Tuesday, October 03, 2006

EU Discord on Armenian Genocide

Turkey will not have to recognize the Armenian genocide to become an EU member, EU Commissioner for Enlargement, Olli Rehn, said on Tuesday thus contradicting French president Jacques Chirac, who only this weekend set recognition as a sine qua non for Turkish accession.

Celebrating the first anniversary of Turkish membership talks with the EU, Olli Rehn is on a visit to Ankara trying to encourage further progress in Turkish pre-accession preparations. The visit comes only days after French President's, Jacques Chirac, visit to Armenia, where he again stressed that Turkey's recognition of guilt for the Armenian genocide was a condition for EU membership. France remains hesitant to Turkish accession and also faces an influential Armenian diaspora at home. Many influential public figures in France are of Armenian descent and Chirac for example was accompanied by Varenagh Aznavourian - more commonly known as Charles Aznavour - France's most famous singer - on his visit to Yerevan.

For Turkey, admitting the Armenian genocide is a difficult process involving a reevaluation of the country's own history and its transformation from the multiethnic Ottoman empire to Turkey as a nation state. Ankara claims that 300,000 Armenians were killed as part of civil war during the dissolution of the Ottoman Empire, concurrently stating that at least as many Turks were killed in the same conflict, occuring prior to Turkish statehood. Armenians, to the contrary, point to a death toll of 1.5 million people slain by the Turks during 1915-17, and argue that Turkey sooner or later must assume responsibility for its crimes against the Armenian people.

Although the Armenian issue has presented a regional and international deadlock for decades, some progress has been made as of late, even though there still is a long way to go before the issue is resolved. Recently, Turkey has proposed a joint Turkish-Armenian historical commission to investigate "atrocities against Armenians." So far, Olli Rehn has been the only EU-representative to support the proposal, but more may follow. Defusing the Armenian issue is, however, not in France's best interest due to its negative stance on Turkish EU-accession and large Armenian minority.

That some half-wit EU Commissioner should spoil the glorius aftermath of Chirac's grand visit to Armenia, supporting France's illusory self-image as a great power is also simply too much of an insult for the palais de l'Elysée to be accepted. Therefore, Commissioner Rehn is in for a scolding by France - concurrently also weakening positions of Turkish membership proponents. What Armenia stands to gain from this remains unclear.

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