YEREVAN, Armenia – French President Jacques Chirac urged Turkey on Saturday to acknowledge the mass killings of Armenians in the early 20th century as genocide.
Armenians say that as many as 1.5 million of their ancestors were killed in 1915-1923 in an organized campaign to force them out of eastern Turkey and have pushed for recognition around the world of the killings as genocide.
Turkey acknowledges that large numbers of Armenians died, but says the overall figure is inflated and that the deaths occurred in the civil unrest during the collapse of the Ottoman Empire. But Ankara is facing increasing pressure to fully acknowledge the killings, particularly as it seeks membership in the European Union.
“Should Turkey recognize the genocide of Armenia to join the European Union?” Chirac asked, echoing a question posed by a reporter at a joint news conference with Armenian President Robert Kocharian. “Honestly, I believe so. Each country grows by acknowledging its dramas and errors of the past.”
Chirac’s comments went further than in the past, using the word genocide directly for the first time. In 2004, Chirac said Turkey should recognize the killings and make “an effort at memory” to join the EU. France’s parliament has officially recognized the killings as genocide.
Chirac has personally supported Turkey’s entry into the 25-nation EU, though many French have grave misgivings, fearing an influx of cheap labor and questioning Turkey’s human rights record.
Earlier Saturday, Chirac and his wife, Bernadette, laid a wreath at the Memorial to the Victims of the 1915 Armenian Genocide in Ottoman Turkey and visited the Genocide Museum and Institute. Chirac wrote a single word in the guestbook: “Remember.”
Chirac was paying the first visit by a French president to the former Soviet republic of Armenia since in gained independence.