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Turkey - EU relationship: A glance from Yerevan


Standpoint of Armenia


Turkey - EU relationship: A glance from Yerevan

Vahram Ter-Matevosyan


Vahram Ter-Matevosyan

Ph.D., Senior Research Fellow, Institute of Oriental Studies, National Academy of Sciences

The process of European Union (EU) membership continues to be one of the most important directions of the foreign policy in Turkey. About 14 years have passed since 1999 when Turkey was issued a status of EU candidate country. During that period Turkey failed to implement all necessary reforms. Turkey could have become a full-fledged member of the Pan-European family only after successful implementation of such reforms. Turkey’s neighboring countries follow the EU membership process of Turkey with different degrees of intensity and different grounds of interest. This process is important for Armenia in different ways, too. Hence, the aim of this article it to analyze what changes the position of Armenia underwent regarding the process of Turkey’s membership to the European Union (EU), what challenges and opportunities can be distinguished for Armenia and to what extent the Armenian society is aware of Turkey-EU relationships.          

In 1999 when Turkey was issued a status of EU candidate country and the relationships with this institution were shifted to the institutional platform, the official and public position of Armenia was predominantly negative. It was generally believed that Turkey was not yet mature enough to become EU member country and EU officials did not treat fairly those neighboring countries, whose relationship with Turkey kept on remaining tense. This standpoint had both its internal and external logic. On March, 1998 when Robert Kocharyan came to power in Armenia, the approaches in the foreign policy of Armenia underwent certain changes. Actions of the Republic of Armenia directed towards the international recognition of the Genocide and development of new formats of cooperation with Diaspora in particular were not definitely approved by Turkey. Armenia did not want Turkey, which was subjecting Armenia to blockade, to become an EU member without recognition of the Genocide and without settling historical and political issues with Armenia. Moreover, the analytical community of Armenia was concerned about the fact that EU-Turkish relationships would develop quite quickly and Turkey would become an EU member quite sooner.

The official approach of Armenia was somehow changed in 2003-2004. After this period both the Armenian authorities and mostly Vardan Oskanyan, the Minister of Foreign Affairs, declared that Armenia supported the EU membership process of Turkey, since Armenia was willing to have a neighboring country that adhered to the European values and principles. The official position of Armenia had much more far-going prudential plans. There was a certain confidence that Turkey could become a full-fledged EU member, only in case it met the standards of Copenhagen, made a number of serious and systematic reforms required for membership, after which the situation of democracy and human rights in Turkey would change, Turkey would recognize the Genocide, open the border with Armenia and principally act in the scope of EU foreign policy.

They also said that if Turkey became an EU member, EU would become a direct neighbor of Armenia together with its all opportunities. Thus, within the past 10 years, Armenia voiced its support to Turkey regarding EU membership on different platforms, seeing mostly the perspective possibility of altered Turkey. However, since 2007 when the process of reforms directed towards EU membership slowed down in Turkey and the number of supporters of EU membership decreased in the Turkish society, Armenia gave different assessments to all these facts. Some analysts tended to “gloat over” Turkey, saying that both in 1999 and 2009 Turkey was not mature enough to become an EU member. Hence, in 1999 and 2005 EU actions were not mature yet. Some analysts more tended to see the slowdown of EU membership process in Turkey in the negative light, taking it as a challenge in terms of incompleteness of internal reforms in Turkey, which can result in the rise of extreme nationalism. Limited number of analysts and the persons close to the RA Ministry of Foreign Affairs asserted that Turkey’s disappointment in EU will bring to the increase of interest in South Caucasus and Middle Eastern directions and Turkey will seek to conduct an active foreign policy in these regions.                   

In recent years the relationships between Armenia and EU have become close as well, even reaching the threshold of signing the Association Agreement. Therefore, the institutional relationship with EU has changed as well. Although Armenia does not declare openly about its intentions to become an EU member, however, involvement of Armenia in EU Eastern Partnership Projects has substantially increased the efficiency of integration processes of Armenia. Armenia has been provided with an opportunity to raise concerns and issues regarding Turkey on the institutional level. Thus, parallel with the regression of EU-Turkey relationships, EU-Armenia relationships have become deeper.    

