Armenia is ready to establish diplomatic ties with Turkey without preconditions and create a joint government commission to discuss Armenian deaths at the hands of Ottoman Turks in 1915, which Yerevan says was genocide.
Armenian President Robert Kocharian rejected Turkey's offer to set up a joint panel of historians to debate the issue, using an interview in the daily Le Figaro on Monday to call on Ankara to accept his suggestion of an intergovernmental commission.
Turkey denies accusations that some 1.5 million Armenians were massacred during the disintegration of the Ottoman Empire in World War One, arguing that Armenian deaths were part of general partisan fighting in which both sides suffered. But many parliaments around the world have backed resolutions recognizing the killings as genocide.
"The normalization of bilateral relations is the responsibility of governments, not historians," said Kocharian, who begins an official visit to France on Monday. "That is why we are ready to establish diplomatic relations with Turkey without preconditions, create an intergovernmental commission and to discuss all issues, including the most sensitive," he added.
In October, the lower house of the French parliament provoked Turkish ire by passing a bill making it a crime to deny Armenians suffered genocide in 1915, a vote Ankara said would damage ties between the two NATO allies.
On Sunday Turkey's prime minister said the U.S. Congress would harm bilateral ties if it backs a resolution recognizing the 1915 mass killings of Armenians by Ottoman Turks as a genocide, the state Anatolian news agency reported. The Democratic-controlled Congress is widely expected to back such a resolution in April, but the Bush administration is opposed to it, fearing the impact on relations its NATO ally.
"We do not expect Congress to make such a decision. But if it surprises us, I am worried this would cast a shadow over our strategic partnership in the future," Prime Minister Tayyip Erdogan was quoted as telling American businessmen. He did not say what Turkey might do in such a case.
Erdogan accused the Armenian Diaspora -- especially strong in the United States and France -- of exploiting the genocide issue to hurt Turkey and recalled that Armenian extremists gunned down dozens of Turkish diplomats in the past, mostly in the 1980s and early 1990s, to "avenge" the 1915 killings.
Erdogan also insisted Turkey's small Armenian community was safe despite the murder last month of a prominent Turkish Armenian editor Hrant Dink by a Turkish nationalist gunman. Dink had urged Turkey to own up to its role in the 1915 killings.
Foreign Minister Abdullah Gul and General Yasar Buyukanit, head of the army General Staff, have both lobbied members of Congress and the Bush administration on the Armenian issue during separate visits to Washington in the past two weeks.