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New York Remembers 1.5 Million Armenian Deaths

  • RFE/RL

Thousands of people rallied in New York on April 26 to demand the U.S. government recognize the deaths of up to 1.5 million Armenians during World War I as genocide.

The rally marked the centennial of the killings under the Ottoman Empire — today's Turkey.

The slaughter and deportation of up to 1.5 million Armenians by Ottoman Turks is considered by many historians and several nations as genocide.

Turkey objects, saying that Armenians died in much smaller numbers and because of civil strife rather than a planned Ottoman government effort to annihilate the Christian minority.

On April 24, Armenia marked the 1915 starting date of the mass killings.

Ethnic Armenians living in the United States are pushing for a formal vote in Congress that would classify the killings as genocide.

Addressing the crowd in Times Square, Senator Charles Schumer (Democrat - New York) said, "I stand with you in making sure the deniers are not given any place under the sun."

Speakers included several Jewish leaders as well as Taner Akcam, a Turkish-born scholar who supports the Armenian cause as a professor at Clark University, in Worcester, Massachusetts.

"It is very troubling to see that the United States has still not recognized the Armenian genocide," he said, adding that the justification is the crucial role of Turkey in U.S. security strategy.

Rabbi Steven Burg, the Eastern Director of the Simon Wiesenthal Center, said Rafael Lemkin, a Polish-born Jew, coined the term genocide after World War II — convincing the world to view the Holocaust as a crime against humanity.

"He started his quest because of the Armenian genocide," the rabbi said.

Lemkin recognized that the Armenian genocide was the first in the 20th century, Burg said.

And his definition served as the basis for the UN Convention on the Prevention and Punishment of the Crime of Genocide, adopted in 1948.

With reporting by AP