Uneasy neighbours agree to exchanges

May 19, 2000

Turkish and Armenian universities have signed an agreement that is seen as an important step towards helping to improve relations between the two countries, writes Dorian Jones.

Turkey's University of Ankara and Armenia's Yerevan State University committed themselves to a series of joint initiatives.

At present, diplomatic relations remain suspended between Turkey and Armenia, following a war between Armenia and Turkey's close ally, Azerbaijan.

Relations have been soured by claims that the Ottoman regime in Turkey committed genocide against Armenians in 1915. Turkey says that no genocide occurred, arguing instead that the deaths happened during a civil war and that many Turks died as well.

The dispute resurfaced during the ceremony marking the signing of the agreement. Armenian students protested against the rapprochement, calling on Turkey to admit to genocide before any deal is made.

The agreement includes the establishment of student and academic exchange programmes and the formation of an Armenian studies centre at the University of Ankara.

Gunal Akbay, rector of Ankara, travelled to the Armenian capital of Yerevan to attend the signing ceremony with his Armenian counterpart, Radick Martirossian.

Professor Akbay said: "It was an important step in academic relations between the two countries, and I look forward to those relations deepening in the future."

The University of Ankara's rector has been a driving force in improving relations between Turkey and Armenia. The opening of an Armenian studies centre has long been a goal of his.

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