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CRAG Letter to Michael Portillo - 15 September 2005

Dear Mr Michael Portillo :

We refer to your article in the Sunday Times of 4 September 2005 with regard to Turkey's application to accede to the EU.

Much as Turkey has undertaken a positive initial number of judicial and socio-economic steps towards the reformist expectations of the European Union, and although we do not hold a non-negotiable stand against eventual Turkish accession, we believe that the outcome is still far from reassuring or certain - particularly when the stakes are so high for the whole of the European project. In fact, the scare tactics and ultimatum-led scenarios that are put forward by some Turkish politicians show that the case for accession is so weak that Turkey is attempting to browbeat those with genuine fears in order to impact the process of negotiation let alone ultimate decision.

We need not remind you that Turkey's recognition of the Republic of Cyprus is fundamental for the sake of upholding the very political raison d'être of the EU. Otherwise, if member-states are not meant to recognise each other within this EU fold, then we truly question the outcome that would demean the very values of the EU.   It is quite possible to envisage that the ideals of Europe may become diluted once compromises on fundamental issues are made before accession, and that the process of change away from these ideals continues after accession.

Moreover, a European Union whose motto is 'Unity in Diversity" should not condone or overlook the fact that Turkey still does not allow Christian institutions within its borders to maintain their churches, repair their hospitals or open their monasteries.

It is worrisome that many European politicians and commentators are being taken in by the face value with the raft of reforms that are declared by Turkey. Much as we acknowledge that some change can be detected, we contend nonetheless that they are merely on paper and have not truly seen the light of day in practice or in sufficient concrete terms. No wonder that a foreign affairs advisor to the Turkish Prime Minister admitted that the judges were not able to grasp the sheer volume of new laws. Ever since the tanzimat reforms of the late 1800's, nothing much in terms of reform has filtered down to the general public in Turkey, and that yawning gap between what is on the statute books and what is happening on the ground is what concerns us as a European lobbying organization in the UK.

Or else, how could anybody justify let alone accept that the most acclaimed Turkish author, Orhan Pamuk, is being indicted through article 301(1) of the Turkish Penal Code, and brought to court in December 2005 for speaking out about Turkey's Ottoman history of killing 30,000 Kurds and 1 million Armenians during the Armenian Genocide of 1915? This charge could result in imprisonment of up to three years for Pamuk, and it does not matter whether the courts would apply the full weight of the law in their judgment. What matters is the mere fact that Turkey is prosecuting a Turkish citizen for speaking out about those killings, the very same Turkey that is a signatory to the UN Covenant on Civil and Political Rights and the European Convention of Human Rights. PEN has documented another 50 such cases: what does this say about the quality of reform in Turkey?

With its refusal to face the legacy of genocide against Armenians during WWI, with the prevarications it executes and the subtleties it installs between what is theory and what is practice, surely we are allowed to view with extreme caution and doubt the accession of a country into the EU simply to prove that Europe is not a supposedly Christian club? Turkey's supporters should not allow themselves to trip up by the stones at their feet. What they may find is that the view on the other side of the horizon is not to the taste of the EU inhabitants or to their governments when Turkey in its present mindset starts to use its numerical weight to alter European practice away from the ideal. It is important to get the accession right from the start, with the necessary set of verifiable reforms, in order to avoid compromises that could yield unforgivable problems for future EU generations.

We also seize this opportunity in order to share with you an Open Letter to the EU Foreign Ministers [who met in Wales recently] that also focuses on some of those concerns we share as European citizens. Do not let your vision of strategy cloud the problems that have to be settled up front to achieve success.

Yours sincerely,

Dr Harry Hagopian

Executive Consultant

Campaign for Recognition of the Armenian Genocide (CRAG)

{Committee of the} Armenian Community & Church Council (ACCC)

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