Turkish legislator calls for cultural exchanges with Armenia

AP Worldstream; Jun 14, 2005

A legislator from Turkey's governing party called Tuesday for
increased cultural exchanges with Armenia after visiting the landlocked
country with which Turkey has no diplomatic relations.

Turhan Comez met with the head of the country's parliament and students
at Yerevan University during his three-day visit.

Relations between the two countries are tense and visits by legislators
are unusual.

Comez called for more exchanges of legislators, journalists and
students, saying that Turks and Armenians could start repairing
relations by laying common ground.

"The base of this work is dialogue," Comez said in an interview with
CNN-Turk television. "We're trying to take positive steps toward
resolving the problems."

Several informal earlier attempts at dialogue faltered amid disputes
between Turks and Armenians over the massacre of Armenians at the
time of World War I. Armenians say that Ottoman Turks slaughtered
1.5 million Armenians in a planned genocide and have demanded that
Turkey recognize the killings as genocide.

Turkey says the death toll is wildly inflated. Many Turks also fear
that Armenia is pressing for recognition of the killings as genocide
as a step toward making territorial claims against Turkey.

Turkey is under pressure from the European Union to address the
genocide issue as its bid for membership in the EU progresses.

Turkey closed its border with Armenia in 1993 during Christian
Armenia's six-year war with Muslim Azerbaijan. Armenia says the border
closing is devastating its economy.

In a meeting with an Armenian legislator in Yerevan, Comez said that
he would make a speech in the Turkish parliament to open the border
but only if the legislator addressed his parliament and said that
the events of World War I were not genocide.

Last week, Armenian Foreign Minister Vartan Oskanian said that
universal acceptance that the massacres were genocide remains on
Armenia's foreign policy agenda but that Turkey would not have to
yield on that question before relations could be restored.