YEREVAN (RFE-RL)–Defense Minister Serge Sargsian looks forward to the start of membership talks between Turkey and the European Union (EU)–saying that Armenian could–for the first time–have a "truly European neighbor" as a result.
In an online news conference earlier this week with readers of the Armenian Revolutionary Federation’s (ARF) "Yerkir" weekly–Sargsian argued that the prospect of EU membership could lead Turkey to reopen its border and establish diplomatic relations with Armenia.
"It is my conviction that the start of membership talks between Turkey and the EU has a purely practical significance for us and will further contribute to the resolution of issues mentioned by you," he said in response to a question about Ankara’s continuing refusal to normalize ties with Yerevan without preconditions.
Sargsian added that Armenia wants Turkey to "develop progressively… in accordance with European values and standards." Armenia’s should therefore be encouraged by the "possibility of having a truly European neighbor in 15-20 years’ time," he said.
The remarks represent the most positive assessment yet by a senior Armenian official of the EU’s decision late last year to open accession talks with Ankara by the end of 2005.
Official Yerevan’s initial reaction to the move was far more negative–with Foreign Minister Vartan Oskanian accusing the EU of turning a blind eye to the Turkish blockade. "We believe that Turkey did not deserve to get the right to begin accession talks with the European Union at this point," he said in October.
However–Oskanian struck a more positive tone in December after receiving assurances from European leaders that they will raise Armenian grievances with the Turks during the accession process.
Sargsian’s commen’s contrast even more sharply with the position of the ARF–as well as a number of Diasporan organizations in western Europe and France. They have for months campaigned against admitting Turkey into the EU–saying that Ankara must first stop denying the genocide of 1915–which claimed the lives of 1.5 million Ottoman-Armenia’s.
But Sargsian stressed that Armenia and Armenia’s worldwide can continue to work for genocide recognition–even while Turkey knocks on the EU’s door. "As a statesman–I very much hope that the recognition of the Armenian genocide by Turkey will greatly contribute to the security of our state," he said.
During the online conference–Sargsian did not shy away from questions dealing with his relationship to the ARF–which he stated deserved its "due respect."I don’t think that anybody has reason to consider me an ardent supporter of Dashnaktsutyun [ARF]," he told one of Yerkir’s readers.