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Armenian President To Visit Syrian Site Of 1915 Tragedy

Armenian President Serzh Sarkisian
Armenian President Serzh Sarkisian
PRAGUE -- Armenia's President Serzh Sarkisian is due to visit an area of Syria that was the final destination in what Armenians consider the first genocide of the 20th century, RFE/RL's Armenian Service reports.

Sarkisian, who held talks on March 23 with Syrian counterpart Bashar al-Assad in Damascus, was scheduled to visit the northeastern city of Deir-el-Zor later today.

The desert surrounding the city proved the final destination for hundreds of thousands of Armenians forced out of their homes in the final years of the Ottoman Empire nearly a century ago.

Those who did not die en route met their death in camps such as Deir-el-Zor.

In 1990, the Armenian community in Syria built a memorial complex there dedicated to the victims.

For decades, survivors and descendants have been campaigning for the World War I-era mass killings to be recognized as genocide -- a label Turkey rejects.

On March 23, Sarkisian suggested in a newspaper interview that Turkey's reluctance to unconditionally normalize relations with Armenia is only facilitating a broader international recognition of the killings as genocide.

Sarkisian spoke to the Syrian daily "Al Watan" during an official visit that began on March 22.

He was asked specifically to comment on a resolution recognizing the 1915 mass killings of Armenians by Ottoman Turks as genocide that was adopted by a U.S. congressional committee on March 4.

"One thing is obvious to me," he replied. "The longer the process of normalizing our relations [with Turkey] lasts, the larger the number of states adopting such resolutions may become."

Turkish leaders link the ratification of the normalization protocols with a resolution of the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict that would satisfy Azerbaijan.

They also say that the genocide resolutions adopted by the U.S. House Foreign Affairs Committee as well as Sweden's parliament this month have further complicated Turkish-Armenian reconciliation.

By contrast, Yerevan has welcomed both resolutions.

In other remarks to "Al Watan," Sarkisian said that Azerbaijani territory currently held by Armenian forces could be returned in exchange for security and self-determination for the disputed territory of Nagorno-Karabakh.

Sarkisian reiterated Yerevan's long-standing policy of Armenian forces withdrawing from seven Azerbaijani districts around Nagorno-Karabakh in the event of an agreement on its final status.

Speaking at a joint news conference with Sarkisian on March 22, Assad offered Syria's help in establishing cordial relations between Armenia and Turkey for the sake of regional security and stability.