By Harry Dunphy, Associated Press Writer
(AP)- The speaker of Armenia's National Assembly said Wednesday he supports neighboring Turkey's application to join the European Union and suggested the eventual accession to the EU of other countries in the South Caucasus.
"What's wrong with having a neighboring country a member of the EU?" Artur Baghdasarian replied when asked about Turkey's possible entry into the 25-nation organization.
Baghdasarian, leader of the center-right Orinats Yerkir (Country of Law) party in Armenia's governing coalition, said that if Turkey can comply with EU standards and join the EU, then other countries of the region should seek accession. "I see the future of our region in an expanded EU," he said at a meeting of the Center for Strategic and International Studies, a policy research group.
Baghdasarian was in Washington for talks with State Department officials, the U.S. Agency for International Development and the Millennium Challenge Account, a Bush administration aid program for which Armenia was among the first group of qualifying countries. He also said Turkey and Armenia, which do not have diplomatic relations, should "not set barriers to cooperation but sit down and talk, not avoiding past problems but moving forward with constant dialogue."
The Turks and Armenians have been at odds for decades over the deaths of hundreds of thousands of Armenians at the time of World War I. Armenians say the Ottoman Turks caused the deaths of 1.5 million Armenians in a planned genocide and have demanded that Turkey recognize the killings as genocide. Turkey says the death toll is wildly inflated. Many Turks fear that Armenia is pressing for recognition of the killings as genocide as a step toward making territorial claims against Turkey.
"The slaughter cannot be forgotten," Baghdasarian said. "That would not be correct." He contended that the Holocaust occurred because Adolf Hitler reasoned the international community had ignored the genocide of the Armenians.
On another foreign policy issue, he welcomed weekend talks between the presidents of Armenia and neighboring Azerbaijan over the disputed Nagorno-Karabakh enclave. Baghdasarian said a resolution to the decade-old dispute would open the way to increased regional cooperation with the objective of turning the south Caucasus into a unified market. "There has to be compromise on both sides and a solution acceptable to both sides," he said.