October 01, 2006 06:10am
Article from: Agence France-Presse
FRENCH President Jacques Chirac has urged Turkey overnight to recognise World War I-era massacres of Armenians as genocide if it wants to join the European Union.
Mr Chirac was speaking during a visit to the Armenian capital Yerevan, and his comments were likely to irritate Turkey and put a further strain on its relations with France.
He told a news conference Turkey needed to face up to its Ottoman past in response to a question on the nation’s EU ambitions.
Asked if he thought Turkey should recognize the 1915-1917 massacres as genocide before it joins the EU, the French president replied: “Honestly, I believe so.”
“All countries grow up acknowledging their dramas and their errors,” said Mr Chirac, who is on a two-day visit to Armenia, where he paid homage to Yerevan’s “genocide” memorial and attended the inauguration of a “France Square” in central Yerevan.
Until now, France had refused to make a direct link between the genocide issue and Turkey’s EU membership bid. The bloc has not made it a condition of entry.
But a response to the same question by Chirac’s Armenian counterpart Robert Kocharian was markedly softer, reflecting Armenia’s desire to mend ties with its neighbour.
“We don’t see any danger in this process,” Mr Kocharian said of Turkey’s EU aspirations, “but we would like that our interests be discussed in the process too,” he added.
Mr Kocharian said it would be in Armenia’s interests to have a neighbour “with a value system that allows for free movement and open borders.”
France, with 400,000 citizens of Armenian descent, officially recognised the events as genocide in 2001, putting a strain on relations with Turkey.
A proposal by France’s Socialists to make genocide denial a crime punishable by a year in prison and a €45,000 fine has elicited further ire in Turkey, but Mr Chirac said he did not support the proposal.
Armenia has campaigned for Turkey to acknowledge the World War I killings, in which it says 1.5 million Armenians died, as genocide.
But Turkey argues that 300,000 Armenians and at least as many Turks died in an internal conflict sparked by attempts by Armenians to win independence in eastern Anatolia.
Today’s Armenia is in a critical geopolitical position.
Flanked to the southwest by historical foe Turkey, its eastern borders press up against Azerbaijan, with which Yerevan is still technically at war over the Nagorno-Karabakh enclave.
As a result, its only access to the outside world is through Iran and Georgia.
But as relations between Russia and Georgia sour transporting Russian goods to Moscow’s ally Armenia has become more difficult.
“Armenia is very interested in the normalisation of Georgian-Russian relations because it directly effects our economy,” Mr Kocharian said.
Mr Chirac later attended a mass concert on a square in Yerevan at which veteran French singer and movie star Charles Aznavour, who is of Armenian origin, launched a series of events called A Year of Armenia in France.
Other performers included Greek-born singer Nana Mouskouri and French veteran composer and conductor Michel Legrand – who is also of Armenian origin.