YEREVAN (RFE/RL/Armenpress)–Charles Aznavour–the famous French singer of Armenian descent–was in Armenia Monday to inaugurate new regular flights between Yerevan and Paris by Air France–one of the world’s biggest airlines.
Aznavour was among 39 French officials–business executives and other dignitaries who arrived in the Armenian capital on Saturday on the flagship French carrier’s first-ever flight to the South Caucasus. "I feel happy attending any event that strengthens Armenian-French friendship," he said during the official presentation of the new flight service at the French embassy in Yerevan.
The 75-year-old crooner–who has a square named after him in the city center–took the opportunity to again emphasize his Armenian heritage. "I am 100 percent Armenian by heart–by soul and by family language," he told reporters in French.
On Sunday–Aznavour visited the Armenian region of Tavush–where he was welcomed by the local governor and the head of Gugarats diocese of the Church.
Aznavour visited two medieval monasteries in the region-Goshavank and Haghartsin–and was welcomed by local residents.
Aznavour also met with President Robert Kocharian–telling him that he has decided to visit Armenia "at least a couple of times a year."
"I am happy to see that life is moving forward in the country," Kocharian’s office quoted him as saying.
Air France will fly to Armenia three times a week in addition to two weekly Yerevan-Paris flights that have long been carried out by the Armavia national carrier. A senior company executive–Etienne Rachou–said the launch of the new flight service is part of a broader Air France strategy of boosting its passenger traffic in Central and Eastern Europe by 10 percent. "And in this development of Eastern Europe Armenia is naturally findings its place now," Rachou told a news conference.
The French ambassador in Yerevan–Henry Cuny–said the Air France flights will testify to the "strengthening of political relations between France and Armenia."The presence of Air France underscores Armenia’s rapprochement with Europe," he said. "It is also an appeal addressed to new French investors."
Air France is the fourth major Western airline to operate flights to Armenia. The three other carriers are Austrian Airlines–British Airways and Germany’s Lufthansa. They are believed to mainly cater for passengers traveling between the United States and Armenia.