ANKARA - The first member of Turkey’s Armenian community to hold the post of senior advisor to the prime minister has retired, an official told AFP on Thursday, after he described the mass killings of Armenians during the Ottoman Empire as “genocide”.

The official, who asked not to be named, denied any link between the departure of Etyen Mahcupyan and the looming 100th anniversary on April 24 of the start of the 1915 killings of Armenians, which Yerevan regards as genocide. Mahcupyan, 65, “has retired on the grounds of age,” the official said, noting this was the age limit for all Turkish civil servants.

But Mahcupyan, who was appointed last year as senior advisor to Prime Minister Ahmet Davutoglu, infuriated some within the ruling party this week when he qualified the mass WWI killings of Armenians as a “genocide.”

“If accepting that what happened in Bosnia and Africa were genocides, it is impossible not to call what happened to Armenians in 1915 genocide too,” Mahcupyan said in an interview published this week.

Turkey’s EU Affairs Minister Volkan Bozkir strongly rebuked Mahcupyan for speaking out on the issue, which remains taboo for many in Turkey.

“Naturally, those views were not suitable for a Turkish citizen. Maybe he will himself make a re-evaluation,” Bozkir told a live television interview shortly before Mahcupyan quit the post.

Last year, President Recep Tayyip Erdogan offered an unprecedented expression of condolence for the massacres when he was still prime minister, describing the killings as “our shared pain”.

But as the anniversary has drawn near, Turkey, which has always rejected the term genocide, has taken an increasingly defiant and combative line amid growing tensions over the characterisation of the tragedy.

The European Parliament on Wednesday urged Turkey to use the centenary of Ottoman-era massacres to “recognise the Armenian genocide” and help promote reconciliation between the two peoples.

After the vote, the Turkish foreign ministry accused the European Parliament of rewriting history based on a “one-sided approach” and said it threatened to harm relations with the European Union, which Ankara has long sought to join.

Bozkir on Thursday slammed the non-binding resolution as “null and void” and likened the European Parliament to a “circus” where anyone can present a proposal without any party discipline.

The use of the word “genocide” by Pope Francis on Sunday infuriated Ankara and prompted Davutoglu to accuse the pontiff of “blackmail” against Turkey.

In this week’s interview, Mahcupyan said the Vatican had finally released a “100-year-old psychological burden,” adding that what needed to be questioned was 100-year-old resistance to using the term.

The pope’s comments labelling the mass killings as “the first genocide of the 20th century” not only angered the government but also religious circles in Turkey.

The mufti of Ankara suggested that the pope’s statement would hasten the reopening of Istanbul’s Hagia Sophia museum to Muslim worshipping.

“Frankly, I believe the pope’s comments will only accelerate the process of Hagia Sophia to be reopened for worshipping,” Mefail Hizli was quoted as saying by Turkish media.

The world famous landmark was turned into a museum accessible to all by the secular founders of modern Turkey in the 1930s after serving as a church and a mosque.

Secular Turks are wary of any moves to turn the building back into a mosque.

In an interview with AFP in December, Mahcupyan said 2015 would be a “tough year” because of the anniversary.

He said the priority for the future should be establishing relations with Armenia as well as the millions-strong diaspora, many of whom harbour a deep hatred of Turkey.

A small but prominent community of Turkish-Armenians remains in the country, mostly based in Istanbul.