By Emil Danielyan
Germany’s top opposition leader who is tipped to defeat Chancellor Gerhard Schroeder in upcoming parliamentary elections urged Turkey on Thursday to improve its strained relations with Armenia before starting accession talks with the European Union.
Reuters news agency quoted Christian Democratic Union (CDU) leader Angela Merkel as saying that "time is ripe" for Turkey to establish direct relations with Armenia. She said the Turkish government should also clarify its stance on Cyprus before the start of the accession talks on October 3.
It was not clear if Merkel, whose party will challenge Schroeder’s Social Democrats in early polls expected this September, wants Ankara to drop its preconditions for establishing diplomatic relations with Yerevan and reopening the Turkish-Armenian border.
Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan reiterated earlier this month that his government will do so only if the Armenians return Nagorno-Karabakh to Azerbaijan and stop campaigning for international recognition of the 1915 Armenian genocide.
The CDU, which is strongly opposed to Turkish membership in the EU, is the main sponsor of a draft resolution by the German parliament, the Bundestag, that calls on Turkey to "take historic responsibility" for the “planned” mass killings and deportations between 1.2 and 1.5 million Armenian subjects of the Ottoman Empire. It says Germany, Ottoman Turkey’s main ally in the First World War, also bears responsibility for the massacres.
Although the declaration, which is expected to be formally adopted by the Bundestag next month, stops short of calling the mass killings a genocide, it has been strongly condemned by Ankara. In a statement last February, Turkey’s ambassador to Germany accused the CDU of acting as a "spokesman for fanatical Armenian nationalism."
Turkey’s EU membership bid is supported by the current German chancellor and his party. The CDU, however, favors of a looser "privileged partnership" with the Turks. This position appears to reflect public opinion in Germany.
The prospect of Turkish entry into the affluent bloc is also exploited by French opponents of the EU constitution. Among them are some members of France’s 450,000-strong Armenian community who believe that the constitution’s rejection at a referendum on Sunday will shut the EU door to Turkey.
Armenia’s Foreign Minister Vartan Oskanian sought to disprove such arguments on Thursday, urging French voters of Armenian origin to back the constitution. "The French "yes" will further strengthen France's position on the European arena, which will also be advantageous for us, since France has always supported an international discussion of Armenian questions," Oskanian said.