(photo credit: AP)
French President Jacques Chirac called on Turkey on Saturday to "recognize its past" in connection with the mass killings of Armenians in the early 20th century and acknowledge them as genocide.
"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."
Armenians say that as many as 1.5 million of their ancestors were killed in 1915-1923 in an organized campaign and have pushed for recognition around the world of the killings as genocide. Turkey rejects the claim that a mass evacuation and related deaths of Armenians was genocide and says the death toll is inflated.
Chirac's comments went farther 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, and France's parliament has officially recognized the killings as genocide.
Many French have grave misgivings about Turkey entering the EU, fearing an influx of cheap labor and questioning Turkey's human rights record.
Chirac and his wife Bernadette earlier Saturday 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 world in the guest-book: "Remember."
He and Kocharian then took part in the opening ceremony for French Republic Square in the center of Yerevan and were to attend a concert by Charles Aznavour, a famous French singer of Armenian origin.
Chirac also was set to meet with the head of the Armenian Apostolic Church before leaving Sunday.