By Emil Danielyan
France’s President Jacques Chirac is due to pay a landmark official visit to Armenia later this month that will underscore a long-standing close rapport between the governments of the two nations, diplomatic sources in Yerevan confirmed on Monday.
“President Chirac has expressed a desire to visit Armenia,” a spokeswoman for the French embassy in Yerevan told RFE/RL. “If the visit takes place, it will begin on September 29 and end on October 1. The president’s office will make an official announcement to that effect.”
President Robert Kocharian’s office refused to comment on the information or give other details of the planned three-day trip, referring all inquiries to the French side. But sources in the Armenian Foreign Ministry did confirm the reported date of Chirac’s arrival.
French Foreign Minister Philippe Douste-Blazy and his Armenian counterpart Vartan Oskanian are scheduled to meet in Paris on Tuesday and will likely discuss preparations for the visit. Oskanian’s press service said the two men as well as the Armenian and French ministers of culture will also hold a news conference devoted to the start of Armenia’s Year in France.
Chirac will be the first leader of a major Western power to visit Armenia since its independence -- a fact that highlights what many observers see as Paris’s special attitude to Yerevan resulting, in large part, from the existence of a sizable Armenian community in France. Armenian officials have repeatedly described France as Armenia’s closest European Union partner.
Chirac was among the few Western leaders to congratulate Kocharian on his extremely controversial reelection in 2003. The Armenian leader appears to remain a welcome guest in Paris, having visited the French capital on numerous occasions during his nine-year presidency.
Earlier reports in the Armenian press said the 73-year-old Chirac will be accompanied by prominent Frenchmen of Armenian origin, notably singer Charles Aznavour. The latter will reportedly give a concert in Yerevan on the sidelines of the trip.
Aznavour already visited the country of his ancestors as recently as last April to inaugurate a new flight service between Paris and Yerevan launched by Air France. The French ambassador to Armenia, Henry Cuny, said the regular flights by the French national airline testify to “strengthening of political relations” between the two countries.
In a related development, the government in Yerevan discussed at its last meeting on Thursday preparations for the upcoming separate visit to Armenia by some 160 French journalists and private travel agents. The French embassy spokeswoman said Chirac will arrive in Yerevan with 70 other journalists.