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Could Europe have an effect on the Armenian question ?


Standpoint of Turkey


Could Europe have an effect on the Armenian question ?

Ahmet Insel


Ahmet Insel

Economist, professor at Paris 1 and Galatasaray. Director of Iletisim Publishing House and columnist for Radikal newspaper.

What EU could do for solution of Armenian question, is slave to be limited because of the relative blockage in relationships and loss of excitement in Turkey in terms of membership. Still, EU could use the leverage of membership negotiation in its hands in more active and constitutive way. In the following two years, Turkey shall show a tendency to be more defensive and reactive. The development which shall neutralize this condition to a certain extent, could be the activating membership negotiations of Turkey in spectacular way.

It has never affected Turkey-EU relationship in closest way that Turkish Government does not accept the great tragedy happened in 1915 as genocide, even, not only non-accepting, but also using completely denial language and trying to embrace the position of being the greatest sufferer of this tragedy.  Although some EU member government administrators mentioned that to accept Armenian genocide is a prerequisite for Turkey to become a member, such a prerequisite is not officially mentioned by neither by Commission or Council in 2004 when the membership become official, nor in 1999 when giving a green light to the membership of Turkey.  There is no such a prerequisite in EU acquis that expresses reforms that affiliate country must fulfill and such condition is mentioned by Turkish diplomacy on every occasion.

On the other hand, it is obvious that there is a strong sensitivity among EU member countries towards genocide which Armenians were exposed to. We saw the reflection of this fact in decisions of parliaments of some EU member countries to accept the genocide and especially in the attitude of European Parliament continues from 1987 till today. European Parliament decided to accept Armenian Genocide on 18th June 1987. This decision is not binding. Hence, after European Union gave a green light to the membership of Turkey in 1999, Attorney Philippe Krikorian on behalf of Euro- Arménie ASBL association of which head quarter is in Marseilles brought a lawsuit in Court of Justice of European Communities (CJCE) against European Parliament, European Commission and European Union in 2003 on the grounds that this decision offends against the decision of European Parliament to accept the genocide which was made in 1987.  CJCE (Court of Justice) decided that “Such decision of the Parliament is a document which includes completely political declaration and this content could always be changed by the Parliament”, thus this shall not have binding results. Appeal Court confirmed this decision in 2004. 

Such a similar situation is valid for the decision of European Parliament in 2005. One week before 3rd October 2005, which is the date when membership negotiations with Turkey shall start officially, European Parliament made a decision on 28th September 2005 and announced that it accepted those membership negotiations with Turkey to be started. In the decision, it is reminded that Turkish administrators continue not to make a satisfactory attempt on accepting the genocide which satisfies the decision of European Parliament dated 1987; and Turkey was invented to accept the Armenian genocide and it was expressed that this acceptation with accepting the Cyprus Republic is a prerequisite for EU membership. This decision was also not binding like the previous one.

Expectations for a “natural step”

As is seen, it is not a prerequisite for Turkey to continue membership negotiations that Turkey accepts Armenian Genocide officially. It must be discussed if it is a prerequisite for being a membership or not. Although chairmen of EU parliament sometimes mentioned that accepting Armenian Genocide is an unofficial condition for membership in their private speeches, such a request is not mentioned officially by neither Commission nor Council. Dominant view in this issue in Commission and Council is that while Turkey fulfills all membership conditions, it shall take a historical step “naturally”. It is unclear at the present moment that it is a real “natural step” or whether it shall be an invisible condition which shall be integrated into referendum of countries like some member countries intends to do if acceptance of membership of Turkey shall be brought to agenda. The second probability is higher but for this, Turkey membership must be at the stage of acceptance. Today, this is not the strongest possibility, anymore.  Thus, internal dynamics in Turkey become more important in the solution of Armenian question. 

In the first half of 2000s when relations with EU are close, Turkey did not take an official step in accepting the great humanitarian plight which is the result of 1915 Armenian deportation, apologizing for this and accepting the responsibility of administrators of Ottomans of that era in this great massacre. To the contrary; After French National Assembly made a decision to accept Armenian Genocide in 2001, Turkish government of that period is not backward in decreasing diplomatic relations with that country which has a key role in EU membership by taking support of all parties represented in the parliament. The same attitude was repeated against to French which announced that it is clearly against the membership of Turkey and because of a law draft that punishes the denial of genocide after 2007. “Armenian Question” continues being one of the issues that occupy the largest place in efforts of Turkish embassies in U.S.A, Europe, especially in France. Briefly, in times when relations with EU is the closest or in recent years when those relations become alienated or let-up; there is no change in the attitude of Turkey towards 1915 issue. We mentioned before that EU does not have any corporate decision which has power of vfsanction in this issue. This question is now left to the area of political responsibility of member countries.

