Links with Armenia reinforce French fears
Financial Times, UK
By John Thornhill
October 1 2005
Every year France celebrates another country by organising bilateral visits
and cultural exchanges. In 2004it was China, and the Eiffel Tower was
briefly lit up in red. This year it has been Brazil – hence the samba
dancers at Paris plage.
Next year it will be Armenia. The choice of a small Caucasian country of 3m
people highlights the importance France attaches to Armenia. This is mostly
due to France’s 450,000-strong Armenian community, which has grown
increasingly rich and influential.
But the timing of Armenia Year could hardly be more discordant for President
Jacques Chirac if, as expected on Monday, France and the European Union’s
other 24 members signal the start of accession talks with Turkey.
Armenians in France and elsewhere have been opposing Turkey’s entry into the
EU – unless and until Ankara acknowledges that the death of Armenians during
the break-up of the Ottoman empire was an act of genocide. Armenians claim
up to 1.5m people died in 1915-18. Turkey denies genocide, and admits only
that hundreds of thousands of both Armenians and Turks died, largely as a
result of civil war and famine.
The French parliament has already declared the massacres to have been a
genocide. And Mr Chirac has himself been sympathetic to the Armenian cause.
Harout Mardirossian, president of the Paris-based Committee for the Defence
of the Armenian Cause, says Turkey has been a “a country in denial” for 80
years that does not conform with the values espoused by the EU.
“How can you imagine Germany being integrated into the European Union in the
1960s if it did not recognise the Holocaust?” he says.
In spite of Mr Chirac’s support for accession talks with Turkey, most of his
compatriots are against the move. A recent Eurobarometer poll showed that 70
per cent of French respondents opposed Turkey’s entry into the EU with only
21 per cent in favour. Opposition to Turkish entry boosted the victorious No
vote during May’s referendum on Europe’s constitution.
Those opposed to Turkey’s accession range from Islamophobic nationalists to
Armenian campaigners to fervent pro-Europeans who believe the entry of such
a large country would kill off the dreams of a federal EU.
Earlier this month, Valéry Giscard d’Estaing, the former French president
and father of the European constitution, said French voters had clearly
expressed their opposition to Turkey’s entry.
He noted: “There was a clear contradiction between the pursuit of European
political integration and the entry of Turkey into European institutions.
These two projects are incompatible.”
Mr Chirac has argued that Turkey’s entry into the EU would recognise a great
civilisation, extend Europe’s hand to the Muslim world, and help energise
the EU’s economy. But he has also guaranteed French voters a referendum on
whether to accept Turkey’s entry into the EU once accession talks are
However, Sylvie Goulard, a Europe expert at Sciences-Po university, says
this move deceives the French and Turks. “Resistance to Turkey’s accession
is not going to disappear in 15 years. Even if the Turks have successfully
reformed themselves, they will still share a border with Iran and Iraq. You
cannot change the nature of the EU without a proper democratic debate.”
Whatever the EU leaders decide, the issue of Turkey will loom large through
the 2007 presidential elections and beyond. Nicolas Sarkozy, president of
the ruling UMP party and a strong presidential contender, has already stated
his firm opposition to Turkey’s accession. Dominique de Villepin, the prime
minister and rival presidential contender, has doggedly defended Mr Chirac’s