Turkey's prime minister said a ceremony would be held in Istanbul to commemorate Armenians killed a century ago by Ottoman Turks and again issued condolences to their descendants.

However, in a message released Monday, Ahmet Davutoglu stopped short of calling the slaughter of Armenians genocide and criticized efforts to force Turkey to admit to the crime.

Historians estimate that up to 1.5 million Armenians were killed by Ottoman Turks around the time of World War I, an event widely viewed by scholars as the first genocide of the 20th century. Turkey however, denies that the deaths constituted genocide, saying the toll has been inflated, and that those killed were victims of civil war and unrest.

The message came days before Armenians mark the centenary of the killings on April 24.