Agence France Presse -- English
April 29, 2005 Friday 9:09 AM GMT

Turkey makes new offer to Armenia over genocide claims

ANKARA April 29


Turkey could normalize relations with Armenia at the same time as
undertaking a study of the massacres of Armenians by Turks in 1915
which Turkey refuses to acknowledge as a genocide, Turkish Prime
Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan told a newspaper Friday.

"Political relations could be established while the work of the study
is conducted," Erdogan told the newspaper Milliyet.

Turkey has previously demanded that Armenia abandon its campaign for
the recognition of the World War I massacres as genocide before
formal diplomatic relations can be established between the two
countries.

In 1993, Turkey also shut its border with Armenia in a show of
solidarity with its close ally Azerbaijan, which was at war with
Armenia, dealing a heavy economic blow to the impoverished nation.

On Tuesday, Armenian President Robert Kocharian accepted in principle
a Turkish proposal to create a joint committee to study the genocide
allegations but demanded that Ankara first normalize relations with
Yerevan without pre-conditions.

However Erdogan emphasised Friday that the establishment of formal
diplomatic relations with Armenia would depend on its "sincerity" to
undertake a joint study with Turkish experts to clarify the events
surrounding the massacres during the final years of the Ottoman
empire.

Ankara fears that the genocide allegations could fuel anti-Turkish
sentiment in international public opinion at a time when it is vying
for membership of the European Union.

Armenians say up to 1.5 million of their kinsmen perished in
deportations and orchestrated killings between 1915 and 1917.

Ankara argues that 300,000 Armenians and at least as many Turks died
in what was civil strife during World War I when the Armenians took
up arms for independence in eastern Anatolia and sided with Russian
troops invading the crumbling Ottoman Empire.

Armenians across the world Sunday marked the 90th anniversary of the
beginning of the massacres, which have already been recognized as
genocide by a number of countries.

The Turkish parliament called off a series of meetings with lawmakers
from the Polish parliament next month in protest at the latter's
acknowledgement as genocide of the killings of Armenians.