Turkish Prime Minister Ahmet Davutoglu ( Photo: Reuters)
Turkey on Monday sought to reach out to Armenians ahead of the 100th anniversary of the mass killings of their ancestors in the Ottoman Empire, saying it shared their pain and wanted to heal the wounds of the past.
The statement by Prime Minister Ahmet Davutoglu stopped well short of recognising the World War I killings as a genocide -- as Armenians want -- but explicitly referred to deadly deportations of "Ottoman Armenians".
"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 centenary of the start of the tragedy on April 24.
Armenians consider the mass killings a genocide, a term Turkey has consistently rejected.
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.
But 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 April 12 lashed out at Francis 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 April 24, in what appears to be a first.
Davutoglu said Turks and Armenians should "heal their wounds from that century and reestablish 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 then the weightiest statement yet from a Turkish leader on the issue.
Armenia and Armenians in the diaspora say up to 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 WW I.
The controversy has long prevented the establishment of normal trade and diplomatic relations between Turkey and neighbouring Armenia.
Davutoglu said that "human bonds" forged during centuries of coexistence in Anatolia should be re-established between Turks and Armenians.
He also warned "third parties" against reopening "historical wounds" and said efforts should be made for a peaceful future based on "fair memory".