French President Francois Hollande has urged Turkey to face up to the mass killings of Armenians in the Ottoman Empire but stopped short of publicly describing them as genocide during a state visit to Ankara.
“Memory work is always painful,” he reportedly told a joint news conference with his Turkish counterpart Abdullah Gul on Monday. “But it has to be done. What we need to carry out is the reconciliation, through research, with what had happened and the recognition of what happened.”
Hollande pointed in that regard to the approaching 100th anniversary of the 1915 slaughter of some 1.5 million Armenians which France officially recognized as genocide more than a decade ago. “We are going to use this time for working,” he said without elaborating.
Hollande was also vague on his repeated pledges to enact a new law making it a crime to deny the Armenian genocide. “We will do the right and just right,” he said.
The French parliament already passed a law criminalizing Armenian genocide denial under Hollande’s predecessor Nicolas Sarkozy. It was struck down by France’s Constitutional Court in 2012, however.
Gul, whose country strongly denies the genocide, cited the court ruling after talks with Hollande. “We should not revive to future generations the suffering endured a hundred years ago. We should leave the matter to historians,” the Turkish president said, according to the AFP news agency.
The French law welcomed by Armenia caused serious damage to Turkish-French relations, which had already been strained by Sarkozy’s strong opposition to Turkey’s membership of the European Union. Hollande sought to mend frayed ties with what was the first state visit to Turkey by a French leader in 22 years. He cautiously backed Ankara’s EU membership bid during the trip.