Turkey in EU only after reconciliation with Armenia
May 21, 2004
The relation between Turkey and Armenia must be re-established before the
admission of Turkey to the European Union can be considered, states prof.
dr. J. A. B. Jongeneel.
The European Union (EU) will probably decide this year upon the possibility
and desirability for allowing Turkey to become a member in the long run. The
Netherlands will soon be President and will therefore have extra
It is extremely remarkable that neither Dutch policy, nor the Dutch press
publicly pay attention to the broken relation between Turkey and its
neighbouring country Armenia. This relation must be re-established before a
EU membership of Turkey can be considered seriously.
When Turkey is admitted to the EU in the long run, we will become direct
neighbors with Georgia, Armenia, Azerbaidjan, Iran, Iraq and Syria. This
article will only discuss the external border with Armenia.
Approximately 99 percent of Turkey is Muslim today. A century ago, however,
this was entirely different. An estimated 77 percent was Muslim and
approximately 22 percent was Christian. At that time most of the Christians
in Turkey belonged to the Armenian church or the Greek Orthodox church. In
the past century Christianity in Turkey has thus on the one hand been
excessively marginalised and on the other hand Islam has developed into a
religion which has an uncontested monopolized position. This development to
a mono religious society – with barely any churches, synagogues and temples
still in use – is problematic.
The enormous degradation of the number of Christians in Turkey at the end of
the nineteenth century and in first half of the twentieth century has been
caused by terrible events there. Two things stand out. First of all the
‘exchange’ of population between Greece and Turkey, which was enforced by
the politicians at that time: approximately 1,000,000 Greek orthodox were
forced to move from Turkey to Greece, and approximately 400,000 Moslems from
Greece to Turkey.
Much more terrible than this “ethnic cleansing” was the deportation and the
massacre of approximately 1,500,000 Armenians. This genocide, dating from
the time before Atatürk came to power in Turkey, is still strongly denied by
the current government of Turkey. Without batting an eye, Turkish historians
also deny this historically well-established fact.
Similar to Germany being able to become a full member of Europe after the
second world war only by doing penance and giving compensation, present-day
Turkey must also be able to qualify as a member of the EU right after
recognition of and dealing with the above mentioned genocide. The
Netherlands as temporary president of the EU must take the initiative for
the reconciliation by means of a thorough historical study into the charged
The best way for this to happen is through an EU commission of two Turkish,
two Armenian and two European top historians (with a European President),
with the task to describe and analyze the said genocide within a maximum of
five years and consequently indicate ways in which to re-establish the
mutual relations. A “great reconciliation” is desirable and subsequently
history books should be rewritten for Turkish schools and other Turkish
This way Turkey can not only learn how it has lost its multi religious and
multicultural society in one hundred years¹ time, but also learn how it can
regain this in the coming one hundred years. Reorientation will also be
necessary for Armenia. As the victims of the apartheid in South Africa have
required that peace be based on justice, in the same way the Armenians too
will have their conditions for the reconciliation with Turkey.
The admission of Turkey to the EU in the long run is one of the greatest
European questions of this moment. Nevertheless it plays no role of meaning
in the run-up to the European elections. Let us hope that the Dutch
government will exploit its temporary presidency of the EU to turn the
Armenian Genocide into a hard point of negotiation in the discussion
concerning the admission of Turkey to the EU and will pursue an equitable
reconciliation between Armenia and Turkey.
The author is Professor Emeritus in Missiology at the University of Utrecht.