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Patriarch Embarks on Lobbying Tour on Behalf of Turkey 12/07/2002
Patriarch Embarks on Lobbying Tour on Behalf of Turkey

By Harut Sassounian
Publisher, The California Courier
7 Dec 2002

The Armenian Patriarch of Turkey, Mesrob II, has been touring various
European capitals in the past couple of weeks in order to drum up
support for Turkey's eventual membership in the European Union (EU).

While previous Patriarchs, on certain occasions, have been asked by the
Turkish government to participate in specific campaigns on behalf of
Turkey, this is the first time that the religious head of the Armenian
Church in Istanbul has embarked on such an elaborate and visible effort,
in full cooperation and coordination with the Turkish government.

The Patriarch's undertaking has generated quite a bit of controversy in
the Diaspora. Questions have been raised as to why a prominent Armenian
clergyman would involve himself in a campaign that clearly furthers the
interests of the sworn enemy of the Armenian nation? Here's my analysis
of the possible reasons for the Patriarch's involvement in this effort.

As joining the European Union has been the long sought goal of the
Turkish government, the Turks have spared no effort to accomplish that
objective. They are particularly anxious at this time, because the EU
countries meeting in Copenhagen next week may consider designating a
specific date for the start of accession talks with Turkey. Recognizing
that the support of the Armenian Patriarch, as the leader of the largest
Christian Church in Islamic Turkey, would make a positive impression on
the reluctant Europeans, the Turkish officials most probably urged him
to embark on this lobbying tour of European capitals.

The Patriarch, however, may have had his own reasons for going along
with this Turkish suggestion:

1) Realizing how anxious the Turks are to join the EU, he may have
calculated that by supporting that effort he may be gaining a valuable
chip, an IOU, that he could later use to gain concessions from the
Turkish government for the benefit of the local Armenian community;
2) During his meetings with various EU officials, the Patriarch would
have the opportunity to privately present to them the hardships suffered
by the Armenian community in Turkey and ask them to ensure that the
Turkish authorities implement the promised reforms before permitting
Turkey to enter the EU;
3) The Patriarch believes that Turkey's membership in the EU will be
beneficial not only to the Turks, but also to the Armenians in Turkey
whose rights would be protected by the European Union.

If these are the Patriarch's calculations, he may be disappointed to
find out that:

1) The Turks, true to their long-standing habit dating back to the
Ottoman days, are simply exploiting the Patriarch to accomplish their
own interests. Once the Turkish officials achieve their desired goal of
EU membership, they would no longer have any reason to keep the promises
they made to the Patriarch.
2) It is apparent that the Turkish officials are not interested in
implementing any real reforms and have no desire to grant additional
rights to the minorities in Turkey. Their sole objective seems to be to
join the EU with the least number of changes in their existing
restrictive practices and laws. Rather than complying with the EU
requirements, the Turks are attempting to join the EU by means of
applying political pressure on the European countries, with the
assistance of the hawks in the U.S. government for whom using Turkish
bases for the invasion of Iraq is much more important than achieving
democratic reforms in Turkey.
3) The final downside to the Patriarch's personal involvement in the EU
lobbying process is that he would leave himself open to future Turkish
requests for countering various Armenian demands from Turkey. Until now,
the Patriarch and his predecess ors managed to minimize their involvement
in such campaigns by claiming that as clergymen they can not participate
in political activities. Following the Patriarch's involvement in the EU
lobbying process, he may be continuously pressured by the Turkish
government to serve as a pawn in other political campaigns, such as
countering international efforts for the recognition of the Armenian
Genocide, condemning the "Armenian occupation" of Karabagh, and even
being asked to criticize the making of movies like "Ararat."

Here is a chronology of the recent events that led to the Patriarch's
involvement in the EU campaign and some of the interesting episodes of
his visit to various European capitals.

On October 9, the Forum of Armenian Associations in Europe (FAAE)
published a 46-page report documenting the long list of discriminations
against the Armenians of Turkey. The FAAE called on the EU not to
consider Turkey for membership until the latter respected the basic
human rights of its minorities. In response, the Armenian Patriarchate
of Turkey issued a statement on Oct. 17, deploring any interference from
outside in the domestic affairs of the local Armenian community
particularly at such a critical juncture when Turkey's membership in the
EU is under consideration. The Patriarchate expressed its regret that
"unfounded and unjust claims are being advanced against our community."
The Turkish "Hurriyet" newspaper published on October 30, a lengthy
article on the FAAE's report and "the Armenian Patriarchate's harsh
reaction."

On November 11, the Patriarch presided over a special meeting of the
leaders of the Armenian community of Istanbul as well as the members of
the Church Council. The community leaders issued a collective
declaration supporting Turkey's application for EU membership and
expressed the hope that the shortcomings in the recently passed laws on
minority rights would be corrected.

On November 12, Hurriyet published an article claiming that Patriarch
Mesrob II, "after consulting with and receiving the approval of the
Turkish Foreign Ministry," sent 500 letters to the leaders of Europe,
the Foreign Ministers, heads of churches and other organizations, urging
them to support Turkey's membership in the EU. The Patriarch was
reported to have said in his letter that even though there are
imperfections in the reforms recently adopted by the Turkish Parliament
regarding minority rights, "we believe that Turkey will carry out these
reforms more easily once it sits at the table of [EU] accession talks."

