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ZAMAN Armenians launch campaign against pro-Turkey MEPs
02.06.2009 News . SELÇUK GÜLTAªLI
In the run-up to this week's European Parliament elections, a Brussels-based Armenian diaspora organization has launched a campaign against pro-Turkey members of the European Parliament (MEPs) while lobbying for MEPs known to be in favor of claims that Anatolian Armenians were victims of genocide at the hands of the Ottoman Empire.

The European Armenian Federation for Justice and Democracy (EAFJD) has released a report on the European Parliament's last legislature between 2004 and 2009, which, it said, "enlightens the positions adopted by the various political groups on the issues relating to foreign affairs, such as Turkey's accession, the European Neighborhood Policy, the relations between the European Union and Armenia [and] the destruction by Azerbaijan of the Armenian cultural heritage."

The EAFJD, founded in 2000 in the EU capital, describes itself as a "nongovernmental organization representing the European citizens of Armenian origin at the European institutions."

The 19-page report accused some MEPs of acting as a "lobbyists" in favor of Turkey, while praising the European United Left Group (GUE) -- known to be close to the outlawed Kurdistan Workers' Party (PKK) -- calling it "the most coherent group," in regards to Turkey's EU accession issue.

The European Green Party "started defending the Turkish immigrants from discrimination and progressively moved to the unconditional support of the Turkish accession by the dissimulation of the justified obstacles which impedes the accession process.
Consequently, it constitutes today a real [Turkish] lobby within the European Parliament," the report states.

"The GUE has the most coherent position, which is in favor of Turkish accession by principle and at the same time it firmly expresses the preliminary demand of respect for European values, among which is the recognition of the genocide," it says.

The European People's Party (EPP) got its share of harsh criticism from the EAFJD, particularly due to the stance of its member Ria Oomen-Ruijten of the Netherlands who has acted as the rapporteur for Turkey for the last two years.

"The position of the EPP group got considerably worse, in particular under the influence of Mrs. Ria Oomen-Ruijten, which showed a singular leniency towards Ankara in general and was resolutely hostile to any clear mention of the Armenian issue in particular. Mrs. Ria Oomen-Ruijten notably said publicly offensive remarks about the Armenians on several occasions. Her attitude pleased some EPP members who continuously supported the idea of Turkey's accession and who always showed reluctance to mention the Armenian Genocide such as Mr. Geoffrey Van Orden [the United Kingdom], Mr. Vitautas Landsbergis [Lithuania] or Mr. José Salafranca Sánchez-Neyra [Spain]."


'Turkish secularism is militant, old-fashioned'

Turkey's secularism is "militant and old-fashioned," according to the European Parliament's rapporteur on Turkey.
Dutch Christian Democrat Ria Oomen-Ruijten, who has written the last two progress reports on Turkey, has been acclaimed for her critical but balanced approach, a precious asset that is usually lacking in reports on Turkey prepared by members of the European Parliament. Oomen-Ruijten, who is running in the European elections of June 4, has been threatened by the strong Armenian lobby as she refused to refer to the Armenian "genocide" in her two reports.

In an exclusive interview with Today's Zaman at her campaign headquarters in Echt, the Netherlands, Oomen-Ruijten made clear that she would seek the job of rapporteur on Turkey if she is re-elected.

Naming polarization the most urgent problem of Turkey, Oomen-Ruijten thinks Turkey immediately needs a brand new constitution rather than amendments to address the shortcomings of the system, in particular secularism. The Dutch politician praised President Abdullah Gül for his conciliatory tone.

"The problem is that your society has been so divided. Therefore, the best way to overcome problems is a brand new constitution, not amendments. Turkey needs a new constitution, guaranteeing first and foremost the separation between state and religion. Now it is not separate," she said. "In my view it [Turkish secularism] is old-fashioned. I am a Catholic. If I want to go to church and say something in political life, it is allowed. But in your country religion is absolutely absent in public life. In public life I should be allowed to confess I am a Catholic, why not? I am absolutely against religion playing a role in politics or legislation. But it can help cooperation in society."

Oomen-Ruijten also criticized the main opposition Republican People's Party (CHP) for trying to settle political disputes with the government in court, rather than Parliament. "It is incredible that an opposition party immediately goes to court if it cannot defeat a motion in Parliament. It would be unthinkable in my country," she said. "You need to have the debate in Parliament. But it is not the case in Turkey. If the opposition cannot stop it in Parliament, then you need to take it to civil society and ask for their help, not to the courts. We will never do it in the Netherlands."

The CHP has blocked several laws passed in Parliament, getting them annulled at the Constitutional Court after they have been enacted on the grounds of non-compliance with the Constitution. In most cases, the CHP moves and the subsequent court rulings have proved to be controversial, with critics accusing the court of acting as a political actor rather than strictly implementing the law.

Oomen-Ruijten complained that the judiciary in Turkey is not impartial. "For a modern democracy you need an independent system of justice. The problem in Turkey is that you really have independent justice, but it is not impartial," she said, emphasizing that Turkey needs judicial reform.

Sarkozy and Merkel

Although she is a Christian Democrat, Oomen-Ruijten has also criticized German Chancellor Angela Merkel and French President Nicolas Sarkozy, who have stepped up their opposition to Turkey's membership in their election campaign speeches.

Oomen-Ruijten said opposition to Turkish membership now does not make much sense because Turkish accession is not going to happen for at least 10 years.

"We all have to accept that negotiations have started and that the decision will be taken in 10 years or something. Sarkozy and Merkel won't be there anymore when the decision is taken," she said, underlining that the accession negotiations would be halted only if Turkey fails to meet the criteria. "It is in the hands of Turkey. It is not in the hands of the two leaders," she said.

Asked to comment on criticism from Armenian groups in Europe against her stance on Turkey, Oomen-Ruijten said she would maintain her position. "The Armenian lobbies have not been successful in blocking my candidacy, and I will hold my line on the Armenian question," she said, noting that there are positive developments regarding Turkish-Armenia ties. "The developments are very positive. I think I made a humble contribution to the latest developments, and I tried hard to convince the Armenians in the diaspora for the need to improve the conditions of those who are living in Armenia," she said.

On Cyprus, she played down concerns that the long-running dispute could derail the Turkish membership process but warned there would be "serious repercussions" if there is no settlement. "Because if there is no solution at the end of the year, that will provide ammunition to those who are against Turkish membership," she said. Echt Today's Zaman


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