A century on, Armenia mourns ‘genocide’ and celebrates survival

Decision by Department of Foreign Affairs not to use ‘genocide’ term disappoints Armenians

Armenian people light candles as they attend a commemoration ceremony for Armenians who lost their lives during mass killings under the Ottoman empire, at the  Armenian Apostolic Church in Moscow. Armenians commemorated  the 100th anniversary of the Armenian massacres on April 24th. Photograph: Yuri Kochetkov

Armenian people light candles as they attend a commemoration ceremony for Armenians who lost their lives during mass killings under the Ottoman empire, at the Armenian Apostolic Church in Moscow. Armenians commemorated the 100th anniversary of the Armenian massacres on April 24th. Photograph: Yuri Kochetkov

 

Armenians have marked a century since the Ottoman massacre of up to 1.5 million of their ancestors, with ceremonies, concerts and calls for Turkey and the rest of the world to recognise the killings as genocide.

“Recognition of the genocide is a triumph of human conscience and justice over intolerance and hatred,” Armenia’s president Serzh Sarksyan told visiting dignitaries at a memorial complex overlooking the nation’s capital, Yerevan.

“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,” Mr Sarksyan said, under lowering skies and squalls of heavy rain.

“We have to find a solution, before humanity once again breaks its promise that something like this should never happen again.”

Foreign ambassadors and officials – including Ireland’s envoy to Armenia John Biggar – each shook hands with Mr Sarksyan and his wife, before placing a yellow rose in the centre of a purple wreath shaped like the forget-me-not flower that is a symbol of the centennial.

Finally, four visiting presidents – from Russia, France, Serbia and Cyprus – did the same, before delivering words of sympathy and support for Armenia.

“We will never forget the tragedy that your people went through,” said French leader François Hollande, before wishing “peace to all, peace to the memory of the victims, the memory of those who survived. The recognition of the Armenian genocide is an act of peace.”

An eternal flame, ringed by flowers, defied rain lashing the 40-metre stone spire that soars over the memorial complex, as President Vladimir Putin said Russia joined Armenia in mourning “one of the most terrible tragedies in the history of mankind.”

Denouncing what he called resurgent nationalism and fascism – which Moscow claims are taking hold in pro-western Ukraine – Mr Putin said “there is not, and cannot be, any justification for mass murder.”

A concert on Yerevan’s main square and a torch-lit procession through the city were due to cap the memorial events last night, as Armenia’s 5-million-strong diaspora marked the occasion around the world.

Members of Ireland’s Armenian community will hold a remembrance service tomorrow in Taney parish church, Dundrum; Taoiseach Enda Kenny was invited to the service but said he was unable to attend.

Armenians were disappointed by Ireland’s decision not to use the word “genocide” this week when the Department of Foreign Affairs called for reconciliation over the “terrible events which resulted in the tragic deaths of very large numbers of the Armenian population in the Ottoman Empire”.

Germany’s lower house of parliament yesterday overwhelmingly approved a resolution calling the events “genocide”, the day after President Joachim Gauck said his nation should consider “whether there is in fact a shared responsibility, possibly even complicity, in the genocide of the Armenians.”

Germany was an ally of the Ottoman empire at the time of the massacres, which Turkey insists were part of the bloody chaos of the first World War and did not represent a planned attempt to exterminate Armenians.

Turkey reacted furiously when Pope Francis and the European and Austrian parliaments recently called the killings “genocide”, with Ankara officials suggesting that racism and anti-Muslim feeling motivated such comments.

Turkey also held a major event to mark a century since to the battle of Gallipoli yesterday, in what Armenia called a crude attempt to draw attention and high-ranking guests away from Yerevan.

For the first time, though, a Turkish government official attended a service at the Armenian patriarchate in Istanbul to honour those killed in the massacres. “We respect the pain experienced by our Armenian brothers,” Turkey’s European affairs minister Volkan Bozkir said. “We are in no way opposed to the commemoration of this pain . . . we feel indebted to attend this service.”

President Recep Tayyip Erdogan of Turkey said in a message read out at the service: “The gates of our hearts are open to grandchildren of all Ottoman Armenians . . . today, we work with our citizens, friends, regardless of their religious and ethnic identities, to achieve better days on the basis of peace and brotherhood.”

The massacres and expulsions forced Armenians to flee, scattering them around the globe, and the centennial has drawn thousands back to their ancestral homeland. “It’s a unifying bond that brings together all Armenians throughout the world,” said Richard Giragosian, founding director of the Regional Studies Center in Yerevan.

Klara Moradkhan, who lives in California, said she had come back to Armenia for the centennial “on behalf of my family”. “All Armenians carry inside us the stories of what happened during the genocide,” Ms Moradkhan said in Yerevan. “I felt I had to be here for this. After 100 years, it’s time for Armenians to heal.”