Christians Seek Reconciliation through Turkey-EU Membership Talks

The Armenian Patriarch Mesrob II reiterated that Turkey’s bid in the EU was ''not for Turks alone, or for Europeans, but for world peace.''

While the European Union (EU) membership talks with Turkey was delayed on Monday due to divided opinions within the nations, Christians in Turkey urged the European leaders to hasten the negotiation, saying that Turkey’s entry to EU will "cultivate reconciliation between civilizations".

According to the Saturday edition of the Italy-based news agency AsiaNews, the Armenian Patriarch Mesrob II wrote a letter to 732 members of the European parliament and to ministers of European nations, pleading their support for Turkey’s entry to EU.

"In these days, when we hear talk about clashes between the civilizations of East and West, between Christians and Muslims, when we see how terrorism is destroying peace among civilizations, we think that the most basic objective of the European Union should be that of seeking to cultivate a ‘reconciliation between civilizations’ and a multi-cultural society, as we - especially Christians of the East - ardently desire," wrote the spiritual leader of Armenian Orthodox Christians.

In Turkey, more than 99 percent of the population follows Islam. The Armenian people are the largest non-Muslim community and are traditionally Christians in their Turkish homeland of almost 3,000 years.

In the letter, Mesrob claimed to speak in the name of the Armenians as well as the Hebrews, Syrians, Greeks, Chaldeans and Protestants, who are all strong Christian proponents of Turkish EU membership.

In response to opponents who claimed that the majority Christian EU was not ready to absorb the predominately Muslim Turkey, the patriarch described the entry of Turkey to EU is a "vital step towards world peace".

"We Christians of the East, who for centuries have lived in a Muslim word, can testify to this endeavor, and fortified by long experience, we can affirm that this event could be significantly enriching for Christians in the West who have started to live with Muslims and to experiment a multi-ethnic lifestyle only recently," Mesrob continued in the letter obtained by AsiaNews.

The patriarch reiterated that Turkey’s bid in the EU was "not for Turks alone, or for Europeans, but for world peace." Therefore, he called on "those who work for western peace" to help them.

At the same time, Mesrob showed his concern that "those who oppose it and who nurture attitudes of suspicion may disrupt the road to democracy, making Turkey turn in on itself."

"We pray for the success of the process of civilization and peace in the European Union and so that Turkey and the Armenian Christians, who make up the country’s largest non-Muslim community, may find their right place in it," the patriarch concluded with prayer in the letter.

It was the crisis over Turkey’s EU-bid last week that prompted the Patriarch’s call. The European Parliament meeting in Brussels last Wednesday had seen a heated debate over Turkey’s EU membership. EU ambassadors harshly criticized Turkey's record on human rights and religious freedoms, claiming it has failed to meet the corresponding standard on the EU Constitution.

Austria has taken a hard-line stance and has pushed for a privileged partnership between the EU and Turkey, saying Austrians and others across Europe do not support full membership. France and the Netherlands had previously showed their dismays.

In an attempt to reach consent within the 25-member bloc, the chairing country Britain called an emergency foreign ministers' meeting in Luxembourg on Sunday evening. The late-night negotiations, however, failed to break the deadlock and the talks dragged on through the afternoon, according to a report by AFP on Monday.

Amid the dispute, the British Foreign Minister Jack Straw, a supporter for Turkish membership, warned of a "theological-political divide, which could open up even further down the boundary between so-called Christian-heritage states and those of Islamic heritage," BBC reported on Monday.

During a brief address at the Luxembourg’s meeting, Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan said, "Let us be sincere, honest and principled. I invite all European leaders and our friends all over the world to show common sense for the sake of global peace and stability."

"If the EU wants to become a global power, if it aims to eliminate the conflict of civilizations, the concert of civilizations must be achieved," Erdogan said, according to AFP.

An interfaith conference called "Meeting of Civilizations" was held last week by the Turkish Prime Minister in a bid to ease out the criticism over its religious intolerance. Around 2,000 Jewish, Christian and Muslim delegates attended.

"To those wishing for a clash of civilizations we must be able to say this: no to a clash of civilizations, yes to an alliance of civilizations," Erdogan said at the conference.

According to the latest report by the Associated Press (AP), the European Union opened membership talks with Turkey early Tuesday – “a momentous step that is bound to transform the bloc as it prepares to take in a predominantly Muslim nation and expand its borders to the Middle East.”

Turkish Foreign Minister Abdullah Gul told AP, "After the negotiations start, the whole world will benefit."

"God willing, it will be beneficial."