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French President Jacques Chirac Visits Armenia and Calls on Turkey “To Recognize Its Past”

Staff Writer

French President Jacques Chirac, on a three-day visit to Armenia, called on Turkey to “recognize its past” in connection with the mass killings of Armenians in the early 20th century.

“Turkey should acknowledge the mistakes of its past,” Chirac said at a joint news conference with Armenian President Robert Kocharian. “I believe that every country, in accordance with its level of development, should acknowledge its tragic moments and the mistakes of the past.”

There has been discussion whether Turkey should have to recognize the killings as genocide, before being admitted to the European Union. Asked if he thought Turkey should recognize the 1915 massacres as genocide before it joins the EU, the French president replied: “Honestly, I believe so.”

France’s parliament has officially recognized the killings as genocide, and Chirac said in 2004 that Turkey would have to agree on that point if it wanted to become an EU member. “All countries grow up acknowledging their dramas and their errors,” said Chirac, who began his visit to Armenia on September 29, where he has 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 neighbor and improve its struggling economy.

“We don’t see any danger in this process,” Kocharian said of Turkey’s EU aspirations, “but we would like that our interests would be discussed in the process too,” he added. Kocharian said it would be in Armenia’s interests to have a neighbor “with a value system that allows for free movement and open borders.”

France, which has 400,000 citizens of Armenian descent, officially recognized the events as genocide in 2001, putting a strain on its relations with fellow NATO member Turkey.