PARIS (Combined Sources)–The Armenian community in France–nearly 350,000–and elsewhere in Europe held solemn masses–marches–and memorials on Sunday to mark the 90th anniversary of the Armenian genocide by the Ottoman Turks.
The Notre Dame cathedral in Paris hosted a requiem mass on Sunday and many other gatherings took place across the city. The mass was followed by a meeting at the Gomidas monument–dedicated to the victims of the Genocide–where French President Jacques Chirac and President Robert Kocharian laid a wreath Friday commemorating the mass killings of Armenia’s in the Ottoman Empire.
President Chirac welcomed Kocharian at the Elysee Palace with a hug. The two held talks for an hour before driving to the nearby monument inaugurated in 2003 on the banks of the Seine River.
The French parliament officially recognized the killings as a genocide in 2001–one of several moves that strained ties between Paris and Ankara. Last year–Chirac told Turkey it would have to recognize the mass killings as genocide if it wanted to become a member of the European Union–insisting the French would otherwise vote Turkey out in a referendum.
The Armenian community in Paris hailed Friday’s ceremony as an "extremely important" gesture recognizing the Armenian genocide–according to a statement by the Committee for the Defense of the Armenian Cause.
Chirac urged on Friday also urged Armenia to improve its ties with Turkey. "The president asked President (Robert) Kocharian (of Armenia) about the development of his dialogue with Turkey" in particular on the genocide issue–a French presidential spokesman’said after a meeting between the two leaders.
Chirac "hoped that Armenia would develop this dialogue with Turkey with a view to improving relations" with Ankara–the spokesman’said–and encouraged Kocharian "to look for elemen’s of improvement with Turkey." He pointed out that French support for Turkish membership of the European Union was conditional on Ankara’s sharing the values of the EU–and membership "naturally required a duty of remembrance" on the genocide issue–the spokesman’said.
The talks also touched on the Karabagh conflict–where long simmering tensions have flared recently–sparking fears that the escalation of hostilities along a ceasefire line between Armenian and Azeri forces could lead to a new war.
Chirac said that "France was very attached to a lasting solution of the problem and supports the principles of settlement that have been worked out," the spokesman’said. The two presidents also discussed the idea of staging an " Armenian cultural year in France" in 2007.
French Socialist Party leader Francois Hollande told the gathering of 3,000 that he would propose a law in parliament to penalize those who deny the Genocide.
"The Armenian genocide was the first of the 20th century–but–alas–not the only one. The Armenian cause is not only for Armenia’s–but for all those who are committed to human rights and the recognition of genocide," Hollande said.
The protesters later marched to the capital’s Champs Elysees Avenue and the nearby Turkish embassy.
"This is a protest march against Turkey–which continues to reject it was a genocide," said Alain Saboundjian–a spokesman for an Armenian group in France.
In the Mediterranean port of Marseille–home to some 80,000 Armenia’s–the cornerstone of an Armenian monument due to be inaugurated next year was put in place Sunday. The stone includes written messages from some of the region’s Armenian children.
"We had to wait until 2001 for France to recognize the Armenian genocide. How long will it be before Turkey does?" said regional politician Michel Vauzelles–who addressed the crowd of several thousand gathered for the occasion.
A requiem mass and a march to a proposed site of a genocide memorial took place in the central city of Lyon–while a wreath was placed at a war memorial in the northeastern city of Strasbourg.
Armenian religious and community leaders headed a procession of around 1,000 people in the western Ukrainian city of Lviv carrying candles and red carnations.
"We want Turkey and other countries who have not already recognized the genocide to do so," said Karapiet Bagratouni–one of 3,000 Armenia’s in the city.
Greece recognized the Armenian genocide in 1997 when it named April 24 as "The memorial day of the genocide of Armenia’s by the Turkish regime." In Athens on Sunday a crowd of 500 including diplomats and Greek officials placed a wreath at a war memorial.
The matter of the Armenian genocide has embarrassed Turkey as it nears European Union accession talks later this year.
In Germany this week–members of parliament from across the political spectrum appealed to Turkey to accept the genocide of Armenia’s as part of its history–saying this would help its EU aspirations.
On Tuesday–Poland joined a list of 15 countries that have officially acknowledged the killings as genocide. Russia–the UN and the European parliament all recognize the massacres as genocide.