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Turkey calls on leaders to reject Armenian genocide label

Turkey's president has blamed Armenia for making plans to "insult Turkey" during ceremonies to mark 100 years since the massacre of 1.5 million Armenians. Ankara rejects assertions the 1915 killings were genocide.

Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan said Wednesday that Ankara planned to "discuss peace" when it hosts events to commemorate 100 years since the beginning of the World War I battle in Gallipoli on April 24 and 25.

During those ceremonies, Erdogan said Armenia "will not be on the agenda."

Armenians believe the death of more than 1.5 million people amounts to a genocide campaign carried out by Ottoman Turks during World War I.

Most Western scholars and two dozen governments regard the 1915 killings as the first genocide of the 20th century.

Ankara, which has no diplomatic ties with Armenia, maintains the deaths do not constitute genocide as hundreds of thousands of people were killed on both sides in the war that destroyed the Ottoman Empire. The modern-day Republic of Turkey was built on its ashes in 1923.

'Take the initiative'

Turkish Prime Minister Ahmet Dautoglu said Wednesday he had spoken to German Chancellor Angela Merkel, asking her "to take the initiative" to persuade parliament not to acknowledge the killings as genocide in parliament on April 24, the day the killings began.

Dautoglu's comments came after Germany's grand coalition government on Monday supported a statement with stronger-than-expected language on the killings.

"The government backs the draft resolution in which the fate of the Armenians during World War I serves as an example of the history of mass murders, ethnic cleansings, expulsions, and, yes, the genocides during the 20th century," Chancellor Angela Merkel's spokesman, Steffen Seibert, told reporters in Berlin Monday, citing the document agreed to by Merkel's Christian Democrats and the Social Democrats.

German parliament will hold a ceremony in memory of the victims on Friday, while German President Joachim Gauck is expected to use the term "genocide" at a religious service scheduled for Thursday in the capital.

Historians, not politicians to decide

Speaking in Ankara on Wednesday, Erdogan said he had talked to US President Barack Obama about the issue, and he "said it should be left to the historians, not the politicians," to determine whether the killings constituted genocide.

Meanwhile, US Chief of Staff Denis McDonough and Deputy National Security Advisor Ben Rhodes steered clear of using the word "genocide" when meeting heads of America's Armenian community at the White House.

McDonough and Rhodes "discussed the significance of this occasion for honoring the 1.5 million lives extinguished during that horrific period," the Armenian Council said in a statement Wednesday.

The dispute came to a head this month, when Pope Francis called the 1915 massacres a genocide, this prompted Turkey to summon the Vatican envoy and recall its own.

jlw/sms (AFP, AP, dpa, Reuters)

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