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(AFP) - Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan said Wednesday an Armenian campaign to have the massacre of Armenians by Ottoman Turks recognized internationally as genocide is an obstacle to establishing formal relations between the two neighbors.

"Before we make a political decision (on normalizing ties), there is a very important issue that should be resolved and this is the problems stemming from history," Erdogan told reporters.

He was commenting on a letter from Armenian President Robert Kocharian, who accepted in principle a Turkish proposal to create a joint committee to study the genocide allegations but that Ankara should first normalize relations with Yerevan without pre-conditions.

Turkey demands that Armenia abandon its campaign for the recognition of the World War I massacres as genocide before formal diplomatic relations can be established between the two countries. In 1993, Turkey also shut its border with Armenia in a show of solidarity with its close ally Azerbaijan, which was at war with Armenia, dealing a heavy economic blow on the impoverished nation.

Erdogan stressed Turkey had opened its archives to all historians to study whether the massacres constituted a genocide, and urged Yerevan to follow suit. "Let historians and experts work in the archives. If the outcome of these studies require us to question our history, we will do that," he said.

Armenians across the world Sunday marked the 90th anniversary of the beginning of the massacres, which have already been recognized as genocide by a number of countries. Ankara fears that the genocide allegations could fuel anti-Turkish sentiment in international public opinion at a time when it is vying for membership in the European Union.

Some EU politicians are also pressing Turkey to address the genocide claims in what Ankara sees a politically-motivated campaign to impede its EU bid.

In a related move, the Turkish parliament has unilaterally called off a series of meetings with lawmakers from the Polish parliament next month in protest at the latter's acknowledgement as genocide of the killings of Armenians during World War I, a Turkish source said Wednesday.

Turkish parliament speaker Bulent Arinc also sent a letter to his Polish counterpart Wlodzimierz Cimoszewicz on Wednesday to denounce the resolution adopted on April 19, which condemned the Armenian genocide between 1915 and 1917. "We learned with great regret and disappointment of the (Polish) resolution," Arinc said in his letter.

"The resolution has outraged members of the Turkish parliament. The Turkish people are deeply saddened by a friendly country unilaterally interpreting tragic incidents affecting both peoples," he added.

The cancelled events were a meeting in Ankara of the friendship committees of both parliaments, a visit to Turkey by the president of the Polish parliament's foreign affairs committee and a visit to Warsaw by a Turkish parliamentary delegation.

(AP-Photolur photo: Recep Tayyip Erdogan.)
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