If membership negotiations of Turkey shall progress and if it shall come to a stage of being a full member; even it shall not express clearly as genocide for what Armenians were exposed to in 1915 and after, it has to accept that this is a serious offense and it has to apologize in any way. It is a high probability that this shall be expressed by so many countries as a de facto condition, even if not as a de jure one.

Pressure policy of Azerbaijan

Unofficial diplomatic relations which progressed and accelerated by the football match visit of The President of Republic, Abdullah Gül to Yerevan, started to become official with protocols that are signed by diplomatic representatives of both countries in 2009. But, governments of both countries did not take a step towards submitting those texts to their parliaments as it was esteemed in protocols.  “Protocol diplomacy” was born dead. Among reasons of that situation; pressure and blackmailing policy of Azerbaijan on Turkey could be mentioned as, may be more important than the fact that Armenian Constitutional Court approved those protocols with reference to documents that define 1915 as genocide.

It is hard to say that perspective of EU membership has a direct affect on relations between Armenia and Turkey. Turkey did not made a decision of suspending diplomatic relations with Armenia and of closing the border as a result of any improvement about 1915.  It made this decision because it took sides with Azerbaijan definitively in the war occurred in the situation of Nagorno Karabagh between Azerbaijan and Armenia. From this day, Turkey is enslaved by its binding decision which it made in a issue in which it is not a direct actor. It is a possibility that membership question with EU progresses on a more secure path may affect the effective blackmailing policy and capacity of awakening nationalist circles in negative manner. In such a situation, it could be enough for Turkey to reestablish diplomatic relations with Armenia again if there is a little improvement in solution of Karabagh question; for example if Armenia shall leave one or two of 7 territoriest that it occupies. But in this issue, the effective actor is neither U.S.A nor EU. It is obviously Russia.

But all those must not cover the reality that the problem is stuck into the internal social and political dynamics of Turkey. The biggest obstacle for the solution of Armenian question is to be a subject of constituent alliance among a large section of community. Denialist attitude towards this problem could be identified as the most conservative subject of constituent alliance which keeps its power and affect among other constituent alliances of Republic. “National Issue” which brings government and opposition parties together and thus a supra-political “national attitude” continues to change the approach towards Armenian question to a “national taboo”.  To face with the 1915 Armenian deportation and forcing Non-Muslim elements immigrating from territory of Turkish Republic and finally to apologize and to take steps in order to undo the harm that has been done are all perceived by the large section of the community as a great threat towards national existence as splitting the country, dismemberment of the state and toppling the Republican regime. State policy feeds this perception of threat. The most important factor that feeds and supports this perception of threat in social apprehension is the fear to account for the transfer of the property which was performed when removing Armenian existence and identity from Anatolian territory to a large extent. It is the clearest indicator of that issue that it is hard and prevented to reach to title deed registries before 1925.

Attempts by civil social society

Although, institutionalization of relations with EU and start of membership negotiations does not have any direct effect in facing with 1915 on the official plan; it is an undeniable fact that the abovementioned factor is effective on taking some steps that shall terminate the fact that religious minorities shall be in the position of “foreign citizens”. In a few years following the start of membership negotiations, government in Turkey took some steps towards solving some problems of religious minorities, especially of Armenian minority and towards undoing some harm that have been done in the past. The most important one of those limited steps is that some legal changes, which allow return of some part of properties of non-Muslim community foundations that were seized by government in the last 30-40 years, were made. It was allowed to make restorations of a few Armenian religious monuments and to bring them into service. Additionally, some local administrations supported the restoration of cultural property especially of Armenians. Above all, after the murder of Hrant Dink, it was terminated to make judicial proceedings for whom using the idiom of “Armenian Genocide” and stop preventing legally to make meetings and publishing about this question.

The real important improvement is not coming from up, from the state and government wing, but coming from the civil community and facing with great massacres to which Armenians and other minorities were exposed. In 1990s when membership negotiations with EU were not mentioned, attempt to demolish the Armenian taboo which was performed by historians, activists and non-governmental organizations in limited numbers,  ensured to cover a lot of ground in terms of creating awareness and discussing this problem in ten years by benefitting from the environment which was created by fundamental rights and freedoms extending within the framework of EU membership negotiations.  It was not a coincidence that the first comprehensive conference about Armenian question could be performed in 2005 against all the odds.  It indicates to a significant development that the affect of this taboo is decreasing since commemorating meetings for Armenian Genocide that are made in a few provinces of turkey on 24th April since 2009 in public area under effective protection of police with limited participation.

