(AFP, Reuters) - Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan on Tuesday called for an unbiased study by historians of claims that millions of Armenians were the victims of genocide under Ottoman rule during World War I.
"We have already opened our archives to those who claim there was genocide. If they are sincere, they should also open their archives," Erdogan told a press conference here after talks with opposition leader Deniz Baykal. That would allow historians to work on documents each side has to determine what happened, he said.
"If there is a need for a political settling of accounts with history after such a study, we, the government and the opposition, are ready to do just that," Erdogan added. He said that there were also plans for the Turkish parliament to issue a declaration on the genocide claims.
Turkey categorically denies the allegations, but has recently been facing increasing calls from within the European Union which it hopes to join that it accept the killings of Armenians as genocide. Some EU politicians have said that the genocide claims will be one of the issues Turkey has to deal with as it prepares to begin lengthy membership talks on October 3 to join the EU.
In an unusual gesture that underlined the sensitivity of the issue in Turkey, opposition leader Baykal joined Erdogan at the news conference to stress his party's full backing for an independent inquiry into the claims. "We are facing a political campaign (against Turkey)," said Baykal, leader of the Republican People's Party (CHP).
Several foreign parliaments, including those of Canada, France and Switzerland, have approved resolutions recognizing an Armenian genocide as fact, much to Turkey's irritation. Armenians will mark the 90th anniversary of the killings on April 24.
Turkey has no diplomatic relations with its tiny neighbor Armenia and its border has been closed since 1993 in protest against the former Soviet republic's occupation of part of the territory of Ankara's regional ally Azerbaijan.