Newspaper article The Canadian Press

Leaders Gather in Unlikely Locale of Armenia for Summit of la Francophonie

Newspaper article The Canadian Press

Leaders Gather in Unlikely Locale of Armenia for Summit of la Francophonie

Article excerpt

Armenia an unlikely hub of francophone world


MONTREAL - Armenia isn't top of mind when one thinks of thriving French culture.

But this week the Armenian capital of Yerevan will be briefly transformed into a francophone mecca, a sign of the relaxed admission standards of the organization representing the French-speaking world.

Armenia, host of the two-day la Francophonie summit opening Thursday, counts a little more than 10,000 fluent French speakers out of a population of three million. That represents about 0.33 per cent of the population; it is roughly as many French speakers as live in the Quebec town of Baie Comeau.

Martin Normand, a postdoctoral fellow at the University of Ottawa, said the organization's acceptance of marginally French-speaking states "certainly dilutes in a certain way the status of French, even within the Francophonie." He says criteria for joining the 48-year-old organization have become "less and less stringent" when it comes to an expectation to promote French.

The counter-argument, he noted, is such countries "may hold the key for the future of French" as long as they commit to promoting the language.

An official at the Armenian embassy in Ottawa insisted the French language is alive and popular in the eastern European country.

"The French language has become the third (most popular) foreign language in Armenia," said Ara Mkrtchian, the embassy's deputy head of mission. It trails Russian and English.

French is still taught in public schools there, and Mkrtchian noted his immediate family members are all fluent in French. Armenia became a full member of the International Organization of la Francophonie six years ago.

A further connection is the nearly half-a-million Armenians who live in France. Charles Aznavour, the crooner who died this month at 94, was the most famous French-Armenian. …

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