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French Presidential Hopefuls Woo Ethnic Armenian Voters


Candidates for the 2017 presidential election in France (left to right): Francois Fillon, Emmanuel Macron, Jean-Luc Melenchon, Marine Le Pen and Benoit Hamon.

The four main candidates in France’s tight presidential race have lavished praise on the influential French-Armenian community and called for closer ties with Armenia ahead of Sunday’s elections.

Two of them, the conservative former Prime Minister Francois Fillon and far-right leader Marine Le Pen, have also made pro-Armenian statements on the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict in comments to the “Nouvelles d’Armenie” magazine.

The French-Armenian publication asked Fillon, Le Pen, centrist Emmanuel Macron and far-left candidate Jean-Luc Melenchon the same questions and posted their written answers on its website (Armenews.com) this week.

“France and Armenia share a great friendship which I would like to reinforce further,” said Macron, the election frontrunner. This “privileged relationship” should be specifically strengthened by greater French investments in the Armenian economy, he added.

France -- Presidential election candidate for the En Marche ! movement Emmanuel Macron raises his hands on stage as he delivers a speech during a campaign meeting in Paris, April 17, 2017
France -- Presidential election candidate for the En Marche ! movement Emmanuel Macron raises his hands on stage as he delivers a speech during a campaign meeting in Paris, April 17, 2017

Macron spoke of his “admiration” for an estimated 500,000 French people of Armenian descent, most of them descendants of survivors of the 1915 Armenian genocide in Ottoman Turkey. “Here Armenian culture is an integral part of French and European culture,” he said. “There [in Armenia,] on the confines of the West and the East, it is an outpost.”

Le Pen, who narrowly trails Macron in opinion polls, also paid tribute to the French Armenians, saying that they “have contributed a lot to our nation.” “They are perfect examples of what I often say: French nationality is inherited or deserved,” said the candidate campaigning on a tough anti-immigration platform.

Speaking about relations with Armenia, Le Pen said France must restore its historical role as a “protector of the Christians of the East.” On the unresolved Karabakh conflict, she said: “I believe it would be desirable for Azerbaijan and Armenia to reach an agreement allowing Nagorno-Karabakh to be reunified with Armenia.”

Fillon similarly declared that Karabakh was “arbitrarily detached from Armenia” by Joseph Stalin in 1921. He also blamed Azerbaijan for the April 2016 outbreak of the worst fighting in Karabakh in over two decades.

“Faced with international indifference, Azerbaijan attempted to retake by force Nagorno-Karabakh,” said the center-right candidate who served as France’s prime minister from 2007-2012. “This deadly offensive ended with a shaky ceasefire.”

France -- French presidential election candidate for the right-wing Les Republicains (LR) party Francois Fillon (C) stands amongst supporters after delivering a speech during a campaign rally in Pertuis, March 15, 2017
France -- French presidential election candidate for the right-wing Les Republicains (LR) party Francois Fillon (C) stands amongst supporters after delivering a speech during a campaign rally in Pertuis, March 15, 2017

“The links between France and Armenia have always been strong … Franco-Armenian friendship has long and beautiful days ahead,” Fillon went on.

Melenchon’s spokeswoman, Charlotte Girard, also voiced support for “privileged” ties with Armenia, citing the South Caucasus state’s “geostrategic importance” and the existence of the French-Armenian community.

Both Girard and Macron took more cautious positions on the Karabakh dispute. The latter said that France should continue seeking a peaceful settlement based on the principles of territorial integrity of states and peoples’ right to self-determination.

France has long maintained a warm rapport with Armenia. Its outgoing President Francois Hollande and his predecessors, Nicolas Sarkozy and Jacques Chirac, have paid high-profile official visits to Yerevan. The Armenian government will underline these close ties when it hosts next year a summit of La Francophonie, a grouping of over 70 mainly French-speaking nations.

France -- Marine Le Pen, the leader of France's far-right Front National political party and candidate for the 2017 French presidential elections, waves to cheering supporters during a presidential campaign rally in Metz, March 18, 2017
France -- Marine Le Pen, the leader of France's far-right Front National political party and candidate for the 2017 French presidential elections, waves to cheering supporters during a presidential campaign rally in Metz, March 18, 2017

France also officially recognized the Armenian genocide with a special law enacted in 2001. All four presidential hopefuls referred to the 1915 slaughter of some 1.5 million Armenians as a proven fact that should be recognized by the entire international community. Fillon criticized Turkey for refusing to acknowledge the genocide, while Macron signaled support for further efforts to criminalize its public denials in France.

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