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Armenian Massacre Clouds Turkey's EU Bid

Tens of thousands of Armenians including the president and top officials filed through the towering Genocide Memorial in Yerevan on Sunday to commemorate the 90th anniversary of mass killings by Ottoman Turks.

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Honoring the dead at Armenia's national memorial on Sunday

A silent procession headed by President Robert Kocharian laid flowers at an eternal flame as Armenia's chief clergymen sang an emotional Gregorian Apostolic requiem service beneath the baking sun.

The long line and pounding sunshine were too much for many ordinary Armenians who came to pay their respects.

Women could be seen as they were carried out of the line leading to the memorial half-conscious from sunstroke after having made the long climb to the hilltop where it is situated above the capital.

Armenia wants Turkish acknowledgment

In the run-up to the anniversary, Armenia has pulled out all the stops in an effort to make Turkey acknowledge the massacres as genocide and officials have estimated that 1.5 million people will visit the memorial through Sunday.

Völkermord an den Armeniern

A woman mourns next to the body of a child killed during the massacres

The events being commemorated are the mass expulsion and mass deaths of Christian Armenians in what was then the Ottoman Empire during World War I.

"For 30 years now on this day, I've come to this memorial early in the morning. Here I lay six tulips, the number of deaths in my family at the time of the genocide," said Mikhitar Haroutounian, 74.

April 24 marks beginning of massacre

On April 24, 1915 the Ottoman Turkish authorities arrested some 200 Armenian community leaders in the start of what Armenia and many other countries contend was an organized genocidal campaign to eliminate ethnic Armenians from the Ottoman Empire.

Jahrestag Völkermord an den Armeniern - Augenzeuge

95-year-old Varazdat Harutyunyan, who was forced from his family's home in the eastern city of Van and lived for weeks in Echmiadzin, remembers an endless procession of burials as thousands died of typhoid, cholera and hunger

Armenians say up to 1.5 million of their kinsmen perished in orchestrated killings between 1915 and 1917 as the Ottoman Empire, the predecessor of modern Turkey, was falling apart.

Ankara counters that 300,000 Armenians and thousands of Turks were killed in "civil strife" during World War I when the Armenians rose against their Ottoman rulers and sided with invading Russian troops.

Ninety years ago "a crime was committed that had no equals in the history of Armenia or all of humanity, it did not even have a name," Kocharian said according to the presidential administration.

Apology, not compensation sought

He called on Turkey and the international community to condemn the killings as genocide, adding that the former Soviet republic was ready to build "natural" relations with its larger neighbor if it faced up to its history.

A mass was to be celebrated later on Sunday in Yerevan's Saint Gregory cathedral, as well as in churches all over Armenia, and a minute's silence was to be observed throughout the country at 7 p.m.

Robert Kocharian Präsident Armenien

Armenian President Robert Kocharian

Meanwhile, Kocharian (photo) made a conciliatory gesture towards Ankara, saying his government would not ask for financial compensation for the killings if Turkey recognized them as genocidal.

"We are not talking about compensation, this is only about a moral issue," Kocharian told Russia's Rossiya television, which is also broadcast in Armenia.

Pressure on Turkey ahead of EU talks

The row over whether or not to call the killings genocide has embarrassed Turkey as it readies for the start of European Union accession talks later this year.

On Friday, French President Jacques Chirac accompanied Kocharian to a Paris monument for victims of the massacre, and in Germany members of parliament from across the political spectrum appealed to Turkey to accept the massacre of Armenians as part of its history, saying this would help its EU aspirations.

On Tuesday, Poland joined a list of 15 countries that have officially acknowledged the killings as genocide.

Recep Tayyip Erdogan

Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan

The decision has drawn protest from Ankara, where officials called it "irresponsible," and said it would hurt relations.

However, Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan (photo) recently proposed the creation of a joint Armenian-Turkish commission to review the issue, though officials expressed confidence that the study would confirm Turkey's current position.

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