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Armenia Marks Genocide Remembrance Day

  • RFE/RL

People carry torches to mark the 97th anniversary of the genocide of their kin by Ottoman Turks during World War I in central Yerevan on April 23.

People carry torches to mark the 97th anniversary of the genocide of their kin by Ottoman Turks during World War I in central Yerevan on April 23.

Armenia has been marking Genocide Remembrance Day in honor of the estimated 1.5 million Armenians killed by Ottoman Turks 95 years ago.

Thousands of people turned out late on April 23 in the Armenian capital, Yerevan, at the Monument to the Victims of Armenian Genocide.

Armenian President Serzh Sarkisian and other high-ranking officials laid flowers at the memorial on April 24, the official remembrance day.

In his message, Sarkisian described the anniversary as a day of national mourning. The president said: "Nothing that was lost has been forgotten. We are not those who forgot their roots, we are Armenia."

The genocide is contested by the government of neighboring Turkey.

Ankara denies that some 1.5 million Armenians were massacred by the Ottoman Turks in 1915-18, and successive Turkish governments have said that Armenians died in much smaller numbers and because of civil strife, rather than a premeditated Ottoman government effort to annihilate a Christian minority.

The dispute has blocked Turkey and Armenia from establishing diplomatic relations, even though the two countries share a 330-kilometer-long border.

'Time To Move Forward'

Armenians mark April 24 as the start of the Ottoman campaign targeting ethnic Armenians. Armenians say hundreds of intellectuals, who were citizens of the Ottoman Empire, were rounded up in Istanbul on April 24, 1915, and sent into exile, where most were killed.

In the April 23 commemoration, several thousand people took part in a torchlight procession from the center of Yerevan to the memorial.

Such processions have been held in Yerevan annually since 2000. Their organizer is the Youth Union of the Armenian Revolutionary Federation (Dashnaktsutiun).

A leader of the Youth Union, Maria Titizian, said such commemorations were held to ensure that the genocide is not forgotten.

"This is not a day full of hatred; it is not a day where we ask for revenge," Titizian said.

"What we are asking, if you listen to what they are saying, they are asking for recognition [of genocide], because four or five generations after the genocide, the perpetrators of genocide continue to deny it, which is the final stage of genocide itself."

Titizian added that recognition of the mass killing of Armenians as genocide is important for both Armenia and Turkey.

"In order for our societies, both Armenians and Turks, to move forward, we need to come to grips with our past," she said. "Turkey needs to reconcile itself with its past in order for our countries to move together in peace."

Ceremony In Istanbul

On April 22, hundreds of Turkish activists rallied in downtown Istanbul to remember the victims of the mass killing of Armenians.

The activists gathered in the city's central Taksim Square and silently lit candles, holding red carnations to the accompaniment of melancholy Armenian music played through loudspeakers. They then laid the flowers on a banner saying, "This pain is our pain."

Also on April 22, several dozen Turkish intellectuals gathered outside an Istanbul museum that served as a prison for Armenians rounded up in 1915.

It was the second public commemoration of the genocide anniversary ever held in Turkey's largest city to challenge the Turkish government's stance on the events. The first such gatherings in April 2010 drew a considerably smaller crowd.

With reporting by Reuters, Interfax, ITAR-TASS, and RFE/RL's Armenian Service

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