By Emil Danielyan
Turkey’s membership in the European Union would strengthen Armenia’s national security and bring the South Caucasus nation “geopolitically closer to Europe,” Defense Minister Serzh Sarkisian said in a newspaper article published on Friday.
Writing in “The Wall Street Journal,” Sarkisian said Ankara’s ongoing accession talks with the EU represent a new “long-awaited opportunity” to normalize Turkish-Armenian relations.
“In addition to building diplomatic ties between our two countries, we believe that in negotiating for membership -- and perhaps as a future EU member state -- Turkey will contribute to an economically stronger and more stable neighborhood,” he said. “This is in the interest of both Turkey and Armenia.
"EU membership would also make Turkey much more predictable. It is always easier to deal with a predictable neighbor.”
The comments highlighted the differing positions on the issue of official Yerevan and the Armenian Diaspora. The influential Armenian community in France is particularly vocal in opposing Turkish entry to the EU, saying that the bloc should not even consider Ankara’s membership bid as long as the latter refuses to acknowledge the 1915 Armenian genocide.
President Robert Kocharian argued in October that the accession talks will put Turkey under growing Western pressure to normalize relations with Armenia and reconsider its long-running policy of genocide denial. “In that sense, we don’t see any dangers in that process. Perhaps quite the opposite,” he said.
Sarkisian made a similar point, while faulting Turkey for its continuing economic blockade of Armenia and sanctions against countries recognizing the genocide. “While these policies contradict contemporary principles of international relations and world order, Armenia does not regard Turkey's potential membership in the EU as a threat to national security,” he wrote. “Quite the contrary. We hope it will mean that Turkey will change, and be in a better position to face both its history and future.”
“The entry negotiations hold seeds of hope that the impasse between Turkey and Armenia can eventually be broken. If Turkey lifts the blockade of its border with Armenia, my small country becomes geopolitically closer to Europe,” he added.
Sarkisian, who is tipped to succeed Kocharian in 2008, also stressed that Yerevan stands for an unconditional normalization of ties between the two neighboring states. “That includes not tying the establishment of diplomatic relations to recognition of the genocide,” he said.
EU leaders have repeatedly made it clear that genocide recognition and the lifting of the blockade are not among the preconditions for Turkey’s accession to the 25-nation bloc. Still, the government of at least one EU country, France, seems to think otherwise.
"Should Turkey recognize the genocide of Armenia to join the European Union? Honestly, I believe so,” French Jacques Chirac said during a recent visit to Yerevan.
Sarkisian was more vague on that score, saying that the genocide issue and broader Turkish-Armenian relations should be “important factors that need to be considered during Turkey's negotiations for EU membership.” “We look forward to the EU becoming increasingly involved in finding a way to a breakthrough for relations between Turkey and Armenia,” he said.