ISTANBUL (AFP)–The head of the powerful Turkish army on Wednesday called on Armenia to drop allegations that Turks committed genocide against Armenia’s during World War I and work towards improving bilateral ties.
"Turkey wants to normalize its ties with Armenia," General Hilmi Ozkok said in a yearly evaluation speech at the military academy here. "But for this to happen–Armenia must abide by international law and fulfill the obligations of good neighborly relations."
His call came just days before Armenia’s prepared to commemorate the 90th anniversary of the massacres.
Turkey has refused to establish diplomatic relations with Armenia’since the former Soviet republic gained independence in 1991 because of Armenian efforts to secure international condemnation of the 1915-1917 massacres as genocide.
In 1993–Turkey shut its border with Armenia in a show of solidarity with its close ally Azerbaijan–which was at war with Armenia over the Nagorno-Karabakh enclave–dealing a heavy economic blow on the impoverished country.
Ozkok argued that there was no basis for the genocide allegations and that Turkey could not be held responsible for the killings during the dissolution of its predecessor–the Ottoman Empire.
The 1923 Lausanne Treaty–which established modern-day Turkey–"put an end to the baseless genocide claims politically and legally," Ozkok said.
"No responsibility was passed on to the Turkish Republic with the treaty," he added.
The Armenian massacres of World War I are one of the most controversial episodes in Turkish history.
Armenia’s say up to 1.5 million of their kinsmen died in orchestrated killings during the final years of the Ottoman Empire.
Turkey argues that 300,000 Armenia’s and at least as many Turks were killed in what was civil strife during World War I when the Armenia’s–backed by Russia–rose against their Ottoman rulers.
Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan last week proposed to President Robert Kocharian the creation of a joint commission to study the genocide allegations as a first step towards normalizing ties between the two estranged neighbors.
Yerevan has not yet responded to the offer–Turkish foreign ministry spokesman Namik Tan said Wednesday.