Cause for Celebration: 1,700 Years of Christianity

Armenia´s President Points to Universal Values

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PARIS, FEB. 18, 2001 ( The celebration of 1,700 years of Christianity in Armenia highlights the fact that «Christian values are essentially universal values,» says Armenian President Robert Kocharian.

He made his comments in an interview here last week, where he was on a state visit. His trip took place weeks after the French National Assembly officially recognized the Armenian genocide of the early 20th century.

During the genocide, Armenians say, 1.5 million people died at the hands of the Turkish government, which hoped to expel Armenians from regions controlled by the Turks. Turks put the number of dead at 300,000. Relations between France and Turkey have deteriorated after the French Assembly´s recent decision.

Interviewed by the Parisian newspaper Le Figaro, the Armenian president explained why his government is supporting the celebration of the anniversary of Christianity as a state religion. John Paul II referred to the feast today, during a solemn liturgy in the Armenian rite at the Vatican.

«Armenia is the first country in the world that adopted Christianity as the state religion; it was the year 301,» said Kocharian. «This means that we appreciate Christian values as modern, civilized Europe does. This reality alone justifies the celebration of this anniversary.

«It is also an occasion to consolidate the ties between Armenians of the diaspora and Armenia. Not only do we try to convince those in the diaspora to come and invest in our land. Our objective is wider: to consolidate our relations at the economic, political and cultural level.»

He added: «The Armenian people do not organize this celebration because they are fanatic but because they have preserved Christian values until today, values which are essentially moral and universal.»

Armenia became independent from the Soviet Union in 1991 following a referendum.

Regarding recognition of the Armenian genocide, Kocharian hopes other countries follow France´s example. «When I visited the Museum of the Holocaust in Washington, I read a quotation of Adolf Hitler,» he recalled. «The Führer said to his followers: ´You can massacre the Jews. You can do whatever you feel like. Who remembers the Armenian genocide today?´»

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