Armenia to Push 'Genocide' Issue

MTYouths lighting candles Thursday at an Armenian church in Moscow in memory of the victims of a 1915 mass killing.
YEREVAN, Armenia -- Armenia's new president said Thursday that he would seek "historic justice" for 1.5 million ethnic Armenians killed by Ottoman Turks, which is claimed as a genocide by Yerevan and still affects relations with Turkey.

Turkey strongly denies Armenian claims, backed by many Western historians, that the massacres of Armenians by Ottoman Turks during World War I amounted to a systematic genocide.

The issue has evolved into a source of tension that has complicated Ankara's relations with the United States and the European Union, which Turkey is seeking to join.

President Serzh Sargsyan, who was sworn into office this month, said in a statement to mark Armenia's annual Genocide Day that securing international condemnation of the killings nearly a century ago would be a priority for his administration.

"As a result of the genocide that was planned and carried out by the state in Ottoman Turkey, a vast number of Armenians were annihilated on their native land and lost their living space," Sargsyan said in the statement.

"International recognition and condemnation of the Armenian Genocide is an appropriate and inevitable part of Armenia's foreign policy agenda," Sargsyan said. "The motherland of all Armenians, the Republic of Armenia, should redouble its efforts for the restoration of historic justice."

Thousands of Armenians -- some with tears in their eyes -- laid wreaths of carnations and tulips in Yerevan at a memorial that honors those who perished in the killings, which took place between 1915 and 1923.

The former Soviet republic is sandwiched between Turkey and Azerbaijan in a region that is emerging as an important transit route for oil exports from the Caspian Sea to world markets, although Armenia has no pipelines of its own.

Armenia insists that the killings should be declared a genocide, and the massacres have been recognized as such by some Western lawmakers.

But Ankara says large numbers of both Christian Armenians and Muslim Turks were killed during the violent and chaotic breakup of the Ottoman Empire. A law in Turkey makes it a criminal offense to call the killings a genocide.

Armenia and Turkey have no diplomatic links, although Turkish President Abdullah Gul this month sent a letter to Yerevan calling for dialogue to normalize ties.

Turkey has kept its land border with Armenia closed since the early 1990s in protest of Yerevan's occupation of Nagorno-Karabakh, a slice of territory claimed by ally Azerbaijan. Turkey also objects to Yerevan's claims on some of its land.