By Stefan J. Bos, Chief International Correspondent BosNewsLife reporting from Budapest
BUDAPEST, HUNGARY (BosNewsLife)– Hungary says it supports Turkey’s efforts to join the European Union and that it will try to push Turkey’s case when it assumes the bloc’s rotating presidency next year. The announcement comes despite EU concerns over the treatment of the Christian minority and other controversies in the country. Turkey’s chief negotiator for talks with the European Union, Egemen Bagis, urged Hungary on Wednesday, October 27, to use its influence on Turkey’s behalf.
Turkish EU Affairs Minister Bagis arrived in Budapest amid mounting frustration in Turkey over the European Union’s refusal to negotiate with Ankara on several areas required for membership.
Turkey began EU accession talks five years ago this month. It has initiated negotiations on 13 of more than 30 issues known as policy chapters that it must resolve to attain full membership. Talks on several chapters have been blocked, in part because of Turkey’s refusal to recognize its long-time rival Cyprus, an EU member.
Additionally, the EU has expressed concerns about the treatment of the country’s tiny Christian minority, following the killings of several Christians by Islamic extremists.
In one of the latest known incidents, a Roman Catholic bishop, Luigi Padovese, was stabbed to death in eastern Turkey in June, a day before he had planned to travel to Cyprus for the visit of Pope Benedict XVI. In recent years, several priests have been attacked in Turkey; one was shot to death in 2006 amid widespread Muslim anger over the publication of cartoons depicting the Prophet Muhammad. Seperately, three missionaries were tortured and killed in 2007.
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Additionally, well-known Turkish-Armenian journalist Hrant Dink was killed in Istanbul in 2007, for questioning the massacres and deportations of predominantly Christian Armenians at the hands of Ottoman Turks during World War I.
The attacks caused the death of more than 1.5 million people, according to Armenian sources, and between 250,000 and half a million according to Turkey, which has refused to call it genocide.
Vast numbers of Christians have left their ancient homeland and now make up just 0.13 percent of Turkey’s population of 73 million people, according to church estimates.
The talks with the EU also have been slowed by the perceived sluggish pace of reforms in Ankara.
Standing next to Hungary’s Foreign Minister, Bagis urged Hungary to use its upcoming EU presidency, which starts January 1, to speed up Turkey’s membership.
Bagis said that just as Turkey stood behind Hungary when it wanted to join NATO, Turkey expects Hungary to support Turkey’s bid to join the European Union. The Turkish minister added that Hungary and Turkey are already cooperating on the Western-backed Nabucco pipeline, a new natural gas link from Asia to Europe. He said “this is very important for Europe and this participation should also help to resolve outstanding EU issues.”
Hungarian Foreign Minister Janos Martonyi said his country strongly supports Turkey’s EU bid and that Budapest will try to bring Ankara closer to the organization during Hungary’s six-month EU presidency. But Martonyi cautioned that his country’s possibilities are limited.
Martonyi said “Hungary wants to close at least one policy issue with Turkey,” to help it advance toward EU membership. But he said it will depend on the internal political situation in Turkey.
Martonyi praised last month’s Turkish referendum that backed EU supported democratic changes to the country’s constitution.
The changes adopted in the referendum include increasing the power of civilian courts to try military personnel for crimes against the state, strengthening gender equality and banning discrimination against children, the elderly and the disabled.
Turkish EU Affairs Minister Egemen Bagis said Hungary and all other EU members need Turkey in the fight against terrorism and as a “peaceful mediator” with countries such as Georgia, Russia, Greece, Albania, Pakistan and Afghanistan.
He acknowledged that relations with Israel, a key ally of the European Union and the United States, are not good. Relations between Israel and Turkey deteriorated in May, after Israel raided a Turkish flotilla carrying aid to Gaza, in which nine Turkish activists were killed.
Bagis said Turkey asked Israel to apologize and compensate the families of those killed. He also recalled that Turkey was among the first nations to recognize the Jewish state.
Bagis added that the relationship between the two countries depends at least in part on how Israel will resolve the flotilla issue.
A report on Turkey’s progress toward EU membership is expected next month. (BosNewsLife’s NEWS WATCH is a regular look at key news developments especially in (former) Communist nations and autocratic states impacting the Church and/or compassionate professionals. Part of this BosNewsLife NEWS story also airs via its affiliated Voice of America (VOA) network).