Evidence found of killings by Armenian gangs - Turkey
Thousands of Muslims were killed by Armenian gangs in Turkey's eastern region in the early 1900s, according to evidence unearthed by a group of professors from a Turkish university, Anadolu Agency reported.
Excavations conducted by experts from Ataturk University during nearly three decades of research into the events of 1915 showed about 5,000 Muslims were killed, Erol Kurkcuoglu, the manager of Turkish-Armenian Affairs Research Center, told The Anadolu Agency on Friday.
Kurkcuoglu said: "The group found mass cemeteries after 15 excavations were made in the eastern provinces of Erzurum, Kars, Igdir, Van and Ardahan, and reached about 5,000 bodies of Muslim people."
His comments came days after Turkish politicians, academics and religious leaders denounced a statement made by Pope Francis and a European Parliament resolution which referred to incidents in central Turkey in 1915 involving Armenians as a "genocide".
The excavations showed at least 550 civilians were burnt to death in the village of Oba in Igdir province and some Muslims praying at a mosque in Ardahan were also burnt after being shot, he said.
"Armed Armenians opened fire on praying people and then set fire to their bodies," said Kurkcuoglu, adding a monument was built in memory of those who died in 2013.
He said the excavations also revealed a group of civilians who were brought to Dag street in the district of Yakutiye in Erzurum under the pretext of working on a railway construction project were burned to death and their bodies covered with soil.
Investigations showed women, elders and children had also been tortured to death by Armenian gangs, he added.
The main massacre was carried out in January, February and March in 1918 he said, citing scientific research and evidence from excavations and documents as well as information which had been received by researchers.
"We have to put forward - for the centennial anniversary in April, 2015 - the loss of our people three years after Armenia was trying to persuade the world to recognize an alleged 'genocide'."
The 1915 events took place during World War I when a portion of the Armenian population living in the Ottoman Empire sided with invading Russians and revolted against the empire.
The Ottoman Empire relocated Armenians in eastern Anatolia following the revolts and there were Armenian casualties during the process.
Armenia has demanded an apology and compensation, while Turkey has officially refuted Armenian allegations over the incidents saying that, although Armenians died during the relocations, many Turks also lost their lives in attacks carried out by Armenian gangs in Anatolia.