By Anna Saghabalian
Raffi Hovannisian, a prominent opposition politician, welcomed on Wednesday the launch of membership talks between Turkey and the European Union, saying that they could pave the way for Armenia’s eventual accession to the affluent Western bloc.
Hovannisian, who served as independent Armenia’s first foreign minister in 1992, chided the authorities in Yerevan for their less than enthusiastic reaction to what promises to be a lengthy negotiation process that got underway on Monday.
“It must be stated clearly and loudly that Turkey’s aspiration to join the European Union correspondents to the political interests of the Republic of Armenia,” he said in a speech at the Armenian Center for National and International Studies, a think-tank which he founded 11 years ago. “It can be predicted that even in the best-case scenario Turkey may become an EU member only together with Armenia. Turkey will also have to undergo serious and irreversible reforms.”
The administration of President Robert Kocharian believes that the EU should admit Turkey only if the latter opens its border with Armenia and recognizes as genocide the 1915 mass killings of Armenians in the Ottoman Empire. Armenian leaders have repeatedly urged the EU’s governments and executive Commission to include the two issues on the agenda of the accession talks. In a statement on Tuesday, the Armenian Foreign Ministry expressed hope that Ankara will now be more interested in normalizing relations with Yerevan and admitting to the genocide.
Armenian Diaspora organizations in Europe and France in particular take a harder line, saying that Turkey is not prepared for even being considered for EU membership. Scuttling Turkish entry into the union is now a key goal of their activities.
However, some political groups in Armenia believe that the prospect of Turkey joining the EU could benefit their small landlocked country and lessen the perceived Turkish threat to its security.
Hovannisian appeared to agree with them, saying that the accession process makes Armenia’s future membership in the EU more realistic and represents a chance for Turkish-Armenian rapprochement. “Enmity can and should turn into partnership,” he said.
In his speech, Hovannisian also attacked the Kocharian administration’s domestic policies which he said have resulted in “unbridled and worsening corruption, legalized arbitrary practices and persisting poverty.” He reaffirmed his Zharangutyun (Heritage) party’s rejection of constitutional changes that will be put to a national referendum on November 27.
“[Sweeping constitutional reform] can be put into practice only by a government that received a popular vote of confidence in a free and fair election,” he said. “Constitutional reforms [sought by Kocharian] remind of an unsuccessful attempt to hastily hide cracks in an old and decayed structure.”
Speaking to reporters separately, Hovannisian said Zharangutyun has yet to decide whether to campaign against the passage of the draft amendments jointly with other major opposition parties that are also against the reform. He said the decision will be made after talks with his opposition allies.
Armenia’s largest opposition alliance, Artarutyun, and eight other opposition groups plan to conduct a joint “no” campaign ahead of the November vote.