Armenia marks centenary of mass killings by Ottoman Turks

  • 24 April 2015
  • From the section Europe
Media captionKey moments from the Armenia ceremony in Yerevan

Ceremonies have been held in Armenia and around the world to mark the centenary of the start of mass killings of Armenians by Ottoman Turks.

The presidents of France and Russia joined other leaders for the memorial in the Armenian capital, Yerevan.

Armenia says up to 1.5 million people died, a figure disputed by Turkey.

Turkey strongly objects to the use of the term genocide to describe the killings and the issue has soured relations between the nations.

Turkey accepts that atrocities were committed but argues there was no systematic attempt to destroy the Christian Armenian people. It says many innocent Muslim Turks also died in the turmoil of war.

A memorial service was held in Turkey on Friday and its prime minister, Ahmet Davutoglu, said the country would "share the pain" of Armenians. But he reiterated Turkey's stance that the killings were not genocide.

Media captionFergal Keane recorded the voices of some of the remaining survivors of the Armenian massacre

Turkey also hosted ceremonies on Friday to mark the 100th anniversary of the start of the Battle of Gallipoli.

However, the actual fighting there began on 25 April, and Armenian President Serzh Sargsyan has accused Turkey of "trying to divert world attention" from the Yerevan commemorations.

'Never again'

After a flower-laying ceremony in Yerevan, Mr Sargsyan addressed the guests, saying: "I am grateful to all those who are here to once again confirm your commitment to human values, to say that nothing is forgotten, that after 100 years we remember."

In his address, French President Francois Hollande said: "We will never forget the tragedies that your people have endured."

France has been a strong advocate of recognising the killings as genocide and President Hollande has pushed for a law to punish genocide denial.

Russian President Vladimir Putin described the killings as "one of the most tragic disasters in the history of humankind" which "shook the whole world".

"There cannot be any justification for mass murder of people," he said. "Today we mourn together with the Armenian people."

Commemorations in Yerevan drew to a close with a candlelit procession. People carried flowers to the city's memorial late into the evening.

Elsewhere:

  • In Lebanon - home to one of the largest Armenian diasporas - tens of thousands of people attended a march and commemoration service in Beirut
  • In Jerusalem, Armenian priests held a two-hour mass in the Old City. Posters outside the church called on Turkey to recognise the mass killings as genocide
  • And in Tehran, hundreds of Armenian-Iranians attended a rally from an Armenian church to the Turkish Embassy.

At the scene: BBC's Rayhan Demytrie in Yerevan

The purple forget-me-not is the symbol of the centenary. It can be seen everywhere in Yerevan: from window shops and windscreen stickers, to lapel pins that many are proudly wearing.

There is also a centenary slogan which reads "I remember and demand".

But what is it that the Armenians are demanding? I asked some of the people in Yerevan's Mashtotz Avenue.

"We demand fairness from the world community, that's it," said Sergey Martirossyan, "but for me personally it won't make any difference. What we actually need in Armenia is for the government to take serious steps towards economic growth."

'I remember and demand'


Friday marks the 100th anniversary of the day the Ottoman Turkey authorities arrested several hundred Armenian intellectuals in Constantinople, today's Istanbul, most of whom were later killed.

Armenians regard this as the beginning of the Ottoman policy of mass extermination of Christian Armenians suspected of supporting Russia, the Ottoman Empire's World War One enemy.

Image copyright EPA
Image caption Tens of thousands of Lebanese-Armenians marked the centenary with a march in Beirut
Image copyright AFP
Image caption Ceremonies were held at the Tsitsernakaberd Memorial in Yerevan
Image copyright Reuters
Image caption France, represented by Francois Hollande, has been a strong advocate of recognising the killings as genocide

US President Barack Obama issued a carefully worded statement for the anniversary, referring to "one of the worst atrocities of the 20th Century", without using the term genocide.

During his 2008 presidential election campaign, then senator Obama had vowed to "recognise the Armenian genocide" and in his new statement said: "I have consistently stated my own view of what occurred in 1915, and my view has not changed."

However, his phrasing has angered Armenian Americans.

Bryan Ardouny, executive director of the Armenian Assembly of America, said in a statement: "President Obama's exercise in linguistic gymnastics on the Armenian genocide is unbecoming of the standard he himself set and that of a world leader today."

Image copyright Reuters
Image caption President Vladimir Putin said the events of 1915 "shook the whole world"
Image copyright Reuters
Image caption Armenians around the world, like here in Jerusalem, insist the killings were genocide

German MPs are meanwhile debating a non-binding motion on the genocide issue, a day after President Joachim Gauck used the word to describe the killings.

Turkey reacted angrily to Mr Putin's address.

"Considering the mass killings, exiles... that Russia has carried out in the Caucasus, Central Asia and in eastern Europe over the past century... we think it should be the one that knows best what a genocide is and what its legal dimensions are," a foreign ministry statement said.

Earlier this month, Turkey recalled its envoy to the Vatican after Pope Francis also used the word genocide.

In Turkey on Friday, the media largely focused on Gallipoli, but one newspaper, Cumhuriyet, carried a surprise headline in Armenian - "Never Again".

"The wounds caused by the events which took place during the Ottoman Empire are still fresh. It is time to face up to this pain which paralyses the human mind, the feeling of justice and the conscience," it said.


Media captionArmenia's mass killings - explained in 60 seconds

What happened in 1915?

Hundreds of thousands of Armenians died in 1915 at the hands of the Ottoman Turks, whose empire was disintegrating.

Many of the victims were civilians deported to barren desert regions where they died of starvation and thirst. Thousands also died in massacres.

Armenia says up to 1.5 million people were killed. Turkey says the number of deaths was much smaller.

Most non-Turkish scholars of the events regard them as genocide - as do more than 20 states, including France, Germany, Canada and Russia, and various international bodies including the European Parliament.

Turkey rejects the term genocide, maintaining that many of the dead were killed in clashes during World War One, and that many ethnic Turks also suffered in the conflict.

Q&A: Armenian genocide dispute


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