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Armenia: Thousands Mark Anniversary Of 1915 Killings

Yerevan, 25 April 2000 (RFE/RL) -- Tens of thousands of people marched to a memorial in the Armenian capital Monday in an annual remembrance of the estimated more than one million Armenians massacred in Ottoman Turkey in 1915.

A steady stream of people, among them the country's entire leadership, began mounting the Tsitsernakaberd hill in Yerevan this morning to pay their respects to the victims of what Armenia refers to as "the genocide." April 24 is marked as the beginning of the tragedy 85 years ago, when hundreds of Istanbul-based Armenian intellectuals were rounded up and executed by the Ottoman government. The arrests were followed by mass deportations from Armenian-populated eastern provinces of the disintegrating Ottoman Empire, and mass killings.

The government of Turkey has consistently denied that the killings constituted genocide. Ankara says that far fewer than a million Armenians died in 1915 and that their deaths did not result from a premeditated government policy to exterminate the Ottoman Empire's ethnic-Armenian minority.

The differing interpretation of the events is at the heart of the strained relationship between Armenia and Turkey.

In a message to the nation, Armenian President Robert Kocharian said, "International recognition of the Armenian genocide is on the agenda of our foreign policy." What Kocharian called the "acceptance of historical truth" by Turkey would facilitate a reconciliation between the two countries. He said such a reconciliation is vital for stability in the region.

The two countries have no diplomatic relations. Turkey says relations cannot be established until Armenia accepts Azerbaijani sovereignty over the disputed Nagorno-Karabakh region.

April 24 is a traditional day of protests outside Turkish diplomatic missions in countries with large ethnic Armenian communities populated mainly by descendants of those who survived the 1915 killings.

Such a rally took place on Monday in Paris, where protestors also demanded that France's upper house of parliament endorse a bill adopted in 1998 by the lower house recognizing the mass killings as a genocide. The French government is opposed to the bill, fearing a deterioration of relations with Turkey.

An initiative to recognize the killings as genocide is also gaining momentum in the U.S. Congress, where several dozen lawmakers have pledged support for a bill pushed forward by Armenian-American lobbying groups.