In Spite Of The Genocide . . .

In Spite Of The Genocide . . .
By Serge Sarkisian

Wall Street Journal , NY
Dec 22 2006

YEREVAN, Armenia — Over the past few months, attention in Europe has
focused once again on the genocide of the Armenian people. The debate
in the European Parliament over whether Turkey’s recognition of the
genocide should be a precondition for membership in the European Union,
and the French National Assembly’s bill criminalizing genocide denial,
have put the spotlight on this tragic period of Armenia’s history.

I want to look to the future and I hope that Turkey’s negotiations
for EU membership will provide the long-awaited opportunity for
our two countries to establish civilized relations for the benefit
of our peoples and the region. Armenia is part of the new European
Neighborhood Policy and is seeking closer ties with the EU. As the
country with the oldest Christian community in the world, we are a
neighbor to Europe, but also to Georgia, Azerbaijan, Iran and Turkey.

Turkish-Armenian relations and the genocide are, of course, important
factors that need to be considered during Turkey’s negotiations
for EU membership. It is important to remember the past to ensure
that such crimes against humanity are not repeated. Nevertheless,
Armenia has a very straightforward and practical position in terms
of future relations with Turkey. We would welcome starting normal
diplomatic and other relations — without preconditions. That includes
not tying the establishment of diplomatic relations to recognition
of the genocide. More importantly, we want to profit from such
diplomatic relations as a means to overcome the issues that burden our
relations. We cannot expect solutions to come before we start talking
to each other. Solutions will only arise when we work hard for them,
starting by establishing an open dialogue.

In addition to building diplomatic ties between our two countries,
we believe that in negotiating for membership — and perhaps as a
future EU member state — Turkey will contribute to an economically
stronger and more stable neighborhood. This is in the interest of both
Turkey and Armenia. EU membership would also make Turkey much more
predictable. It is always easier to deal with a predictable neighbor.

Sadly, in the past Turkey’s response to Armenia’s desire for normal,
diplomatic relations has been to punish and threaten those who have
recognized the genocide. The breakthrough promised 15 years ago when
Ankara announced its recognition of Armenian independence remains
unfulfilled. Turkey refused then to establish diplomatic relations
with my country — and refuses to do so to this day. The result
is that our bilateral relations are zero. Worse, Turkey maintains
closed borders with Armenia despite growing international pressure and
condemnation, throws every effort into isolating landlocked Armenia
from international and regional transportation projects and does
not play a constructive role in the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict. While
these policies contradict contemporary principles of international
relations and world order, Armenia does not regard Turkey’s potential
membership in the EU as a threat to national security. Quite the
contrary. We hope it will mean that Turkey will change, and be in a
better position to face both its history and future.

The entry negotiations hold seeds of hope that the impasse between
Turkey and Armenia can eventually be broken. If Turkey lifts the
blockade of its border with Armenia, my small country becomes
geopolitically closer to Europe. Armenia already shares a common
interest with the EU on a large range of issues ranging from regional
security to democratic development.

The statehood that both Armenia and Turkey enjoy is not an apartment.
You cannot sell it and leave it. Neither Turks nor Armenians will
leave the region. The logical solution is to have normal relations
with each other. That’s what neighbors seek to do in today’s world.

I do not say that Armenia should resolve its relations with Ankara at
any price. What I do say is that it is ready to regulate its relations
with Turkey without any preconditions. Armenia is committed to doing
everything it can to find a way to develop bilateral relations,
as much as we are seeking close cooperation with the EU. We look
forward to the EU becoming increasingly involved in finding a way to
a breakthrough for relations between Turkey and Armenia.

Finally, let me make yet one more appeal to Turkey. We cannot be
permanent enemies — and even if we could, there is no need or sense in
being such enemies. So for the sake of our future, let us move forward.

Mr. Sarkisian is Armenia’s defense minister.

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