Flight from Armenia lands in Turkey as frosty ties improve

ISTANBUL, Feb 2 (Reuters) - A commercial flight carrying 64 passengers from Yerevan landed in Istanbul on Wednesday, the first such direct flight in two years, as Turkey and Armenia move to mend badly strained ties.

Last month, Turkey and Armenia held what both hailed as "positive and constructive" talks in Moscow, their first in more than a decade, raising hopes that normal relations can be established and their land border - shut since 1993 - reopened.

"I am very happy. As Armenians we always side with peace... The resentments should be left in the past," Diana Bulgadaryan, a dual citizen, said after her FlyOne Armenia flight landed in Istanbul.

Turkey has had no diplomatic or commercial ties with its small eastern neighbour since the 1990s. The talks in Moscow were the first attempt to restore links since a 2009 peace accord that was never ratified. read more

The two countries are at odds over several issues, primarily the 1.5 million people Armenia says were killed in a genocide by Ottoman Turkish forces in 1915.

Turkey accepts that many Armenians living in the Ottoman Empire were killed in clashes with Ottoman forces during World War One, but contests the figures and denies the killings were systematic or constituted genocide.

Turkey also backed its ally Azerbaijan against ethnic Armenian forces in a 2020 conflict which saw Baku regain swathes of land in the Nagorno-Karabakh territory. But Ankara has since called for a rapprochement between Baku and Yerevan.

"I hope the land borders will open this year as well," said Emirhan Samanci, the first passenger to check into a FlyOne flight from Istanbul to Yerevan.

"In recent years there were steps to improve relations but they did not yield positive results. I hope this flight will be a good opportunity, " he said.

Turkey's transport ministry said FlyOne Armenia, a subsidiary of the Moldovan low-cost airline FlyOne, and Turkish budget carrier Pegasus Airlines had been granted clearance for the Istanbul-Yerevan flights.

Reporting by Yesim Dikmen and Bulent Usta Editing by Gareth Jones

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