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Turkey and European Union

Since the mid-19th century, the fate of Armenians living in the Ottoman Empire is constantly kept in the public eye in Western countries. The Armenian Question, among other issues in East-West relations, addressed the political oppression of religious minorities in the Ottoman Empire.

Marked by humanistic values, public opinions across Europe took up the cause of the oppressed populations, and political leaders discovered that it was yet another means of pushing to dismember the “sick man of Europe” (as the Ottoman Empire was then dubbed) while gaining moral and humanist stature. Unfortunately, these Western postures had not prevented the massacres of Armenians, in 1894-96 and in 1909. They could not stop the total ethnic cleansing of the Armenians from Anatolia in 1915, by the  “Young Turks” in power, which now is recognized more clearly as the first genocide of the 20th century.

Since 1915, the “Armenian Question” has turned into the “Armenian Cause”, essentially calling for the recognition of the genocide which has been constantly  denied by the Turkish State for nearly a century.

In the last thirty years, several countries and international bodies have recognized that crime, and the issue has reached a level of universal significance. Some governments, i.e., the U.S. refrained from recognition in order not to alienate a strategic ally. On the other hand, there were also  some countries  which used Armenian genocide recognition to press their advantage with Turkey in their bilateral relations. In a number of countries populist  politicians misused this fight towards their own ends, in particular as a way to heat up debates on domestic politics or as a diversion.

Thus, since Turkey was granted the status of candidate to the EU, in December 1999, Armenian genocide recognition has become a recurring, often biased debate in the European public sphere.

This is why we have wished to approach the subject of Turkey and the European Union beyond the usual “for or against” debate, by looking at it from the angle of the Armenian-Turkish question.

Indeed, this complex perspective steps out of the framework of bilateral relations between Turkey and the EU to become three-dimensional – involving Turkey, the EU and Armenians (from Armenia and the EU – with three conflicting dynamic trends:

- Within the EU, there are over  a million European  citizens from Armenian stock, descended from genocide survivors and demanding justice. A number of Armenian organizations put political pressure for the genocide recognition to become a condition of Turkey’s entry into the Union. There is also  a conception among Armenians which holds that accession process will  increase the leverage of the European institutions on Turkey.

- Armenia, although subjected since 1993 to Turkey’s economic blockade, is not opposed to the latter’s entry into the EU, and likewise poses no condition to opening diplomatic relations with Turkey. Besides, the Armenian state, on the doorstep of the European continent, maintains relations with the EU through a Partnership and Cooperation Agreement.

- The democratic opening and unveiling of some taboos in Turkey has coincided with the start of negotiations on Turkey’s candidacy to the EU. Some breakthroughs on Armenian issues appeared in some segments of the Turkish civil societies although not within the structures of the Turkish state. A number of Turkish intellectuals and activist believe that the accession process consolidates  the civil liberties, protects  freedom of expression and empower the organizations which advocate that Turkish society should come to terms with her past. In this context, the candidacy to the EU could be an useful tool for promoting the recognition of the genocide.

- There are  more than three  millions of people from Turkey living in Europe, not all enjoying citizenship rights. The political tensions between Turkey and the EU influence their relations with their environment. The Kurdish groups and others more critical of the Turkish state may have a sympathetic position towards the recognition of genocide to be a condition for Turkey’s entry into the Union. 

All these parameters play with one another according to the political and geopolitical changes affecting each protagonist. Moral and humanistic values are strained by the compromises demanded by politics which are themselves cruelly ruled by the laws of economics.

We hope that this new body of articles casts light on the current positions of each of the civil societies concerned regarding the question of Turkey’s entry into the European Union.