Europe, Headlines

POLITICS: European Parliament’s Reference to Armenian ‘Genocide’ Angers Turkey

Brian Kenety

STRASBOURG, Nov 17 2000 (IPS) - A call by the European Parliament for Ankara to recognise the 1915 massacre of Armenians as genocide is expected to cast a pall over a meeting of European Union-Turkish parliamentarians in Antalya next week, say politicians here.

“The European Parliament calls on Turkey to increase its support to the Armenian minority, constituting a major portion of Turkish society, and to recognise, within this framework, the genocide Armenians were subjected to before the foundation of the modern Turkish state,” read the controversial statement.

It was contained in an amendment to a report by European Member of Parliament (MEP) Gen Phillipe Morillon charting Turkey’s progress towards meeting the political and economic criteria of EU membership, known as the Copenhagen criteria.

Morillon was himself against mention of genocide and withdrew himself as rapporteur in protest of the amendment’s inclusion. The former commander of United Nations peacekeeping forces in Bosnia-Herzegovina said he had seen too much suffering “from the tragic consequences of the systematic reminder of atrocities of yesteryear, to believe that peace and stability can be built by continually reviving past rancour”.

MEP Daniel Cohn-Bendit (France, Greens), chairman of the EU delegation to the joint parliamentary committee to Antalya, to be held Nov. 20 ¡ 22, opened the final preparatory meeting here Thursday by reading letters of protest from Turkish politicians over the resolution.

In a terse statement the Turkish Foreign Ministry said that the reference to the “alleged genocide” had been prepared by interests hostile to Islam who therefore sought to reject Ankara’s accession to the EU.

Morillon’s report, adopted Wednesday by 429 votes to 24 with 78 abstentions, said that Turkey does not currently meet all the Copenhagen political criteria and reiterated the European Parliament’s proposal that forums for discussion be established consisting of political leaders and civil society representatives.

It encourages the Turkish Government to step up its efforts towards democratisation, and to implement the United Nations conventions on political, civil, social and cultural rights, which Ankara has recently signed.

The report further urges Turkey to respect the rights of minorities, such as the Kurds and Armenians, and to take part, without preconditions, in talks between the Greek and Turkish Cypriot parties, with a view towards reaching a settlement that complies with relevant UN Security Council resolutions.

“The report, despite having some correct approaches, also contains unfortunate phrases regarding the withdrawal of Turkish troops from Cyprus, the solution of the Kurdish question and the Armenian genocide,” said the statement by the Turkish Foreign Ministry.

In a report in September, the New York-based organisation Human Rights Watch (HRW) cited Turkey for widespread and persistent torture, violations of free expression and minority language rights, continued instability in the south-eastern part of the country, restrictions on the wearing of head scarves, and inadequate protection for refugees.

HRW is urging the EU to develop a detailed accession plan for Turkey, specifying unambiguous and measurable benchmarks, as Ankara “has a history of avoiding problems and placating critics with half-measures and empty gestures”.

Ankara is concerned that conditions beyond the Copenhagen criteria could be placed on its membership application to the EU. Turkish Prime Minister Bulent Ecevit warned that the European Parliament, in referring to genocide, had engaged in “irresponsible behaviour” that could potentially “disrupt relations between Turkey and the European Union”.

Turkey argues that the “genocide” never occurred, rather that the killings occurred in the chaos of the collapse of the Ottoman Empire, during which time all parties to the conflict suffered.

Regarding the ‘Armenian Question’, MEP Hannes Swoboda (Austria, Socialist) said in a statement during debate on the motion: “MEPs expect the Turkish authorities to be more open in investigating, along with the Armenians, the events leading to the massacre of Armenians in the early 20th century so as to establish the facts once and for all”.

However, he said that the massacre should not become a “political instrument” against Turkey.

“The implementation of measures needed to support Turkey’s EU accession should be the only credible response to Turkey’s critics within the Union. Turkey must clearly demonstrate to these critics that they are wrong when they say that Turkey can never abide by the Copenhagen criteria,” said Swoboda.

Although the motion is not binding and the EU executive Commission has been quick to say it would “refrain from imposing new or exorbitant conditions on Turkey’s candidacy”, Ankara takes the genocide charge very seriously.

When a similar resolution was backed by the Armenian lobby in the United States Congress in October, Ankara threatened commercial boycotts, including the cancellation of defence contracts, as well as measures that could have undermined the security of US air bases in Turkey.

In a letter read out by Cohn-Bendit Thursday a Turkish deputy said that he “cannot think of one member” of the Turkish Grand National Assembly who believes the European Parliament had acted correctly or within its authority.

Cohn-Bendit told fellow MEPs they could expect a charged atmosphere in Antalya, which will focus on EU-Turkey relations in the context of the Union’s enlargement process.

MEP Ozan Ceyhun (Germany, Socialist), a vice-chairman to next week’s committee, said that while he had voted against the amendment “I think it is important that we can now discuss Armenia with the Turks”.

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