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Turkey Wants Peace In Caucasus, Minister Says

Washington, May 22 (RFE/RL) -- Turkey says approval of a resolution pending in the U.S. Congress to commemorate the deaths of hundreds of thousands of Armenians at the hands of Ottoman Turks in World War One would serve no useful purpose.

"I hope that it will not pass through the Congress, Turkish Foreign Minister Emre Gonensay says. "I do not think this is constructive or helping either relations between the United States or Turkey or between Armenia and Turkey."

Gonensay met with reporters in Washington on Tuesday at the National Press Club. He was asked about a proposal before the Congress that would honor the victims of the Armenian Genocide. The resolution would also call upon the United States Government to encourage its Turkish ally to admit that the Ottoman Empire conspired to wipe out the Armenians under its rule.

The Ottoman Empire collapsed at the end of the First World War and was succeeded by the Turkish Republic. Armenians contend the Ottoman Turks planned the mass murder of 1.5 million of their ancestors. Modern Turks do not dispute that hundreds of thousands of Armenians died, but they contend that this was not a secret policy of the Ottomans, but that it was the result of wartime conditions and the weakness of the Ottoman Empire.

So far, 165 of the 435 members of the U.S. House of Representatives say they will support a resolution commemorating the genocide. It would not have the force of a law but would have an important symbolic meaning as a statement of support for Armenians.

The U.S. State Department has said the resolution would harm U.S.-Turkish relations. The U.S. views Turkey as an important influence on the former Soviet republics of Central Asia. Turkey is also a U.S. ally in NATO.

The Turkish foreign minister contends that Turkey has excellent relations with the Armenian government. He says Turkey is trying to help settle the dispute between Azerbaijan and Armenia over the disputed territory of Nagorno-Karabakh, and he says Turkey can help Armenia economically. "I think the Armenians in Armenia, in that region, are more interested in peace and economic development than dredging up the past history one way or the other," Gonensay said. "I think the best way is to engage in economic cooperation, economic interdependence, and leave these matters to historians rather than politicians."

The foreign minister also said that Turkey is not engaged in an economic blockade against Armenia.

"It's not a blockade," he said. "It is simply that our border is closed because of the war with Azerbaijan and because of our intention to have peace between Azerbaijan and Armenia."

He says that Turkey is keeping the border with Armenia closed "as an incentive," to Armenia to speed the peace process.

"The border will be opened if there is any move -- any concrete move -- towards peace between Armenia and Azerbaijan," he said.