(AFP) - Thousands of Europeans of Armenian origin demonstrated during a European Union summit in Brussels Friday calling on Turkey to admit to genocide against their people nearly 90 years ago. They insisted such an acknowledgment must be a precondition for Turkey to begin talks on joining the EU.
However, the EU's 25 leaders reached compromise agreement clearing the way for them to launch historic membership talks with Turkey, diplomats said. Turkey has always denied the mass killing of Armenians during World War 1 was genocide, saying the deaths were not ethnically motivated but resulted from a crackdown on collaborators with the Russians.
The demonstrators outside the EU headquarters came from Armenian communities in France, Germany, the Netherlands, Sweden and Russia.
"We wish to let the 25 EU countries now gathered know that citizens of Armenian extraction want Turkey to acknowledge genocide as a precondition for opening membership negotiations," said Vartan Arzoumanian, one of the protest organizers.
Organizers put the number of demonstrators at some 8,000, but police said there only about 2,300. Twenty busloads brought demonstrators from Paris, while planes were chartered to ferry in others from Athens and Stockholm.
Speakers addressing the crowd included Garo Housepian, mayor of a district of the French Mediterranean city of Marseille. He said a delegation had been received here by the Dutch, who currently preside over the EU.
Meanwhile in Armenia, more than 200 young people demonstrated outside the European Union Commission's office in the capital Yerevan. "European countries must not weaken because of false reforms in Turkey and must not integrate into their ranks a country that committed the great crime against humanity, genocide," they declared in a letter to the commission office.
"In agreeing to start negotiations, European countries are taking on responsibility for this crime," it added.
In fact the theme of Armenia was not on the official Brussels summit agenda. Turkey's EU hopes had instead been threatened by a standoff over calls for Ankara to recognize Cyprus, diplomats said.
France in 2001 became the third European Union nation to pass a measure describing the 1915-1917 Ottoman Empire massacre of Armenians as a genocide. The National Assembly in France, which has an Armenian community of 450,000, voted in 2001 to describe the massacre as a genocide, although the French government has until now preferred to refer to it as a "tragedy".
The European Parliament, in 1987, adopted a resolution which stated that the "tragic events of 1915-1917 against the Armenians based on Ottoman territory constitute a genocide" according to the United Nations definition.
(GI-Photolur photo: Belgian Prime Minister Guy Verhofstadt, right, welcomes Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan on Thursday in Brussels.)