During Visit to Armenia Sarkozy Urges Ankara to Admit Genocide


YEREVAN (Combined Sources) — During his first visit to this nation, French President Nicolas Sarkozy urged Turkey to recognize the 1915 Armenians Genocide by the Ottoman Turk government, thus thrilling Armenians worldwide and riling the Turkish government.

“The Armenian Genocide is a historical reality. Collective denial is even worse than individual denial,” Sarkozy said Thursday, October 6 in Yerevan.

“Turkey, which is a great country, would honor itself by revisiting its history like other countries in the world have done,” Sarkozy added.

Sarkozy also hinted that Turkey’s refusal to recognize the Genocide would force France to change its law and make such denials a criminal offense. “If Turkey does not do this, then doubtless we will have to go further,” he said without elaborating. Sarkozy urged Armenia to continue efforts towards normalizing relations with Turkey and finding a durable peace with its other neighbor, Azerbaijan.

On the second day of his visit to Yerevan as part of a broader South Caucasus tour that also included stops in Baku and Tbilisi, Sarkozy urged the parties to the protracted Armenian-Azerbaijani conflict over Nagorno-Karabagh to resolve their differences by peaceful means.

“I have told the president of Armenia to continue his way towards peace with Azerbaijan, which meets the interests of both countries,” Sarkozy said at a joint press conference with his Armenian counterpart.

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France is one of the three countries along with Russia and the United States jointly heading the Minsk Group of the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) that spearheads international efforts to broker a solution to the Nagorno-Karabagh conflict.

Sarkozy traveled to Baku later on Friday to carry a similar message of peace before visiting Georgian capital Tbilisi on the last leg of his South Caucasus tour.

Speaking about the Karabagh conflict in Yerevan, Sarkozy stressed that Armenians and Azerbaijanis must continue their negotiations as part of the OSCE Minsk Group and that it is both nations that need peace.

Sarkozy also urged Armenia to continue its efforts on a rapprochement with Turkey that effectively ground to a halt last year, with both sides blaming each other for the failure. France was one of the states that supported the normalization effort.

The French president said that if Turkey did not make this “step towards reconciliation,” he would consider proposing the adoption of a law criminalizing denial of the killings as genocide.

Still, Sarkozy noted that “it is not up to France to give an ultimatum to anyone.”

“I do not mention any time limits because I hope that the Turkish society and leadership will respond appropriately. In any case, I think that all this will take place during my time in office,” said Sarkozy, whose first term as French president expires in 2012.

France recognized the Armenians Genocide back in 1998 as its parliament passed a corresponding bill.

Sarkozy angered Turkey ahead of his election in 2007 by backing a law aimed at prosecuting those who refused to recognize the massacres as genocide.

The French lower house of parliament later rejected the measure, infuriating the French- Armenian community, estimated at around 500,000 people.

Furious Turkish Response

Turkish Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoglu described the French president’s comments as “political opportunism” aimed at gaining votes from French-Armenians at elections. “Unfortunately whenever there are elections in Europe, this type of opportunism arises,” Davutoglu said.

He added France had no right to criticize Turkey because of the country’s colonial past.

In 2004, then-President Jacques Chirac told Turkey it would have to recognize the mass killings as genocide if it wanted to become a member of the EU, insisting the French would otherwise vote Turkey out in a referendum.

Visit to Georgia

Seeking to portray himself as a peacemaker during the three-nation trip, Sarkozy — who brokered the deal to end the 2008 Georgia-Russia war — told thousands of cheering Georgians that Moscow was still intimidating its defeated neighbor.

“France sees Russia as its friend, as a strategic partner. But to restore confidence, threats, intimidation, threats and attempts to destabilize (the situation) are fully unacceptable,” he told the receptive Freedom Square crowd.

Georgia accuses Russia of violating the peace agreement by not pulling its troops back to prewar positions and “occupying” the rebel provinces of Abkhazia and South Ossetia, which Moscow recognized as independent states after the 2008 conflict.

In comments likely to irritate the Kremlin, which says its troops in the provinces are there to protect them from Georgia, Sarkozy said Russia must withdraw its forces and fulfill its “word and honor.”

“Against all strategic logic and contrary to undertaken commitments, significant military forces are still stationed and were reinforced at your (Georgia’s) door, on the other side of the dividing lines,” he told the flag-waving crowd.

Using firm language that echoed the recent split with the Kremlin over action in Libya and Syria, Sarkozy said that Russia must stop the Soviet-era practice of bossing sovereign territories that once answered to Moscow.

“Everyone must admit that the Soviet Union does not exist anymore and that a policy of spheres of influence is not intended to succeed it,” he said, adding that Georgia should be able to express its aspirations to join the EU and NATO.

(Reports from the Associated Press, Agence France Presse, Globe and Mail and Reuters.)

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