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Council of Europe urges Armenia, Turkey to reestablish relations

While Armenia demands recognition of 1.5 million Armenians killed as a genocide, Turkey insists that hundreds of thousands died on both sides
Armenians during a commemoration ceremony at a site near Diyarbakir believed to be a mass grave of the Armenian Genocide, on 22 April (AFP)

Council of Europe chief Thorbjoern Jagland on Wednesday urged Armenia and Turkey to reestablish relations.

Speaking in the Armenian capital Yerevan ahead of the 100th anniversary of the Armenian genocide,  Jagland said that: "If there is a chance of returning to the 2009 protocols, establishing diplomatic relations, I urge both sides to seize it."

Turkey and Armenia in 2009 signed the so-called Zurich protocols to normalise ties, but the countries' parliaments have never ratified the deal, which was brokered by the United States, France and Russia.

"The Council of Europe stands ready to support this dialogue in any way we can," Jagland added.

Armenian President Serzh Sarkisian said in February that he was withdrawing the deal from the parliament due to the "absence of political will" from Turkey.

The massacre of some 1.5 million Armenians by Ottoman forces between 1915 and 1917 is formally recognised as genocide by less than two dozen countries, including France and Russia.

Turkey says that hundreds of thousands died on both sides as Ottoman forces battled Tsarist Russia in World War I and that describing the events as a "genocide" is a red line it cannot cross.

Jagland said the massacre "was not just Armenia's loss, it was the world’s loss". 

"We can - we must - try to stop it happening again," he declared.

Sarkisian said at the forum on Wednesday that "the genocide is a crime of such a vast scale, with such a severe damage inflicted that even many decades later its impact is felt by the descendants of both the victims and perpetrators, as well as by the entire international community."

"It is our moral duty and right to commemorate the one-and-a-half million victims" as well as the "inhumane sufferings endured by the hundreds of thousands," he said.

In the meantime, Ankara is becoming increasingly alarmed that there is a growing momentum to recognise the killings as genocide among its allies, said Semih Idiz, diplomatic columnist for the Turkish newspaper Taraf and the al-Monitor web site.

Turkish authorities have been concerned that US President Barack Obama will follow Pope Francis and the EU parliament in using the word "genocide" on the 100th anniversary of the mass killings of Armenians, Idiz wrote in a piece for Voice of America. 

"Well, following the statement of the Pope and the non-binding resolution of the European parliament, and now the German parliament is about to adopt (a) similar resolution, they are  worried, worried enough to send the foreign minister to Washington to sound out [Secretary of State] John Kerry and try [to] lobby [the US] Congress in this regard," said Idiz.

"So, yes, they are worried."

Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu was dispatched to Washington on Tuesday to meet with his US counterpart Kerry to lobby against Obama using the word "genocide" in his annual address on the mass killings of Armenians during World War I.

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