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Ceremonies Mark 100th Anniversary Of Armenian Massacre

  • RFE/RL

(Left to right:) Catholicos Karekin II, the supreme head of the Armenian Apostolic Church, Armenian President Serzh Sarkisian with his wife Rita, Russian President Vladimir Putin, Cypriot President Nicos Anastasiades, and French President Francois Hollande lay flowers during a ceremony in Yerevan to commemorate the massacre of Armenians in Ottoman Turkey in 1915.

(Left to right:) Catholicos Karekin II, the supreme head of the Armenian Apostolic Church, Armenian President Serzh Sarkisian with his wife Rita, Russian President Vladimir Putin, Cypriot President Nicos Anastasiades, and French President Francois Hollande lay flowers during a ceremony in Yerevan to commemorate the massacre of Armenians in Ottoman Turkey in 1915.

French President Francois Hollande has called on Turkey to use "other words" to describe the mass killings in the Ottoman Empire of up to 1.5 million Armenians during the World War I era, referring to Ankara's refusal to recognize the massacre as genocide.

Hollande made the remarks on April 24 at ceremonies in the Armenian capital, Yerevan, commemorating the start of the killings 100 years ago.

Russian President Vladimir Putin also attended the commemoration ceremonies, and used the term "genocide" in reference to the killings.

The annual April 24 commemoration in Armenian marks the date in 1915 commonly seen as the beginning of the killings, viewed by many historians and at least 22 countries as genocide.

Turkey rejects the term genocide, saying the death toll has been inflated and that those killed were victims of civil war and unrest rather than a systematic plan to exterminate the Armenian population in Ottoman Turkey.

In his remarks at the commemorations on April 24, in addition to his "genocide" reference, Putin warned of the dangers of nationalism and what he called "Russophobia," a comment that has been viewed as veiled criticism of the pro-Western government in Ukraine.

Armenian President Serzh Sarkisian expressed hope that recent steps to recognize the massacre as genocide would help "dispel the darkness of 100 years of denial."

Sarkisian made those remarks at Yerevan’s hilltop memorial for the victims, where he and the other leaders each placed a single yellow rose into the center of a wreath resembling a forget-me-not -- a flower that was made the symbol of the commemoration.

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​Putin, Hollande, Serbian President Tomislav Nikolic, and Cypriot President Nicos Anastasiades were among those who also placed a flower in the wreath at the memorial’s eternal flame.

Sarkisian received a standing ovation when he said: "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."

Hollande said that he bows down "in memory of the victims" and that he traveled to Yerevan "to tell my Armenian friends that we will never forget the tragedies that your people have endured."

A choir of children clutched the flags of countries of the Armenian diaspora and sang after Sarkisian placed a single flower at the flame.

Late in the evening, tens of thousands held an annual torch-lit march through central Yerevan.

Demonstrators sang patriotic songs and burned a Turkish flag during the procession led by the youth wing of the nationalist Dashnaktsutyun party.

Turkey, meanwhile, held a separate event on April 24 to mark the 100th anniversary of the start of the Battle of Gallipoli in World War I between Allied troops and forces of the Ottoman Empire.

The events were to be attended by Britain's Prince Charles and the prime ministers of Australia and New Zealand.

Critics noted that the Allied landings at Gallipoli began on April 25, 2015 and accused Turkey of moving its commemoration forward by one day to try to divert world attention from the mass killings of Armenians in Ottoman Turkey.

Sarkisian also has accused Ankara of deliberately "trying to divert world attention" from the Yerevan commemorations.

While World War I ended in defeat for Ottoman forces and their German allies, the Battle of Gallipoli is viewed as an important step in the creation of the modern Turkish state in 1923.

Concerning the mass killings of Armenians, Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan said on April 23 that Armenian claims "baseless and groundless."

Erdogan said there was no place -- "in democracies or in law" -- to presume Armenia is right and to forbid other opinions.

But international pressure to recognize the killings as genocide appears to be growing.

Germany’s government has backed a resolution being considered by the German parliament to formally recognize the killings as genocide.

On April 22, Turkey recalled its ambassador to Austria after parties in parliament issued a joint declaration describing the massacres of Armenians as genocide.

On April 12, Pope Francis angered Turkey when quoting part of a statement from John Paul II and the Armenian patriarch in 2001 referring to the killings as "the first genocide of the 20th century."

After the ceremony, the Turkish Foreign Ministry angrily condemned Putin for using the word “genocide.”

In a statement, the ministry said: "Considering the mass killings, exiles...that Russia has carried out in the Caucasus, Central Asia, and in Eastern Europe during the past century, we think [Russia] should be the one that knows best what genocide is and what its legal dimensions are."

With reporting by AFP, AP, Reuters, and dpa
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