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Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan has offered what has been described as “unprecedented condolences” to the grandchildren of Armenians killed in World War One by Ottoman soldiers.

The statement unusually released in nine different languages was issued on the eve of the 99th anniversary of the deeply contested deaths. Turkish officials described it as an “historic step”.

The exact nature and scale of what happened when fighting started has soured relations between Turkey and Armenia, a former Soviet state.

Erdogan highlighted what he called the “shared pain” of the events.

For many the statement was a complete surprise with one commentator saying it was significant he talked about shared pain. On the streets of Istanbul it was well received.

“I think this is positive. There may have been lots of mistakes made by Turkey during its history. It is good to find those mistakes and accept them. As Turkish people, with all the minorities it is perfect to live in unity,” said Istanbul resident Yunus Ozebek.

In Yerevan Armenians gathered for the annual candle procession to mark the anniversary of the killings.

Many felt the statement did not go far enough and demanded recognition of genocide and compensation.

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