Armenia will alter commemoration ceremonies to mark the anniversary of the World War I-era massacre of Armenians in the Ottoman Empire due to the coronavirus pandemic.
A torch-lit procession traditionally held on April 23 each year in Yerevan has been canceled "in the interests of citizens' safety and health," government spokesman Eduard Agajanian said on April 21.
Instead, street lights will be switched off and church bells will peal across the country on April 23, the eve of the date marking the 105th anniversary of the tragedy, Agajanian said.
The next day Prime Minister Nikol Pashinian and the head of the Armenian Church, Catholicos Garegin II, will lay flowers at a hilltop memorial in Yerevan.
The Tsitsernakaberd Memorial Complex will be closed from April 21 due to organizational and security issues, Agajanian said, according to Armenpress.
Last month, Armenia declared a state of emergency and imposed a nationwide lockdown to slow the spread of infections. The government has reported 1,401 coronavirus cases and 24 deaths.
Among the Armenian diaspora in the United States, organizers of an annual series of events held in California to mark the anniversary said alternatives, such as speeches and panel discussions, will replace a religious service and other events. The alternatives will be aired on local Armenian television channels, according to Massispost.com.
During and immediately after World War I, as many as 1.5 million Armenians were killed or deported from Anatolia. Many historians, Armenia, and more than 30 countries consider the killings genocide.
As the successor state to the Ottoman Empire, Turkey objects to the use of the word genocide and describes the killings as "the events of 1915."
Ankara recognizes about 500,000 Armenians died as a result of civil strife, disease, and starvation rather than a planned Ottoman government effort to annihilate Armenians. Turkey also points out that hundreds of thousands of Muslims died in Anatolia at the time due to combat, starvation, cold, and disease.