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Armenia Marks Anniversary Of Massacre Amid Fresh Tensions With Turkey


Thousands pay tribute to Armenians killed in the Ottoman massacres at the Armenian Genocide Memorial in Yerevan on April 24.
YEREVAN -- Armenia today marked the 95th anniversary of the mass killing of Armenians in Ottoman Turkey, days after a landmark reconciliation deal between Armenia and Turkey collapsed.

Crowds of mourners braved the rain to lay flowers and attend a religious ceremony in honor of the victims at a hilltop memorial in the Armenian capital, Yerevan.

President Serzh Sarkisian, dressed in a black raincoat, was also in attendance. He said that international recognition of Armenians' belief that the killings constituted genocide is inevitable.

Sarkisian said the "Great Calamity" had no precedent in world history and as a result the Armenian people were "cut and divided into two parts."

Armenia suspended its reconciliation accord with Turkey on April 22 after Ankara demanded that it first make peace with Azerbaijan over Nagorno-Karabakh, a breakaway enclave of Azerbaijan controlled by ethnic Armenians.

Hours after Armenia halted the accord, Azerbaijan, a close ally of Turkey, warned that its army was ready to "hit any target" in order to reclaim control of Nagorno-Karabakh.

Under the deal signed by Yerevan and Ankara in October, the two sides were to restore diplomatic ties and reopen their common border after a century of hostility linked to the mass killings of Armenians, which Armenia and many historians say constituted genocide.

Turkey firmly rejects the term, saying many others were killed in ethnic violence as Russian forces invaded eastern Anatolia during World War I. It also rejects Yerevan's claim that up to 1.5 million Armenians were massacred.

The governments or parliaments of many countries, including France and Canada, have recognized the massacres as genocide.

The United States have so far refrained from using the controversial term, and Armenians will be closely watching U.S. President Barack Obama's annual statement on the killings later today.

At today's memorial ceremony, many Armenians voiced frustration over the lack of universal recognition of the massacre as genocide.

"The recognition of the Armenian genocide should never become a dispute between states," Armenian opposition leader Levon Zurabian told RFE/RL's Armenian Service. "Because genocide is a crime against mankind and it should become an issue for all mankind."

Turkish Demonstrations

Despite Ankara's firm stance on the issue, a number of Turks support Armenia's campaign to have Turkey recognize the massacres as genocide, with some even traveling to Yerevan today to pay tribute to the victims.

A group of Turkish protesters also gathered in Istanbul today in support of the Armenian cause.

"We will talk about the Armenian genocide until it is finally acknowledged in Turkey," activist Ozlen Daltran told RFE/RL at the rally.

Police reportedly kept away a group of counterdemonstrators but a correspondent from RFE/RL's Armenian Service reported a protest by Turkish nationalists, who shouted that it was Armenians who had massacred Turks, was held not far from the pro-Armenian demonstration.

In Washington, the White House issued a statement from President Barack Obama in which the U.S. president called the killings a "devastating chapter in the history of the Armenian people" but avoided using the word genocide. Obama it was necessary to "keep the memory alive in honor of those who were murdered and so that we do not repeat the mistakes of the past."

In the statement Obama used the Armenian words "Meds Yeghern" to describe the killings, which translates to "Great Calamity."

with agency reports
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