Turkey says earthquake diplomacy could help mend Armenia ties

Turkish and Armenian foreign ministers meet in Ankara

ANKARA (Reuters) - Humanitarian aid sent by Armenia for victims of last week's devastating earthquake in Turkey could boost the neighbouring countries' efforts to normalise their relations, Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu said on Wednesday.

A border gate between the long-feuding neighbours was opened for the first time in 35 years to allow aid for quake victims in southern Turkey. Armenia also sent a rescue team to Turkey to help in the search for survivors.

"Armenia has extended its hand of friendship, showed solidarity and cooperation with us in this difficult time ... We need to continue this solidarity," Cavusoglu said at a joint news conference in Ankara with his Armenian counterpart Ararat Mirzoyan.

"The normalisation process in the southern Caucasus region is going on. We believe that our cooperation in the humanitarian field will support this process," Cavusoglu added.

Mirzoyan said through a translator that Armenia remained committed to "the full normalisation of relations and complete opening of the border with Turkey".

Turkey severed its diplomatic and commercial ties with Armenia in 1993 to show support for Azerbaijan, which was at the time fighting a losing battle against Armenian separatists in the disputed Nagorno-Karabakh enclave.

But Turkey and Armenia are at odds primarily over the 1.5 million people Armenia says were killed in 1915 by the Ottoman Empire, the predecessor to modern Turkey.

Armenia says this constitutes genocide.

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 it was systematic.

(Reporting by Huseyin Hayatsever; Editing by Helen Popper)