Attitude of Turkey towards 2015

Concerns and attentions are focused on the attitude of Turkish government in 2015 or before to which less than one and half years left. Some improvements give the impression that the government shall make some attempts to put the 1915 Çanakkale victory forward against commemorations of 100th year of 1915 deportation to be made in Turkey and throughout the World.

On the other hand, it seems that it is hard to say that 2015 shall demolish the dominant taboo in also political area when considering the election calendar.  If there is no change to be occurred in election calendar; local elections to be made at the beginning of 2014, election of the president of republic firstly with the popular vote and parliamentary election to be made in 2015 summer could cause governmental and opposing parties shall circumvent Armenian question by “not taking any risks” in all probability and most probably and at worst they shall use this problem as a competition subject. At every occasion, before and after 2015, it shall be more realistic to expect new taboo-breaking attempts from civil society in Armenian question.

What could EU do in solving the Armenian question in the following era is a slave to be limited because of the relative blockage of EU-Turkey relations and loss of excitement of Turkish society in EU membership.  It is most probably that 2015 shall be a year when relations of Turkey with both EU and most of EU member countries shall be stressful. On the contrary, if we accept that the democratization of Turkish society is not enough but required prerequisite for breaking the taboo in Armenian question, then it is expected that EU to use such a strong leverage of membership negotiations in more active and constitutive way. Within this framework, we could predict that, other partial membership types that are offered to Turkey instead of full membership shall demolish the effecting capacity which is also limited in the present situation in terms of Armenian question as in any other issues .

Convergence with Shangai Cooperation Organization instead of EU

Even it is not accepted obviously in Turkish foreign politics, it is remarkable to respond to EU relations to be delayed and to bring Shangai Cooperation Organization forward as an alternative initiative. In April 2011, Turkey made an application to this organization with the request of obtaining “dialogue partner” status. After this application was approved in the Pekin summit of this Organization in 2012, Organization signed the agreement which confirms that Turkey is the dialogue partner of Shangai Cooperation Organization. It is possible to see that as the first step of the full membership of The Shangai Five but it is not really possible for Turkey as a member of NATO to be a full member to another military-weighted organization which is principally a security cooperation organization.  CENTO (Central Treaty Organization), which is now a distant date, did not cause any problem for the double membership of Turkey, since it is designed as an appendage to NATO. But Shangai Cooperation Organization is not like that.

Ever so it is not officially accepted as an alternative of EU membership of Turkey, membership request to Shangai Cooperation Organization was firstly mentioned in China visit of the Minister of Foreign Affairs Abdullah Gül in 2005 but that time, Chinese administration did not take kindly to this membership. China supported the EU membership of Turkey vigorously at that time. The acceptation of being a dialogue partner was substantially with the efforts of Russia and Kazakhstan in 2012. It was effective for China to soften its opposite attitude that the EU perspective of Turkey became weaker in the course of time. Because, the Chinese administration, which did not take kindly to the EU membership of Turkey in 2005, predicated the reason of this attitude on geographic reasons and also the EU perspective of Turkey. They mentioned about the disadvantages of having feet on two different locations. This metaphor is actually and really summarizes the problem. Because, all members of Shangai Cooperation Organization, which is essentially based on a regional security agreement, are countries that adopt   an authoritarian capitalism model. Consequently, if Turkey shall become closer to this organization, it means that it shall evolve to an authoritarian capitalism  model. This tendency is not very contrary to the authoritarian, conservative and developmentalist  perception world of AKP administration, but it is too contrary to the reality of Turkish economy and sociology of Turkish society.

Moreover, if Turkey gets further away from EU orbital and gets closer to an authoritarian democracy and state/party-centered capitalism orbital, it shall not contribute to the solution of Armenian question but it shall make possible this issue to be suppressed more easily. Additionally, such a convergence shall mean to leave the issue of relations with Armenia to the initiative of Russia completely.

We are in an era in which the policy of “no problems with neighbor countries” is collapsed in Turkish foreign policy and in which the assertion of Turkey to be the leader of the territory and incentives for this purpose rapidly loses its value and those policies crackle. Turkey, which professes to be the “soft power” that shall bring order and regularity to the territory, is now dispersed to a defensive, reactive policy and acts with the perception of the fact that improvements in this territory threat its own security. Within the following two years, Armenian question shall be discussed in the world public opinion and the genocide shall be commemorated. In such an environment,  the approach of Turkey towards Armenian question shall tend to be more defensive and reactive rather than to be proactive towards positive solution. The improvement which shall neutralize this tendency could be the fact that EU Council shall accelerate membership negotiations of Turkey spectacularly.