Armenia President Explains Turkey Ties To Diaspora

Armenian President Serge Sarkisian kicked off a tour of influential Armenian communities worldwide with talks in Paris on Friday, as he seeks support for his landmark bid to establish ties with Turkey after a century of enmity.

The killing of up to 1.5 million Armenians under the Ottoman Empire has been the main barrier to reconciliation. Armenians in their poor, isolated homeland are more eager to open up trade and other ties with Turkey than many in the vast Armenian diaspora, most of whom are descendants of those who escaped the slaughter.

Sarkisian had lunch in Paris with crooner Charles Aznavour, one of France's most famous Armenians, before meeting with members of the vocal Armenian community here, Sarkisian's spokesman Samvel Farmanian said.

The 1915 killings will be central to the talks, and Sarkisian is scheduled to lay a wreath at a Paris monument to its victims. Armenians have long fought to persuade other governments to consider it a genocide. Turkey rejects the label and says the death toll is inflated.

In a surprise announcement last month, Turkey and Armenia said they planned to establish diplomatic ties, putting aside hostility in favor of practical concerns such as oil interests, Turkey's EU membership bid and relations with Russia and the United States.

After Paris, Sarkisian continues what is dubbed a "pan-Armenian tour" with visits to New York, Los Angeles, Beirut and Rostov-on-Don in Russia to discuss a planned meeting Oct. 10 when the Turkish and Armenian foreign ministers are expected to sign a deal to establish ties.

"What worries us are the terms of the accord, which make the genocide into an abstraction," said Laurent Vartanian of the Collectif Van, a French-Armenian association that encourages education about the killings.

Armenians abroad _ estimated at 5.7 million _ outnumber the 3.2 million living in Armenia itself, the smallest of the ex-Soviet republics. The largest communities are in Russia (2 million), the United States (1.4 million), Georgia (460,000) and France (450,000), according to government data.

The question of whether the 1915 massacres constitute genocide will not be resolved overnight despite the new ties. Another thorn is Armenia's occupation of Nagorno-Karabakh, an enclave in neighboring Azerbaijan. Azerbaijan shares linguistic and cultural ties to Turkey and enjoys Turkey's diplomatic support.

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Associated Press Writer Avet Demourian in Yerevan, Armenia, contributed to this report.