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Turkey shares Armenians' pain over Ottoman-era killings: Davutoglu

Rhetoric has ratcheted up in the run up to the 100th anniversary of the killings, to be marked on Thursday
A woman looks at pictures during a French exhibition about the 1915 killings, referred to by Armenians as a genocide (AFP)
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Turkey shares the pain of Armenians whose parents or grandparents were killed under the Ottoman Empire during World War I, Prime Minister Ahmet Davutoglu said on Monday.

"We once again respectfully remember and share the pain of grandchildren and children of Ottoman Armenians who lost their lives during deportation in 1915," Davutoglu said in a statement released by his office to mark the 100th anniversary of the tragedy.

Armenians consider the mass killings a genocide, a term Turkey has consistently refused to recognise.

Davutoglu made clear once more in the statement that Turkey did not accept the word genocide to describe the killings.

"To reduce everything to a single word, to put responsibility through generalisations on the Turkish nation alone... is legally and morally problematic," he said.

The relatively conciliatory tone of the statement contrasts with the furious reaction from Ankara early this month when Pope Francis used the term genocide to describe the killings.

Davutoglu had on 12 April lashed out at the Pope for what he described as "inappropriate" and "one-sided" comments on the issue.

The latest statement said the "Ottoman Armenians" would be remembered at a service to be held at the Armenian patriarchate in Istanbul on 24 April.  

Davutoglu said Turks and Armenians should "heal their wounds from that century and re-establish their human relations".

The statement builds on an expression of condolences issued by President Recep Tayyip Erdogan while he was still prime minister in April 2014.

In that statement, Erdogan described the killings as "our shared pain" in what was the weightiest statement yet from a Turkish leader on the issue.

Armenia and Armenians in the diaspora say 1.5 million of their forefathers were killed by Ottoman forces in a targeted campaign ordered by the military leadership of the Ottoman empire to eradicate the Armenian people from Anatolia in what is now eastern Turkey.

Turkey says hundreds of thousands of Turks and Armenians lost their lives as Ottoman forces battled the Russian Empire for control of eastern Anatolia during World War I.

The controversy has long prevented the establishment of normal trade and diplomatic relations between Turkey and neighbouring Armenia.