French police confront protesters as Armenian president visits Paris
Published: Friday October 02, 2009
Paris - French police spent an hour dragging some 300 French-Armenian protesters out of the way to allow President Serge Sargsian of Armenia to lay a wreath at the Armenian Genocide memorial on the banks of the Seine River in Paris on Friday, October 2.
Mr. Sargsian was in the French capital as part of a whirlwind tour of cities with large Armenian communities. The purpose of the tour is to discuss Armenia's Turkey policy. The protesters were opposed to the terms Mr. Sargsian's administration had agreed to for the normalization of relations with Turkey.
At around 3 p.m. local time, the president was scheduled to lay flowers at the statue of the great Armenian composer and ethnomusicologist Gomidas, which the city of Paris erected in 2003 as a memorial to the victims of the Armenian Genocide.
Holding placards reading, "To forget is to betray" in four languages, including Turkish, the protesters - not all of whom were young - sat and lay down to block the path to the statue. They chanted "No" in Armenian. As the atmosphere grew tenser, many used stronger language.
Police, who outnumbered the protesters three to one, manhandled and dragged them to a holding area away from the statue. Some protesters were beaten. In that holding area, however, police treated the protesters calmly, providing at least one French-Armenian man with attention for a heart complaint.
While taking photographs, this correspondent was struck by an officer.
Once the protesters had been removed, the president approached the statue, spent a few moments there, and placed a small wreath. Afterward, police surrounded the statue to prevent anyone from flinging the wreath into the Seine.
The Associated Press reports that Mr. Sargsian had had lunch earlier in the day with crooner Charles Aznavour, who serves as Armenia's ambassador to Switzerland. He also met with representatives of community organizations, as he is scheduled to do in New York on October 3 and Los Angeles on October 4.
Under the protocols on the normalization of relations between Armenia and Turkey, the sides would recognize the current border and each other's territorial integrity, and would establish an intergovernmental commission with a sub-commission on "the historical dimension." The protocols are subject to parliamentary ratification in the two countries.
According to the protesters, that the sub-commission would serve to cast doubt on the Armenian Genocide, and the language on border would concede historical rights. They took the position that Armenia should not make such concessions in order to end the Turkish blockade that has lasted over 16 years.