply with the position of the Armenian Revolutionary Federation (Dashnaktsutyun), a influential party represented in Armenia’s government, as well as Diaspora organizations in western Europe and France in particular. They have for months campaigned against admitting Turkey into the EU, saying that Ankara must first stop denying the 1915 genocide of up to 1.5 Armenians in the Ottoman Empire.

But Sarkisian made the point that Armenia and its worldwide Diaspora can continue to seek genocide recognition even with Turkey knocking on the EU’s door. “As a statesman, I very much hope that the recognition of the Armenian Genocide by Turkey will greatly contribute to the security of our state,” he said.

Sarkisian, who is seen by some observers as President Robert Kocharian’s most likely successor, did not deny that he has serious policy differences with Dashnaktsutyun, while treating the party’s nationalist ideology and century-old activities with “due respect.” “I don’t think that anybody has reason to consider me an ardent supporter of Dashnaktsutyun,” he told a reader of the Dashnaktsutyun-controlled paper.

Those differences date back to the early 1990s when Sarkisian and Kocharian helped to put an end to Dashnaktsutyun presence in the leadership of Nagorno-Karabakh. Later, as Armenia’s minister of national security, Sarkisian presided over the politically charged prosecution of three dozen Dashnaktsutyun activists on coup charges. One of them, Vahan Hovannisian, is now the deputy speaker of the Armenian parliament.

(RFE/RL photo)
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