Sarkozy kicks off his Caucasus tour

Sarkozy kicks off his Caucasus tour

Sarkozy kicks off his Caucasus tour

Sarkozy (R) and Sarkisian are seen during a welcome ceremony in Yerevan, Armenia. AP photo

Sarkozy landed in Yerevan on yesterday for his first stop in a tour of the Caucasus, telling Armenian media that “everybody must have courage” to call” 1915 events “as genocide.”

Armenia is locked in a dispute with Turkey over the mass killings of Armenians under the Ottoman Empire during World War I, which Yerevan names as genocide – a claim strongly rejected by Ankara.

 The incumbent French president is expected to discuss the Nagorno-Karabakh issue both in Armenia and in neighboring Azerbaijan, where he will be visiting along with Georgia.

Prior to Sarkozy’s visit to the Caucasus region, his government had already cold-shouldered a motion in the French Senate to criminalize the denial of genocide allegations related to the events of 1915, much to the dismay of the country’s robust Armenian community. Speaking about the 1915 events, however, Sarkozy recently told Armenian-based news site Mediamax that “everybody must have courage to call that tragedy genocide, and France is proud to be the first country having officially recognized it.” But the Sarkozy government’s attitude on the bill further fueled claims that his Armenian visit was politically motivated, an allegation flatly denied by Garo Yalick, a young French politician of Armenian descent in Sarkozy’s ruling party. “The Sarkozy government regards the passing of the motion unfavorably,” Yalick told the Daily News.

The motion to criminalize the denial of genocide allegations regarding the 1915 events were also brought to public attention in France in 2000. The motion, however, was overturned by the Senate at the time. Sarkozy was expected to visit the genocide monument in Yerevan during his trip. Sarkozy has also indicated his ambition to bring Armenia and neighboring Azerbaijan forward in the stalled peace process over the tiny Nagorny Karabakh region. But just as the French leader called out to the two rivals to “take the risk of peace” in an interview Wednesday evening, Baku reported that two soldiers had been shot dead from the Armenian side along the border with the disputed region of Nagorno-Karabakh.

Sarkozy will also urge Georgia to improve relations with Russia, reviving memories of his mediating role when the two countries went to war in 2008.