Turkish minister's visit raises hopes of thaw with Armenia

(Photo: REUTERS / Bogdan Cristel)An Armenian priest burns incense during a special prayer marking the anniversary of the mass killings of Armenians in Ottoman Empire in 1915, in the Armenian Church in Bucharest April 24, 2012. Armenia, backed by many historians and parliaments, says that about 1.5 million Christian Armenians were killed in what is now eastern Turkey during World War One in a deliberate policy of genocide ordered by the Ottoman government. Successive Turkish governments and the vast majority of Turks feel that the charge of genocide is an insult to their nation. Ankara argues that there was heavy loss of life on both sides during fighting in the area.

YEREVAN (Reuters) - Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoglu made Turkey's first high-level visit to Armenia in nearly five years on Thursday, raising the prospect of a revival in peace efforts between the historical rivals which stalled in 2010.

Muslim Turkey and Christian Armenia signed accords in October 2009 to establish diplomatic relations and open their land border, trying to revive relations frozen by the legacy of the World War One mass killing of Armenians by Ottoman Turks.

Yerevan suspended ratification of the peace accords six months later, setting back to square one U.S.-backed efforts to bury a century of hostility between the neighbours.

Davutoglu was set to meet his Armenian counterpart Edward Nalbandian on the sidelines of a Black Sea Economic Cooperation (BSEC) group meeting.

"I hope my Yerevan visit will contribute to efforts for a comprehensive peace and economic stability in the BSEC region and the Caucasus in particular," Davutoglu wrote on Twitter.

The last visit by a Turkish minister was in April 2009, six months before the protocols were signed, when Deputy Prime Minister Ali Babacan attended a BSEC meeting in Yerevan.

Turkey closed its border with Armenia in 1993 in solidarity with Azerbaijan during the war in Nagorno-Karabakh, when ethnic Armenians backed by Armenia threw off Azeri rule with the collapse of the Soviet Union.

Turkish critics of the deal between Ankara and Yerevan had said it was a betrayal of fellow Turkic-speaking Azerbaijan, while Armenian opponents said the accords betrayed Armenian efforts to have the massacres during World War One recognised internationally as genocide.

Turkey accepts many Armenians died in partisan fighting beginning in 1915 but denies that up to 1.5 million were killed and that it amounted to genocide - a term used by some Western historians and foreign parliaments.

(Additional reporting by Tulay Karadeniz; Writing by Daren Butler; Editing by Nick Tattersall and Alister Doyle)