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Turkish Foreign Minister Says Armenia Apology Could Hurt Diplomacy

Foreign Minister Ali Babacan

Foreign Minister Ali Babacan

ANKARA (Reuters) -- Turkey's Foreign Minister Ali Babacan has said a controversy over an apology by Turkish intellectuals for the mass killings of Armenians in World War I could hurt efforts to improve diplomatic ties with Armenia.

His comments came on the same day Turkey's powerful generals said they opposed the Internet initiative, which has also drawn criticism from Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan and nationalists.

"This is a sensitive issue for Turkey. There is a negotiation process going on [with Armenia].... This kind of debate is of no use to anyone especially at a time talks continue and it may harm the negotiation process," Babacan was quoted by the Anatolian news agency as saying.

On December 17, Erdogan said the campaign, which has tested one of Turkey's most sensitive taboos, had no other benefit than "stirring up trouble, disturbing our peace, and undoing the steps which have been taken."

President Abdullah Gul has hailed the initiative as proof of Turkey's democratic health. He became the first Turkish leader to visit Armenia in September as Turkey sought to end almost 100 year of animosity.

Turkish and Armenian officials have expressed hopes of restoring full diplomatic relations soon.

Turks, including Nobel Prize-winning author Orhan Pamuk, have been prosecuted in the European Union candidate country for affirming that the mass killings of Armenians in 1915 amounted to genocide.

Turkey accepts that many Armenians were killed during the waning years of the Ottoman Empire, but rejects Armenian assertions, backed by Western historians, it was genocide, saying that Muslim Turks also died in interethnic conflicts.

The apology, which avoids the word genocide and uses instead the term great catastrophe, has reignited a debate that challenges one of the ideological foundations of modern Turkey. It comes at a time of heightened nationalism in Turkey.

Organisers have said the initiative, posted on the Internet ( along with a nonbinding petition to gather signatures, was meant to allow Turks to offer a personal apology and to end an official silence. It has been signed by 200 intellectuals.