Chirac Vows to Promote Democratic Change in Armenia

YEREVAN, PARIS (Armenpress, RFE/RL)–French President Jacques Chirac has indicated that he will urge Armenia’s leaders to implement democratic reforms and respect human rights during his upcoming landmark visit to Yerevan, which begins Friday. He also warned that Armenia and Azerbaijan risk missing a rare opportunity to resolve their conflict over Nagorno-Karabakh, reported Radio Free Europe. "Since France is a friend of Armenia, she wants to assist in the process of its political modernization, she wants to help it build a rule-of-law state that guarantees public liberties," Chirac told the French-Armenian magazine "Nouvelles d’Armenie" in an interview. "It is a message of confidence in Armenia’s ability to complete the process of ongoing political, economic and social reforms that I want to carry on the occasion of my trip to Yerevan." Chirac is scheduled to arrive in the Armenian capital Friday on a three-day state visit that will highlight a long-standing warm rapport between the governmen’s of the two nations. He will become the first leader of a major Western power to set foot in the South Caucasus nation since the Soviet collapse. Chirac also stressed the importance of a resolution of the Karabakh conflict, endorsing the most recent peace proposals of the OSCE Minsk Group, which France heads jointly with the United States and Russia. "Today the G8 states, the international community are ready to guarantee a peace accord. What will happen tomorrow? Let us not lose this chance," he warned. Chirac argued that Karabakh peace would pave the way for the normalization of relations between Turkey and Armenia. "I have repeatedly pleaded with the Turkish authorities to open the border [with Armenia,]" he said. "It is clear, however, that there is a strong link between this issue and the settlement of the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict and that progress towards its settlement would have a decisive impact on this issue I believe that it is possible today." President Robert Kocharian’s press office said the French delegation led by Chirac includes foreign minister Phillip Douste Blazy, transport, tourism and seafaring minister Dominique Perben, state service minister Christian Jacob and culture and communication minister Reno Donedio de Vabre. President Chirac also will be accompanied by a delegation of French businessmen, prominent representatives of art, culture, academia and athletics, members of the French Armenian community and journalists. The official welcoming ceremony will be held at Yerevan Zvartnots airport . Chirac and Kocharian will speak to reporters after talks at Kocharian’s residence. The French delegation will lay flowers at the Genocide Memorial in Yerevan to commemorate the victims of the 1915 Armenian genocide. The French President will then be welcomed by His Holiness Karekin II, Catholicos of All Armenia’s. President Chirac will also meet with the staff of the French embassy in Yerevan. Kocharian and Chirac also will participate in the official opening of France Square in central Yerevan and will attend an open-air concert of the famous French Armenian singer Charles Aznavour in Republic Square. These events will herald the beginning of the Year of Armenia in France held under the motto ‘Armenia is My Friend." Aznavour arrived in Armenia Thursday to attend a ceremony that will mark the official opening of the Year of Armenia in France. "I have come here also to celebrate the 15th anniversary of Armenia’s independence, as Armenia’s independence means to me what it means to every Armenian," he said to reporters.

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