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Turkey: Cleric Urges Turkish-Armenian 'Dialogue'

Yerevan, 25 September (RFE/RL) -- The spiritual leader of the 70,000-strong Armenian community in Turkey says that growing international efforts to recognize as "genocide" the 1915 massacre of Armenians in the Ottoman Empire makes it necessary for Turks and Armenians to have an urgent dialogue.

His appeal came after a key subcommittee of the US House of Representatives endorsed a non-binding resolution that calls on the president to recognize the Armenian killings formally as genocide.

Patriarch Mesrop II of Istanbul said over the weekend that Armenians and Turks must address the heavy burden of their past themselves.

He said it is not pleasant when other parliaments [such as the U.S. House of Representatives] make decisions on issues pertaining to Turkish-Armenian relations. He said the involvement of parliaments of third countries is no substitute for dialogue.

The House Subcommittee on International Operations and Human Rights last Thursday voted in favor of the resolution that calls on President Bill Clinton and his successors to ensure that US diplomats dealing with human rights are educated about the Armenian deaths and use the word "genocide" in their annual addresses to Armenian-Americans.

The resolution (eds: House Resolution 398), one step in a lengthy legislative process, was approved over the objections of President Clinton. It is due to be debated this week by the House International Relations Committee. It would then move to the full chamber of the House for a vote.

The subcommittee vote provoked a sharp reaction from Ankara. Turkish leaders warned of a deterioration of relations with Washington. Turkish President Ahmet Necdet Sezer urged the White House to make more efforts to block the bill's passage.

The Armenian government, for its part, welcomed the development.

In his speech at this month's UN "Millennium Summit" in New York, Armenian President Robert Kocharian reiterated Yerevan's intent to seek international recognition of the 1915 genocide.

Turkey refuses to establish diplomatic relations with Armenia until the latter recognizes Azerbaijani sovereignty over the mostly-ethnic Armenian enclave of Nagorno-Karabakh and ensures the return of occupied Azerbaijani districts around the disputed territory.

Ankara says Armenia's insistence on genocide recognition further complicates matters.

Armenians claim more than a million Ottoman Armenians were killed from 1915 to 1923 under conditions that clearly meet the modern definition of genocide.

Turkish officials say far fewer Armenians were killed and that the deaths occurred in the larger context of the First World War. They also deny that the mass killings were masterminded by the Ottoman regime of the Young Turks, as many historians believe.

A prominent Turkish journalist, Mehmet Ali Birand, wrote over the weekend in the Turkish Daily News that the approval of a genocide resolution by Congress would damage Turkish-American relations, as he put it, "almost beyond repair."

He said European parliaments would follow suit and adopt similar bills.

But he also placed part of the blame on authorities in Ankara. He says they have failed to open the Ottoman archives to substantiate their arguments.