The Associated Press
September 30, 2005, Friday, BC cycle

Armenian patriarch says Turkish EU bid critical for Muslim-Christian
understanding

By LOUIS MEIXLER, Associated Press Writer

ANKARA, Turkey


The head of the Armenian church in Turkey warned European leaders
that postponing Turkey's bid for EU membership could undermine
efforts to bring together the Muslim East and the Christian West.

Turkey has worked hard to implement criteria required by the European
Union and has "been steered toward real change on the democratic
road," the leader of the largest non-Muslim group in Turkey,
Patriarch Mesrob II of the Armenian church, wrote in a letter
released Friday.

"However, because of oppositionist and suspicious attitudes directed
toward Turkey, it seems as though it is being forced to take backward
steps and turn in on itself," he wrote.

The Istanbul-based spiritual leader of the world's 200 million
Orthodox Christians also released a statement in support of Turkey's
bid to join the 25-nation European Union amid growing frustration
over delays in membership talks.

Turkish nationalists planned a rally in Ankara on Sunday, the same
day EU foreign ministers were to hold an emergency meeting in
Luxembourg aimed at overcoming Austrian objections to starting entry
talks with the poor, predominantly Muslim nation.

Austria's insistence that Turkey be offered the option of a lesser
partnership with the EU have thrown plans to begin formal entry
negotiations on Monday into disarray.

Turkey has threatened not to attend the talks unless it is satisfied
the EU will offer nothing less than full membership.

Minorities in Turkey have strongly supported the country's EU bid in
the hopes it will lead to greater democratic reforms and freedoms.
Turkey already has enacted sweeping changes aimed at gaining EU
membership, such as abolishing the death penalty and passing laws
that improve democracy.

Mesrob urged EU leaders not to postpone Turkey's quest for
membership. There are fears that if the EU bid collapses, nationalism
in Turkey will rise.

"Such undesired developments will be a blow not only to Turkey and
Europe but to reconciliation between East and West," he wrote in the
letter, which was sent to EU foreign ministers ahead of their Sunday
meeting.

Armenian Christians, numbering 70,000, belong to the remnants of a
community largely destroyed by deportations and massacres at the time
of World War I.

Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew I, spiritual leader of Orthodox
Christianity, said in his statement that "Turkey definitely has the
right to be part of this union."

The patriarchate dates back to the Orthodox Greek Byzantine Empire,
which ruled the region from Constantinople, now called Istanbul.

European opposition to Turkey's membership bid is increasingly
leading Turks to question their decades-long dream of being the only
predominantly Muslim country to enter the union.

"Some circles in the EU are anxious to anger and humiliate Turkey as
much as possible so that the indignant Turkish nation simply forces
its government to scrap the EU dream," chief columnist Ilnur Cevik
wrote in The New Anatolian.

Columnist Hasan Cemal was more blunt.

"There is no end to the dynamite being thrown" on the EU path, he
wrote in the Milliyet newspaper. "They think that Turkish public
opinion is a stone of patience. It isn't."