ISTANBUL, (Associated Press) -- Prominent Turks and Armenians met in Istanbul Tuesday, hoping to encourage a thaw in relations between the two people, who have had little contact amid hostile relations that have lasted almost a century.
It was the first meeting of the Turkish-Armenian Reconciliation Committee since the group's establishment in July. The organization is comprised of Armenian and Turkish academics, politicians and former military officers. None of the members officially represent their countries.
"Reconciliation is a target that is not easily reached," said Ilter Turkmen, a member of the committee and a former Turkish foreign minister. "It is not an easy process. It is not a rapid process, but the first step has been taken."
In past years, relations between Turks and Armenians have been dominated by the events of World War I and its aftermath, when the once thriving Armenian community in Anatolia was almost entirely wiped out. Armenians say 1.5 million of their people were killed in what they call a planned genocide. Turkey says the death
count is inflated, and that hundreds of thousands of Armenians were killed or displaced as the Ottoman Empire tried to quell civil unrest in eastern Anatolia.
Turks and Armenians said that one of the main points of the four days of meetings this week was simply to introduce the two sides to each other.
"The more contact that takes place ... the easier it is to deal with some of the issues that divide us," said Van Z. Krikorian, chairman of the Armenian Assembly of America and a founding member of the reconciliation committee.
But he admitted that there was a "mixed reaction" in the Armenian-American community. Many Armenian-Americans are the descendants of people who fled the violence during the collapse of the Ottoman Empire.