By Karine Kalantarian
French President Jacques Chirac arrived in Armenia late Friday on a first-ever state visit which he has said will underline his country’s attachment to the Armenian people and their heritage.
He was greeted by President Robert Kocharian and other Armenian leaders in an official ceremony held at Yerevan’s Zvartnots airport. The two men then headed to Kocharian’s official residence to attend a special reception in honor of Chirac and members of a large French delegation accompanying him on the three-day trip. Among them are three government ministers and prominent members of France’s influential Armenian community, notably singers Charles Aznavour and Michel Legrand.
Chirac is scheduled to hold talks with Kocharian on Saturday after laying flowers at Yerevan’s Tsitsernakabert memorial to the victims of the 1915 Armenian genocide in Ottoman Turkey and inaugurating a major square in the Armenian capital named after France. The two leaders will also attend later in the day an open-air concert by Aznavour, Legrand and other prominent French singers.
The concert, which is expected to attract tens of thousands of spectators, will officially kick off The Year Of Armenia France, a series of more than 400 exhibitions, performances and other events designed to present Armenian culture and history to the French people. Chirac has described this as a key purpose of what is a first-ever visit to post-Soviet Armenia by the head of a major Western power.
“Making a trip to Armenia is not something banal,” the 73-year-old president told a French-Armenian magazine ahead of his arrival in Yerevan. “It means visiting a place which had seen the genesis of the world; it means visiting one of the first and greatest Indo-European civilizations; and it means visiting a people who has for centuries been a friend of France and whose difficult destiny is known by the French.”
Chirac indicated that he will also urge the authorities in Yerevan to implement democratic reforms, saying that France is ready to help Armenia become a “rule-of-law state that guarantees public liberties.”