Turkey, Armenia discuss normalizing relations

Turkish and Armenian officials have been discussing normalizing relations, Turkey's Foreign Ministry said Wednesday, despite the fact that Armenians accuse Turks of genocide and the two countries have no diplomatic ties. "A negotiation process has started between the two countries to seek a common ground," Foreign Ministry Spokesman Namik Tan said. "Three rounds of talks were held so far."

The talks have apparently led to no breakthroughs, but that the two countries are even talking might be considered one in itself. Several informal earlier attempts at dialogue faltered amid disputes between Turks and Armenians over the massacres 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 such.

Turkey vehemently denies that the mass killings were genocide, saying the death toll is inflated and Armenians were killed in civil unrest as the Ottoman Empire collapsed. The talks between Turkish and Armenian foreign ministry officials started after Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan sent a letter to Armenian Prime Minister Robert Kocharian asking for the two countries to open a joint historical investigation to research the killings, Tan said.

Kocharian wrote back, leading to a series of talks, he said. Tan said the talks would continue, but would provide no substantive details. He requested that Armenia adopt a more flexible and constructive approach to regional problems, saying, "Turkey is intending to pursue efforts to normalize relations with Armenia."

He added: "Success of Turkey's efforts to normalize relations depends on a more flexible approach from Yerevan as well as to the overcoming of bilateral and regional problems." Turkey is under pressure from the European Union to address the genocide issue as its bid for membership in the EU progresses. Several European countries have recognized the killings as genocide, further increasing pressure on Turkey. The issue is extremely sensitive in Turkey, and Turks have faced prosecution for saying the killings were genocide. Turkey closed its border with Armenia in 1993 during Christian Armenia's six-year war with Muslim Azerbaijan. Armenia, a tiny, landlocked country, says the border closing is devastating its economy, reports the AP.

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