Ar­me­nia marks cen­ten­nial of 1.5 mil. deaths


The pres­i­dents of Rus­sia and France joined other lead­ers Fri­day at cer­e­monies com­mem­o­rat­ing the massacre 100 years ago of 1.5 mil­lion Ar­me­ni­ans by Ot­toman Turks, an event which re­mains a diplo­matic sore point for both sides.

The an­nual April 24 com­mem­o­ra­tions mark the day when some 250 Ar­me­nian in­tel­lec­tu­als were rounded up in what is re­garded as the first step of the mas­sacres. An es­ti­mated 1.5 mil­lion died in the mas­sacres, de­por­ta­tions and forced marches that be­gan in 1915 as Ot­toman of­fi­cials wor­ried that the Chris­tian Ar­me­ni­ans would side with Rus­sia, its en­emy in the World War I.

The event is widely viewed by his­to­ri­ans as geno­cide but mod­ern Turkey, the suc­ces­sor to the Ot­toman Em­pire, ve­he­mently re­jects the charge, say­ing that the toll has been in­flated, and that those killed were vic­tims of civil war and un­rest. On the eve of the cen­ten­nial, Turk­ish Pres­i­dent Re­cep Tayyip Er­do­gan in­sisted that his na­tion’s an­ces­tors never com­mit­ted geno­cide.

Rus­sian Pres­i­dent Vladimir Putin, French Pres­i­dent Fran­cois Hol­lande and other dig­ni­taries as­sem­bled Fri­day morn­ing at the Tsit­ser­nakab­erd me­mo­rial com­plex in the cap­i­tal, Yere­van.

Each leader walked along the me­mo­rial with a sin­gle yel­low rose and put it into the cen­ter of a wreath re­sem­bling a for­get-me-not, a flower that was made the sym­bol of the com­mem­o­ra­tion.

“We will never for­get the tragedy that your peo­ple went through,” Hol­lande said.

France is home to a size­able Ar­me­nian com­mu­nity. Among the French Ar­me­ni­ans at Yere­van was 90-year old singer Charles Az­navour who was born in Paris to a fam­ily of massacre sur­vivors.

For many Ar­me­ni­ans, the massacre an­niver­sary is not only a mo­ment of grief but also a re­minder of the re­silience of the na­tion.

“We feel a big pain to­day, his­toric pain but at the same time we feel a big his­toric strength,” Nadezhda Antonyan, a teacher from Yere­van said on the side­lines of the cer­e­mony. “We should not only sur­vive but we must live, be strong and build our state­hood.”

Rus­sian Pres­i­dent Vladimir Putin used his speech to warn of the dan­gers of na­tion­al­ism as well as “Rus­so­pho­bia” in a clear dig at the West-lean­ing gov­ern­ment in Ukraine.

Ear­lier this month, Turkey re­called its am­bas­sadors to Vi­enna and the Vat­i­can af­ter Aus­tria and Pope Fran­cis de­scribed the killings as geno­cide. The Euro­pean Par­lia­ment has also trig­gered Turkey’s ire by pass­ing a non-bind­ing res­o­lu­tion to com­mem­o­rate “the cen­te­nary of the Ar­me­nian geno­cide.”

Ar­me­nian Pres­i­dent Serge Sark­isian ex­pressed hope that re­cent steps to rec­og­nize the massacre as geno­cide will help “dis­pel the dark­ness of 100 years of de­nial.”

Ar­me­ni­ans and Turks planned to march in Istanbul’s main square to re­mem­ber the Ar­me­nian in­tel­lec­tu­als who were rounded up in the city 100 years ago and to urge the gov­ern­ment into rec­og­niz­ing geno­cide. A small na­tion­al­ist group planned a protest de­nounc­ing the ac­cu­sa­tions of geno­cide.

Sark­isian wel­comed the rally in Tak­sim Square to honor the dead, call­ing them “strong peo­ple who are do­ing an im­por­tant thing for their moth­er­land.”

Turk­ish Prime Min­is­ter Ah­met Davu­to­glu ear­lier this week is­sued a mes­sage of con­do­lence to the descen­dants of the vic­tims, with­out call­ing the killings geno­cide.

On Fri­day, Volkan Bozkir, min­is­ter in charge of Turkey’s re­la­tions with the Euro­pean Union, at­tended a ser­vice at the Ar­me­nian Pa­tri­ar­chate in Istanbul to honor the dead in the 1915 massacre — a first by a Turk­ish gov­ern­ment of­fi­cial.

“We re­spect the pain ex­pe­ri­enced by our Ar­me­nian broth­ers,” Bozkir said. “We are in no way op­posed to the com­mem­o­ra­tion of this pain... We felt in­debted to at­tend this ser­vice.”


Peo­ple lay flow­ers at a me­mo­rial to Ar­me­ni­ans killed by the Ot­toman Turks, as they mark the cen­te­nary of the mass killings, in Yere­van, Ar­me­nia on Fri­day, April 24.

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