On November 24, the Patriarch embarked on his tour of several European
countries to drum up support for Turkey's membership in the EU. After a
press conference at the Istanbul airport, he flew to Denmark. He was met
at the Copenhagen airport by Jemal Erbay, a senior aide to the Turkish
Ambassador.

On November 25, the Anadolu Agency reported that the Armenian Patriarch
"will carry out lobbying activities" in Europe to secure a date for
Turkey's EU accession talks. The Turkish "Zaman" newspaper reported that
the Patriarch met with Claus Larsen Jansen, the parliamentary leader of
Denmark's EU relations commission, and Bertel Harter, the Danish Foreign
Ministry's representative for the EU. According to Zaman, Harter asked
the Patriarch, "aren't you Armenian?" to which the Patriarch replied, "I
am both an Armenian and a Turk. I carry both identities. Nowadays
heroism lies in dialogue, tolerance, and the living together of
different nationalities. In my person, I embody this union. The EU
should do the same." Reporters from both Zaman and Milliyet newspapers
were present at this meeting. Later that day, the Patriarch gave a press
conference at the Copenhagen international press center.

On November 27, the Turkish "Jumhurriyet" newspaper reported that the AK
Party, which hold s the majority of the seats in the newly-elected
Turkish Parliament, has prepared revised regulations for submission to
the EU, facilitating the procedures for donating real estate to minority
charities.

On November 27, Hurriyet published a front-page article on the
Patriarch's visit to Paris under the sensational headline, "A Patriarch
who goes against tradition." Here are some excerpts from that article:
"Patriarch Mesrob II does not behave like the previous Patriarchs. When
his predecessors came to France, they used to make up their own agenda.
However, Mesrob II conducts all his meetings in the Turkish Embassy of
Paris in the presence of the Turkish Ambassador.. Upon his arrival from
Copenhagen, the Turkish Ambassador in France, Uluc Ozulker, greeted him
at the airport's VIP lounge. Since then, the Patriarch has followed an
agenda in close cooperation with the Turkish Embassy. He meets with
French reporters at the Embassy. After his off-site meetings, he returns
to the Embassy and briefs the Ambassador." The Patriarch met with
several French officials, including Renaud Musellier of the French
Foreign Ministry, and Herve de Charette, the former Foreign Minister and
currently the leader of the French Assembly's France-Turkey Friendship
Group. He also met with reporters from Le Figaro, Le Monde, La Croix and
the Agence France Press. The Turkish Ambassador organized a
luncheon-reception at the Embassy in honor of the Patriarch. During his
press conference at the Turkish Embassy in Paris, the Patriarch
complained about the coverage of his visit by certain Turkish
newspapers. He said that he is a clergyman, therefore it would be wrong
to describe his meetings as a lobbying activity.

On November 27, 500 French Armenians held a demonstration in Paris to
protest against the visit of Rejeb Tayyip Erdogan, the Chairman of the
AK Party who was visiting France to lobby for the French government's
support for Turkey's EU membership. The demonstrators demanded that
Turkey not be permitted to join the EU until it recognizes the Armenian
Genocide and lifts the blockade of Armenia. Ironically, while some
Armenians were protesting against Erdogan, Hurriyet reported that the
Patriarch was warmly received by Erdogan at the Turkish Embassy. In
fact, the Patriarch happened to walk in the Embassy as Erdogan was in
the middle of a press conference with 70 journalists. Erdogan was
reported to have interrupted the conference, shook the Patriarch's hand
and thanked him for his efforts.

On November 27, the Patriarch met with two French Senators, Jacques
Oudin, the leader of France-Armenia Friendship Group and Michel
Pelchat. Interestingly, the Senators told the Armenian Patriarch that
Turkey must eliminate the few obstacles that stem from its history. They
also urged Turkey to improve its relations with Armenia. The Senators
then directly mentioned the issue of the Armenian Genocide. The
Patriarch, according to the Marmara newspaper, replied that the purpose
of his visit was not to discuss such issues. No other community will be
as pleased with the resolution of the genocide issue as the Armenian
community of Turkey, the Patriarch told the Senators. The Armenian
Patriarchate is closely following the developments on this issue, said
the Patriarch. Later that day, the Patriarch met with Edouard
Nalbandian, Armenia's Ambassador in France. The Patriarch explained to
him that Turkey's membership in the EU would be beneficial not only to
the Armenians in Turkey, but also to Armenia. According to the
Patriarchate's website, Amb. Nalbandian responded by saying that he
finds it very natural for the Armenians of Turkey to support Turkey's EU
membership. He further said that Armenia does not have any particular
reservations about this issue, however, certain political groups in the
Diaspora are opposed to it.

On November 29, the Anadolu Agency reported that the Patriarch met in
Brussels with Romano Prodi, the EU Commission President, and several
other EU officials. The Patriarch told the press in Belgium that "the
minorities in Turkey live in harmony," according to the Anadolu Agency.
He acknowledged that there were some problems and expressed the hope
that the new government in Turkey will solve them shortly.  The Turkish
Ambassador at the EU, Oguz Demiralp, honored the Patriarch with a dinner
at the Embassy.

The Patriarch then continued his tour of European countries by making
stops in England, Germany and the Vatican.
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