Now let's try to understand what essential opportunities and challenges do the process of Turkey's EU membership and the final outcome really imply for Armenia and Diaspora? Lack of diplomatic relations between Armenia and Turkey, Turkey's policy of economic and telecommunication blockade conducted against Armenia left and continue to leave significantly negative impact on the economy and socio-political processes in Armenia. Turkey keeps on relating the settlement of Armenian-Turkish relationships to the conflict of Karabakh, which complicates the resolution of an already complicated tangle. The process of EU membership implies that each candidate country should minimize the conflicts it has with its neighbors, be in good relations with its neighbors and in no event hinder the development of its neighbors.  Otherwise, EU does not have any direct condition for a candidate country regarding             establishment of diplomatic relations with its neighbors and unblocking in particular.  In case of Cyprus there is a direct requirement to open the harbors, which has a completely different context and which has become one of the main obstacles in Turkey-EU progress. Therefore, in the formats of bilateral relations with Armenia-EU and EU member countries only Armenia can voice the inadmissibility of blockade of Armenia by Turkey.

The next issue in Turkey-EU relationships is to pursue the issue of Genocide recognition. Armenia should keep on raising the issue of the Genocide recognition by Turkey, which is used as an additional lever to limit EU membership possibilities of Turkey by a number of EU member countries for many years. Of course, there is another side of the issue, the fact of using or manipulating the issue of Genocide by an EU member country that has problems with Turkey will have a negative impact on the moral and psychological atmosphere of institutions of Diaspora living in Europe.

A certain belief was formed in Armenia that within the past 10 years significant changes were reported in Turkey. Mass media and analytical community in Armenia assert that political liberalization, emergence of different social movements on the social level and a certain level of pluralism in Turkey create an opportunity to consider issues without previous constraints – issues which were impossible to voice in the past and even impossible to ensure public discussions of such issues. Thus, the process of pluralism to become much deeper and freedom of speech and belief to become unconstrained in Turkey is significant for the Armenian society. In this case it will be possible to expand cooperation horizons between the societies, deepen partnership in academic, scientific, experimental and economic fields. In this sense, undeniable results have been reported in recent years and they have certainly a tendency to continuation. Especially since 2008 simultaneously with the settlement of Armenian-Turkish interstate relations, a dialogue process was also held between the societies. This observation does not mean at all that Armenia should only follow the democratic processes taking place in Turkey and expect a haven, after which Turkey can speak about the issues that are of interest for both parties. Armenia should also much more deepen the processes of democracy, economic liberalization and freedom of speech, otherwise, at a certain stage competitive resources of both Armenia and Turkey will be incompatible.       

The approach of Diaspora regarding Turkey-EU relationships is also important. EU membership of the Turkey, which “has not recognized the Genocide” and “has not faced its own history”, is unacceptable for different institutions of the Armenian Diaspora. Turkey is also well aware of this standpoint, the authorities of which show a differentiated approach at the meetings with the Armenian Diaspora. Predominantly French Armenians have an important role in the formation of viewpoints about Turkey. Moreover, the success of the process of Turkey’s membership to EU mostly and equally depends on overcoming the French-German opposition. If in case of Germany the Armenian community does not master influential levers required to affect the federal authorities and, moreover, in case of government change in the upcoming elections, the EU-Turkey membership supporters will become active in Germany, mostly taking into account the positive financial-economic investment that Turkey may have. However, the situation is quite different in case of France, though Francois Hollande shows certain flexibility in the activities carried out with the Armenian community and Turkey. Thus, Turkey shifted from the Pan-Armenian general approach to a work style that advances the processes according to the country and complexity of the issue to minimize the influence of the Armenian Diaspora.     

There are also some long-term issues that should be kept in mind, when it comes to Turkey, which is either close to EU membership or already is an EU member: e.g. How will the Armenians react to the calls on returning to historical Armenia or how profound and transparent will be the prospects of settling in Turkey? Among the possibilities should be considered the fact that a variety of tools will be created for the Armenians to have an opportunity to control a rich historical heritage left in Western Armenia, by conducting inventory and implementing Armenian-Turkish joint or Pan-European projects on restoration and preservation of cultural heritage.  

Even though the Armenia-Turkey-EU triangle is not perceived as compatible format yet, however, Armenia, Armenian society and the institutions of the Armenian Diaspora should have the ability and foresight not to exclude the opportunities that may emerge in case Turkey becomes an EU member. Turkey's ruling elite is also well aware of the fact that EU member Turkey not only assumes enjoyment of rights, but also responsibilities towards both the minorities living in Turkey and the ones living outside Turkey, as well as towards the people displaced from Turkey or the ones who left Turkey voluntarily.   

Thus, since Armenia does not have apparent levers to influence the EU decision-making, it is necessary for Armenia to be able to much more diversify the relations with EU. Armenia's support for Turkish authorities, in a broader sense, is not essential as long as Armenia has not obtained powerful levers of political influence. Creation of artificial and unperceivable barriers for Turkey or speaking up about such barriers by Armenia can definitely affect the country's reputation. Therefore, Armenian-Turkish rapprochement process, stopped in recent years, should be continued and the key to solving the current deadlock situation should be found in the context of a joint European future.