By Karolos Grohmann
(Reuters) - Armenians in Greece said on Thursday EU hopeful Turkey is still a long way away from becoming a true European nation.
Greece has one of the largest and oldest Armenian communities in Europe numbering more than 55,000 people. The Armenian National Committee of Greece says some 1.5 million Armenians died between 1915 and 1923 and wants Turkey to recognize it as genocide before it joins the European Union.
Turkey is due to start entry talks with the bloc on Oct. 3, but rejects the claim saying Armenians were victims of a World War One partisan conflict in which Christian Armenians also killed many Muslim Turks.
"Imagine if Germany persistently denied ever having committed the holocaust against the Jews, but still wanted to be a member of the EU. What kind of respectability would Germany have in Europe then?" committee chairman Kasbar Karabetian told Reuters in an interview.
"We have doubts that Turkey is determined to implement European reforms because a modern European nation first reconciles itself with its past. That is the true essence of a democratic European state," Karabetian said.
The committee has organized rallies, speeches and exhibitions on April 24 to mark the 90th anniversary of the deaths and draw attention to Turkey's EU bid. More protests are planned in September ahead of Ankara's accession talks.
Turkey fears an outburst of anti-Turkish feeling that could damage to its EU bid. Ankara on Wednesday offered to open its archives and called on Armenia to do the same and back a new probe into the claims.
Armenians have settled in Greece since the mid-18th century and enjoy close ties to Greeks. More than 1 million ethnic Greeks left Turkey together with many Armenians from 1922 in a population exchange following Greece's failed invasion of Turkey and the annual April 24 Armenian commemorations are enshrined in Greek law.
"The Greeks, who have had a similar fate with us, understand our plight better than anyone," Karabetian said. "We are very lucky in that sense."
Karabetian said if Turkey joined the 25-nation bloc it would benefit both Greece, which has backed Ankara's EU bid, and Armenia, which has no diplomatic ties with Turkey. Turkey closed its border with Armenia in 1993 in protest at Armenian occupation of part of Ankara's ally, Azerbaijan.
"First we want Turkey to stop being the Turkey of today as we know it and become a Turkey with a true European mentality," Karabetian said.
The European Parliament and France, home to Europe's largest Armenian community, have both urged Ankara to recognize the killings as genocide.