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Armenian President Calls For Better Ties With Turkey

Armenian President Serzh Sarkisian

Armenian President Serzh Sarkisian

YEREVAN -- Armenian President Serzh Sarkisian has called for closer ties with Turkey, 15 years after the two nations severed diplomatic relations over the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict.

They are also at odds over the question of whether ethnic Armenians killed by Ottoman Turks during World War I were victims of genocide.

Armenia and Turkey broke off diplomatic links in 1993, when Ankara closed the border and backed Azerbaijan during its war with Armenia over the Nagorno-Karabakh region, a mainly ethnic Armenian enclave within Azerbaijan.

"The improvement of ties between Armenia and Turkey is mutually beneficial," Sarkisian told a news conference on July 21. "I think we should improve our relations."

"The important thing is that in relations between Armenia and Turkey a trend is taking shape for being ready to start a healthy discussion of the existing problems," he said.

Sarkisian said earlier this month he had invited his Turkish counterpart, Abdullah Gul, to visit Yerevan and watch a football match in September.

"The visit of Gul to Armenia could turn this trend into a stable and positive movement," Sarkisian said, adding that Armenian diplomats had recently met Turkish colleagues.

Armenian forces control the Nagorno-Karabakh region. Armenia and Azerbaijan are involved in a long-running peace process but are still officially at war over the mountainous area.

The tiny ex-Soviet republic of Armenia is sandwiched between Turkey and Azerbaijan in a region that is emerging as an important transit route for oil exports from the Caspian Sea to world markets, though Armenia has no pipelines of its own.

Armenia also wants Turkey to recognize what it calls a systematic genocide during World War I. Yerevan says that 1.5 million ethnic Armenians died at the hands of Ottoman Turks between 1915 and 1923.

Turkey strongly denies the accusations and says that both Christian Armenians and Muslim Turks died in the fighting.