Armenia's Foreign Minister Vartan Oskanian on Sunday said he would strive to normalize relations with Turkey despite deep misgivings about the Turkish refusal to regard the 1915-17 massacres of Armenians by the Ottoman Turks as genocide.
"That these events... have not been condemned and not recognized once so far, is in reality a continuation of the genocide," Oskanian was quoted as saying in an interview with the Swiss newspaper NZZ am Sonntag. "However, as foreign minister I have a duty to look to the future and to seek to establish normal relations with Turkey," he added.
Turkey closed its border with Armenia in 1993, in support for its ally Azerbaijan, which was then at war with Armenia.
Oskanian in Sunday's comments reiterated his country's satisfaction with the French National Assembly's vote last Thursday approving a bill that would make it a crime to deny that the Armenian massacres were genocide, as well as a similar move by the Swiss parliament in 2003. However, he also expressed mixed feelings about the practical value of these measures.
"Whether the French or the Swiss legislation is a good starting point is hard to say," he said, adding that recognition of the genocide by other countries "is not a goal in itself". "Armenia also has no interest in humiliating Turkey," he explained.
Oskanian said the Turkish government's offer to set up a joint commission of historians to examine the massacres was "dishonest" so long as Turkey kept its border with Armenia closed and explicitly outlawed the use of the word genocide in the sensitive Armenian issue. "Our President has told (Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip) Erdogan that Armenia is ready to talk, as soon as the borders are open and as soon as there are bilateral relations. When this is the case, an intergovernmental commission can discuss this question," he told the newspaper.
Meanwhile, a Turkish official told Reuters on Sunday that French President Jacques Chirac called Erdogan on Saturday to say he was very sorry it had been adopted by the lower house. Chirac stressed that he understood and shared the reactions and feelings of the Turkish public upset by the bill, the official said.
The French president's office did not comment when contacted about Chirac's call to Erdogan. But immediately after Thursday's vote the French Foreign Ministry said it did not support the lower house bill, calling it "unnecessary and untimely" and indicating it might never become law as it still needs to be ratified by both the upper house Senate and French president.
Many Turks also see the genocide vote as a way for the European Union to keep Muslim Turkey out of the 25-member club, which Ankara is negotiating to join. The European Commission recalled that recognition of the genocide is not a precondition for Turkey entering the EU. But Chirac and the two leading candidates to replace him in
polls due next May -- Nicolas Sarkozy and Segolene Royal -- all say Ankara must accept the genocide before joining the bloc.
Erdogan warned on Friday that Turkey was considering retaliatory measures against France. French firms have warned the bill would create repercussions for their business in Turkey, a fast-growing market which imported 4.7 billion euros' worth of French goods in 2005.
Also Sunday, police in France said that they had no leads following the theft of an Armenian genocide monument in a southwestern Paris suburb the previous night. The 300 kilogram (660 pound) bronze statue was stolen two days after the French national assembly voted to make denial of the Armenian genocide illegal, but a connection between the two events has not been established.
"We have no idea if this is a political statement or simply crooks wanting to resell the metal. Either way, it is a despicable act," Jean Levain, Mayor of Chaville, told AFP on Sunday.
Police in Chaville, Hauts-de-Seine, were expected to view on Monday tapes from security cameras at the location where the crime occurred. There was no vandalism or message at the scene, the municipality said.
The Armenian community in Chaville was "shocked and outraged", said Hirant Norcen, vice-president of the Cultural Association of the Armenian Church in Chaville. "Whatever the reason for the theft, it is still unacceptable," Norcen said.
A silent march lasting several minutes after a mass and the laying of a wreath were organized for Sunday midday. Jean-Jacques Guillet, a regional assembly member, expressed his "indignation" and declared that "the irresponsible barbarism which violated this symbol of remembrance should be punished ruthlessly."
The Armenian community gave the monument, valued by the municipality at 50,000 euros (60,000 dollars), to the city in 2002 in memory of the 1915-1917 massacres of Armenians by the Ottoman Turks.