Sunday

5th Feb 2023

Chirac pokes finger in Turkey's eye on Armenia genocide

  • The Yerevan "genocide" memorial: Turkish history books do not agree with the Armenian version of what happened here (Photo: Wikipedia)

French president Jacques Chirac paid no heed to Turkish sensitivities on his first-ever visit to Armenia this weekend, calling on Turkey to own up to genocide before joining the EU and comparing the killings to Nazi Germany's holocaust.

"Should Turkey recognise the genocide of Armenia to join the EU?" Mr Chirac asked, AP reports. "I believe so. Each country grows by acknowledging the dramas and errors of its past...Can one say that Germany, which has deeply acknowledged the holocaust, has as a result lost credit? It has grown."

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The French leader made the remarks in Yerevan on Saturday (30 September) at a wreath-laying ceremony beside the country's Genocide Monument, before visiting the Genocide Museum and writing the solitary word "remember" in the visitors' book.

Armenia says Turkish forces slaughtered 1.5 million Armenians between 1915 and 1917 but the Turkish government and Turkish history books claim that 300,000 Armenians and 300,000 Turks died in a 'civil war' in the region.

Fifteen countries, including France, Switzerland, Russia and Argentina, have previously classified the killings as genocide - defined by the UN as "harmful acts...committed with intent to destroy, in whole or in part, a national, ethnic, racial or religious group."

In Turkey, any deviation from the official line can land novelists or university professors in jail under article 301 of the country's new penal code against "insulting Turkishness."

But there has been no official reaction to Mr Chirac's statements so far, despite mumblings by unnamed Turkish diplomats in the Turkish Daily News that they are "worried" about worsening bilateral relations.

Chirac goes further than EU

The French leader's remarks go further than Brussels' formal EU accession conditions, which require Ankara to boost democratic standards in areas such as free speech and to lift its blockade on Cypriot shipping - but do not mention the thorny Armenian question.

MEPs voting on a highly-critical report on Turkey's EU accession progress last week also opted to cut out a clause calling for recognition of the Armenian genocide for fear of stirring up a nationalist backlash in the EU's most controversial candidate state.

Armenia itself has so far shied away from confrontation on the subject, with president Robert Kocharian on Saturday saying merely "we would like that our interests be discussed" in the EU-Turkey accession talks.

The small, landlocked country of 3.6 million people is in a tricky position: its border with Turkey in the west has been closed by Ankara; there is a prospect of a Russian-Georgian conflict in the north; it has escalating tensions with Azerbaijan in the east and its southern neighbour is the international pariah, Iran.

But France plans to keep on pressing the issue with a vote tabled in parliament on 12 October over a fresh resolution that Turkey must give the Armenian killings their proper name.

About 400,000 Armenian ex-pats live in France, with some - such as singer Charles Aznavour - rising to social prominence and with Paris promising to hold a referendum before it ratifies Turkish EU accession in the future.

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