18 September 2006

1018) Babacan's carelessness on the Armenian issue

Dutch daily NRC Handelsblad recently published an interview headlined, "It is not excluded that Turkey will recognize the genocide." The interview was with Ali Babacan, Turkey 's economy minister and chief negotiator for our European Union negotiations, as conducted by the editor of the newspaper, Willem Heck, on Sept. 9.

Let me quote the related part of the interview first, and then discuss the issue.

Q: What do you think of the condition that Turkey should recognize the massacres of Armenians as "genocide"?
BABACAN: Turkey is open for all outcomes of scientific research on this matter. That's why we proposed to establish a research commission together with Armenians. Also we opened all our archives for scientific research. We just think that the European Parliament is not the right institution to pronounce about what has happened. Representatives are not historians. The position of the EP is not based on historical research, and it does not suit the European way of acting.

Q: If a research committee backed by Turkey concludes that it was genocide, will Turkey recognize that?
BABACAN: Yes, we will accept any outcome.

Q: Will Turkey ensure that writers will no longer be charged for "insulting the Turkish nation"?
BABACAN: In the coming two to six months we will evaluate (Turkish Penal Code, TCK) Article 301. If we see that this article has an undesirable impact, we will examine what we can do.

Now let's evaluate what Babacan said about the Armenian question without playing with words.

First of all, he probably doesn't know that without the benefit of catalogs no one can conduct any kind of scientific research in any archive, and unfortunately our archives lack proper catalogs. So to say that our archives are open is a completely wrong statement.

Another point is what he says about the EP. He said that we just think that the EP isn't the right institution to decide what has happened. Representatives are not historians.

We can accuse the EP of being biased, we can blame it for accepting Armenian claims as fact without taking Turkey 's counter-thesis into consideration, but we don't have any right to say that it's not their issue to decide. The EP can consider and discuss any matter, just like the Turkish Parliament. I'm sure that many of our deputies aren't professionally involved in agriculture-related businesses, but they can discuss and ratify, say, an agriculture reform bill. The EP is the same. If we accept Babacan's view that we have a right to say that you're not an expert on historical matters, then why are you dealing with this matter?

I fully agree with his words that the position of the EP isn't based on historical research, and it doesn't suit the European way of acting. He's right.

Now we face the most delicate point.

The journalist asks if a research committee supported by Turkey were to reach a conclusion that it was genocide, would Turkey recognize it. His answer is yes.

Babacan is not like anyone on the street. He carries responsibility. That's why we think that he must have thought twice before giving that answer.

That answer gives two impressions to the audience. The first is that Babacan is so confident that the Turkish-backed committee will never give a report accepting a genocide. The second is the Turkish government will really accept this kind of decision and is ready for the consequences of recognizing genocide claims.

His confidence on the decision of the Turkey-backed committee at this moment hurts the objectivity of the committee. Logically, no one should be sure about the result before the committee reaches any decision. Otherwise such a committee would be considered a sham and its decisions would not be accepted. That means that this government's remarks and initiatives up to now on the establishment of a joint committee are just a show, not sincere.
Let's disregard this option.

If Babacan means that Turkey can recognize a genocide, he must have known the consequences of the action. I don't want to comment on that.

There may be a third option: He might have been trying to give the impression that the Turkish government is really democratic, just to persuade the other side to form a joint committee. All I can say about that option that it's naive.

I can count only three options. If there is in fact another, please let me know.

FULL TEXT OF THE INTERVIEW

NRC Handelsblad (Dutch daily newspaper) Sept. 9

'It is not excluded that Turkey will recognize the genocide'

Interview with Turkey's chief EU negotiator Ali Babacan

By our editor Willem Heck

The Hague, Sept. 9

"Nobody should expect Turkey to change its mind about the Armenian question," Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan said. But his first negotiator with the EU is more balanced in this.

Freedom of speech has not improved sufficiently, the rights of minorities are not guaranteed, the position of the army is too strong, the Cyprus item is in an impasse and Ankara refuses to recognize that hundreds of thousands of Armenians became victim of "genocide" by the Ottoman Turks in World War I.

In short, the EU report by Dutch Member of European Parliament Camiel Eurlings of the Christian-Democrat Party took a firm line with EU candidate Turkey, and the report was largely supported by the Foreign Policy Committee of the EP this week. Turkey's Economy Minister and Chief EU negotiator Ali Babacan this week visited The Hague to argue for Turkish interests. He rejects most of the European reproaches, but does not exclude recognition of the massacres of Armenians in 1915 as "genocide." At the Turkish embassy he explained the Turkish viewpoint.

Q: Do you admit that the Turkish reform progress is progressing too slowly?

BABACAN: No, it just takes time before the results of the reforms are visible. We are at least as committed to the reforms as before. Our commitment will rather increase than decrease. The vote of the full EP on the report will take place by the end of this month. Until then we will try to change its mind.

Q: What do you think of the condition that Turkey should recognize the massacres of Armenians as "genocide"?

BABACAN: Turkey is open for all outcomes of scientific research on this matter. That's why we proposed to establish a research commission together with Armenians. Also we opened all our archives for scientific research. We just think that the European Parliament is not the right institution to pronounce about what has happened. Representatives are not historians. The position of the EP is not based on historical research, and it does not suit the European way of acting.

Q: If a research committee backed by Turkey concludes that it was genocide, will Turkey recognize that?

BABACAN: Yes, we will accept any outcome.

Q: Will Turkey ensure that writers will no longer be charged for "insulting the Turkish nation"?

BABACAN: In the coming two to six months we will evaluate (Turkish Penal Code, TCK) Article 301. If we see that this article has an undesirable impact, we will examine what we can do.

Q: What do you think of the tone of Eurlings report?

BABACAN: The way the report is phrased shows the emotions behind it. The negative influence that has on the feelings of the Turkish population is large and complicates the negotiations. If the Turks get the feeling they are not welcome, they will ask themselves if they should keep on focussing so much on EU admission.

Another stumbling block in Turkish-EU relations is Turkish refusal to open air and sea harbors for traffic coming from Greek Cyprus (which is not recognized by Ankara). The issue is frustrating the negotiations and may lead to a partial holdup. Babacan also met with Foreign Minister Bernard Bot in the Hague. After the meeting Bot took the airplane to Cyprus to find out whether there is room on the left or on the right to come out of the impasse, his spokesman said. Bot reported to EU Commissioner for Enlargement Olli Rehn, with whom Babacan on his turn met on Thursday.

Q: Is Turkey ready to be the first to make a new step forwards in this issue?

BABACAN: No, certainly not. As the EU promised, first the isolation of the Turkish Cypriots must be terminated. After that we are immediately ready to open our harbors and airports for Greek Cyprus. We hope for new mediation by the United Nations. It would be unfair to punish the party that was ready for a compromise in 2004, by stopping the negotiations. The Greek Cypriots at that time voted against the UN compromise for the reunification of the island, while the Turkish Cypriots voted in favor of it.

Bot's visit to Cyprus did not bring new visions, his spokesman said. "But it is important that we keep on moving," according to Bot's spokesman, because this issue should not lead to a real impasse in the negotiations. It gives hope that meanwhile under UN auspices a careful start has been made to reopen the negotiations between the Greek and Turkish Cypriots. The spokesman emphasized that there is no official mediation on behalf of the EU.


Recep Guvelioglu
rguvelioglu@thenewanatolian.com
18 September 2006
http://www.thenewanatolian.com

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