YEREVAN (AFP) - Armenian President Serzh Sarkisian on Thursday accused Turkey of an "utter denial" in failing to recognise World War I mass killings of Armenians in the Ottoman Empire as a genocide, after Ankara for the first time offered condolences for the tragedy.
"The Armenian Genocide... is alive as far as the successor of the Ottoman Turkey continues its policy of utter denial," Mr Sarkisian said in a statement marking the 99th anniversary of the massacres.
"The denial of a crime constitutes the direct continuation of that very crime," he added. "Only recognition and condemnation can prevent the repetition of such crimes in the future." He said the looming 100th anniversary offered "Turkey a good chance to repent and to set aside the historical stigma in case if they make efforts to set free their state's future from this heavy burden."
In an unprecedented move by a Turkish leader, Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan on Wednesday offered condolences over the massacres, calling them "our shared pain." He also stressed that the events of 1915 "should not prevent Turks and Armenians from establishing compassion and mutually humane attitudes towards one another." Using both diplomatic levers and its influential diaspora abroad, Armenia has long sought to win the massacre's international recognition as a genocide.
Armenians say up to 1.5 million people were killed during World War I as the Ottoman Empire was falling apart, a claim supported by several other countries.
Turkey argues 300,000 to 500,000 Armenians and at least as many Turks died in civil strife when Armenians rose up against their Ottoman rulers siding with invading Russian troops.
Over 20 countries have so far recognised the massacres as genocide.