Armenian Genocide
A picture released by the Armenian Genocide Museum-Institute dated 1915 shows soldiers standing over skulls of victims from the Armenian village of Sheyxalan in the Mush valley, on the Caucasus front during the First World War Getty

The European Parliament has ruled that 1915 mass killings of some 1.5 million Armenians by the Istanbul-ruled Ottoman Empire amount to genocide.

The decision was made one week before the 100th anniversary of the killings, which falls on 24 April. The lawmakers stated that the "tragic events that took place in 1915-1917 against the Armenians in the territory of the Ottoman Empire represent a genocide".

Armenia's Foreign Minister Edward Nalbandian said the resolution is a move towards defending human rights.

"The resolution contains an important message to Turkey to use the commemoration of the centenary of the Armenian genocide to come to terms with its past, to recognise the Armenian genocide and thus pave the way for a genuine reconciliation between Turkish and Armenian peoples," he said in a statement.

However, Turkey did not agree with the resolution and accused the Parliament of attempting to "rewrite history". Turkey's foreign ministry said lawmakers who backed the decision were partners of "those who have nothing to do with European values and are feeding on hatred, revenge and the culture of conflict".

One day before the ruling, Turkey's President Tayyip Erdogan warned that his country would ignore any view by the Parliament regarding the mass killing. "Whatever decision they may take, it would go in one ear and out the other," Erdogan was quoted by Reuters as saying.

The resolution comes as tensions rose between Turkey and the Vatican, after Pope Francis referred to the killings as "the first genocide of the 20th Century" during a Mass at St Peter's Basilica.

The pontiff spoke about three tragedies in the last century. "The first, which is widely considered the first genocide of the 20th century, struck your own Armenian people," he said, and added that the other two mass killings were perpetrated by "Nazism and Stalinism. More recently there have been other mass killings, like those in Cambodia, Rwanda, Burundi and Bosnia. It seems that humanity is incapable of putting a halt to the shedding of innocent blood."

Turkey denies that the mass killings amount to genocide and argues that the figures have been inflated. Following Francis' remarks, the Middle Eastern country recalled its envoy to the Vatican and warned the pontiff not to "repeat the same mistake".

A top Turkish Islamic cleric has also warned the Vatican that it has more to lose by digging up the past.

"If societies start to interrogate each other over past sorrows, the Vatican will suffer more than anyone else," Mehmet Gormez, Turkey's head of religious affairs, said.