Agence France Presse
April 23 2005

Armenia to mark Ottoman slayings, pressure on Turkey to admit 'genocide'


YEREVAN, April 23 (AFP) - 13h35 - Huge crowds of Armenians were
expected to descend on the capital Yerevan on Sunday to commemorate
the 90th anniversary of mass killings by Ottoman Turks, as pressure
mounted on Turkey to recognise the episode as genocide.

Organizers of a march predict that 1.5 million people, including
thousands of diaspora Armenians, will attend -- getting on for half
of the population in this tiny Caucasus country on the eastern border
of Turkey.

The events being commemorated are the mass expulsion and mass deaths
of Christian Armenians in what was then the Ottoman Empire at the
time of World War I.

It was on April 24, 1915 that the Ottoman Turkish authorities
arrested some 200 Armenian community leaders in the start of what
Armenia and many other countries say was an organized genocidal
campaign to eliminate ethnic Armenians from the Ottoman Empire during
World War I.

Armenians say up to 1.5 million of their kinsmen perished in
orchestrated killings between 1915 and 1917 as the Ottoman Empire,
the predecessor of modern Turkey, was falling apart.

Ankara counters that 300,000 Armenians and thousands of Turks were
killed in "civil strife" during World War I when the Armenians rose
against their Ottoman rulers and sided with invading Russian troops.

But this is not simply a debate over history.

The row over whether or not to call the killings genocide has
embarrassed Turkey as it readies for the start of European Union
accession talks later this year.

Armenian hopes that their mass march on Sunday will increase the
pressure seem to be bearing fruit.

On Saturday, the Conference of European Churches called on Turkey to
recognise the genocide claim.

The previous day, French President Jacques Chirac accompanied
Armenian President Robert Kocharyan to a Paris monument for victims
of the massacre.

And in Germany, members of parliament from across the political
spectrum appealed to Turkey to accept the massacre of Armenians as
part of its history, saying this would help its EU aspirations.

Polish Nobel laureate and former president Lech Walesa went further,
saying Armenians had the right to demand that the European Union bar
Turkey from joining the bloc unless it admitted to genocide. "It is a
just claim of the Armenians," he said.

Ankara responded to this week's run-up to the anniversary with
apparently greater willingness to review its history.

Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan proposed recently the
creation of a joint Armenian-Turkish commission to review the issue,
though officials expressed confidence that the study would confirm
Turkey's current position.

"Turkey is ready to face its history, Turkey has no problem with its
history," Turkish Foreign Minister Abdullah Gul said.

The killings have already been acknowledged as genocide by a number
of countries, including France, Canada and Switzerland, but not by
Israel and the United States, which enjoy strong strategic relations
with Turkey.

Ankara recognized Armenia's independence when it broke away from the
Soviet Union in 1991 but has refused to establish diplomatic
relations because of the genocide row.

In 1993, Turkey shut its border with Armenia in a show of solidarity
with its close ally Azerbaijan, another ex-Soviet republic in the
Caucasus, which was at war with Armenia over the Nagorno-Karabakh
enclave.