* Gul says hundreds of thousands of Turks also died
* Foreign Ministry says perception of history ‘unacceptable’
* Obama had avoided calling Armenian killings ‘genocide’
(Adds comment from Prime Minister)
By Alexandra Hudson
ISTANBUL, April 25 (Reuters) - Turkey on Saturday branded “unacceptable” parts of U.S. President Barack Obama’s carefully worded statement on the mass killings of Armenians, saying that hundreds of thousands of Turks and Muslims also died.
Obama avoided using the word genocide on Friday in his commemoration of the killings of Armenians by Ottoman Turks in 1915 and welcomed efforts announced by Turkey and Armenia this week to normalise relations after decades of hostility.
Turkey accepts that many Christian Armenians were killed by Ottoman Turks but denies that up to 1.5 million died and that it amounts to genocide, as Armenia views it.
Speaking in Bulgaria, President Abdullah Gul, said of the statement: “There are points on which I disagree. Hundreds of thousands of Turks and Muslims also died in 1915. Everyone’s pain must be shared,” state-run news agency Anatolian reported.
Turkey’s Foreign Ministry echoed his remarks, saying the statement’s perception of history was “unacceptable” and appealing for the impartial study of the conflict in the waning years of the Ottoman Empire.
Prime Minister Tayyip Erdogan later said while the statement might appear to be balanced, it did not satisfy Turkey.
When he was running for president, Obama, who took office in January, described the killings of Armenians as genocide. But on Friday, in a bid not to upset ties with Turkey, he referred to them as “atrocities”.
The Obama administration sees Turkey as a key ally whose help it needs to solve confrontations from Iran to Afghanistan.
Armenian American groups criticised Obama for not keeping a campaign pledge to stick to the genocide characterisation, but Obama said despite his careful choice of words, his position on the killings remained the same.
“I have consistently stated my own view of what occurred in 1915, and my view of that history has not changed,” he said. “My interest remains the achievement of a full, frank and just acknowledgment of the facts.”
To refer to the killings as “genocide” is one of Turkey’s most sensitive taboos, and Turks including Nobel Literature Laureate Orhan Pamuk have been prosecuted in the European Union candidate country for doing just that.
Cengiz Aktar, a professor at Istanbul’s Bahcesehir University and organiser of a campaign by Turkish intellectuals to apologise for the killings, said Turkey’s government had reacted too hastily to Obama’s words and poured oil on the fire.
Earlier this week in an apparent diplomatic breakthrough, Turkey and Armenia said they had agreed on a road map to normalise ties. However pitfalls remain and a backlash from Azerbaijan, irritated by the action of Muslim ally Turkey, may still derail a final agreement.
Obama visited Turkey in early April and urged Ankara to resolve ties with Armenia.
Turkish officials have said any new attempt in the U.S. Congress to brand the killings a genocide could damage U.S.-Turkish ties.