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December 13, 2004
A Turkish Checkmate?

The long-proposed entry of NATO member Turkey to the EU has generated much controversy, especially in the context of the war against Islamofascist terror and the Muslim population explosion in central Europe. While the EU powers have stalled Turkey's application, time had started to run out on their delays. However, today France played the genocide card, complicating the politics to such an extent that Turkey's EU entry may be a dead letter:

France has said it will ask Turkey to acknowledge the mass killing of Armenians from 1915 as genocide when it begins EU accession talks.

French Foreign Minister Michel Barnier said Turkey had "a duty to remember". ... Mr Barnier said France did not consider Turkish acknowledgement a condition of EU entry, but insisted his country would raise the issue once talks opened.

Speaking to reporters after a meeting of EU foreign ministers to discuss plans to invite Turkey for accession talks, Mr Barnier said Turkey "must carry out this task as a memorial".

France started out softly, not couching the demand as an ultimatum but informing the Turks that they will be expected to answer the question. However, the Turks do not care to revisit the Armenian genocide/uprising of 1915, when Armenians allege -- and historians generally concur -- that the Young Turks movement that precipitated the collapse of the Ottoman Empire and the doddering Islamic caliphate slaughtered 1.5 million restful Armenians in the 20th century's first genocide. As historian David Fromkin put it in his history of the region, A Peace To End All Peace, the Turks left Armenia as quiet as the grave.

Ever since, the Turks have vehemently denied that they did anything except put down an uprising by the accepted military method. Of course, their denials have more at stake than just a defense of national pride. Admitting the slaughter would create a moral if not legal obligation to provide some reparations to the survivors of the 1915 victims and their descendants, as well as to the now-independent nation of Armenia. France appears to have gambled that the Turks will simply find the price too steep and withdraw from its EU application.

It's a crime that Turkey has yet to acknowledge its part in the mass murders in Armenia. Positive action on their part could have defused a major issue with the West (and the East as well). It remains a black spot on the history of the Turkish people. But what price will all concerned pay for France's gambit?

First, once this card was played, there really is no way to bury it again. Either Turkey will have to acknowledge some form of responsibility, or the EU entry is dead. Now that France has raised the issue of 1915, no Western nation will openly support disregarding a genocide for political and military expediency. (Can you see Germany openly supporting Turkey without some contrition for the Armenian genocides?)

Turkey's moderate Islamist executive is highly unlikely to budge, mostly because any admission would result in their ejection from office, and possibly a more radical Islamist government forming in its place. That has some implications for the war on terror, potentially destabilizing an important ally and resource to combat al-Qaeda and its affiliated groups. A disconnect between Turkey and the West at this point does more than just remove the intelligence assistance of the Turks; it isolates Pakistan in the Islamic world in the terror fight as the only major Muslim player against AQ. Alienating Turkey could also have major implications for the western border of Iraq and the Kurds who populate both sides of that border.

Much depends on how offended the Turks become at the late French demand for humility on the world stage, no matter how well-deserved. While I applaud the call for Turkish accountability, I can't help but regret the timing.

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Posted by Ed Morrissey at December 13, 2004 4:04 PM

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Tracked on December 16, 2004 2:03 PM

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