Armenia marks centenary of mass killings with ceremony

Foreign leaders attend flower-laying service as Turkey denies deaths constituted genocide

 A flower-laying ceremony in the Armenian capital Yerevan to mark the centenary of the mass killings of up to 1.5 million Armenians by Ottoman Turks. Photograph: Vahram Baghdasaryan/EPA

A flower-laying ceremony in the Armenian capital Yerevan to mark the centenary of the mass killings of up to 1.5 million Armenians by Ottoman Turks. Photograph: Vahram Baghdasaryan/EPA

 

Armenia has marked the centenary of a mass killing of Armenians by Ottoman Turks with a simple flower-laying ceremony attended by foreign leaders, as Germany became the latest country to recognise that what happened constituted genocide.

Turkey denies that the killing of up to 1.5 million Armenians in what is now Turkey in 1915, at the height of the first World War, constitutes genocide. Its relations with Armenia are still blighted by the dispute.

Parliament in Germany, Turkey’s biggest trade partner in the European Union, risked a diplomatic rupture with Ankara and upsetting its own ethnic Turkish residents by joining the many Western scholars and two dozen countries in describing the killings as such.

Its resolution marks a significant change of stance.

Turkish president Tayyip Erdogan said that he “shared the pain” of Armenians, but again refuted the description of the killings as genocide.

The French and Russian presidents, Francois Hollande and Vladimir Putin, were among guests who placed a yellow carnation in a wreath of forget-me-nots at a hilltop memorial near the Armenian capital Yerevan, and led calls for reconciliation.

“Recognition of the genocide is a triumph of human conscience and justice over intolerance and hatred,” Armenian president Serzh Sarksyan said in a speech under grey skies.

In a speech at the ceremony that was met by warm applause, Mr Hollande said a law adopted by France in 2001 on recognition of the killings as genocide was “an act of truth”.

“France fights against revisionism and destruction of evidence, because denial amounts to repeat of massacres,” he said, describing his own attendance as “a contribution to reconciliation”.

Mr Putin warned that neo-fascism and nationalism was on the rise in the world.

“But remembering the tragic events of the past years we must be optimistic about our future and believe in the ideals of friendship . . . and mutual support,” he said.

The European Parliament also refers to the killings in 1915 as genocide, as did Pope Francis this month, prompting Turkey to summon the Vatican’s envoy and recall its own.

Other countries, including the US, have refrained from doing so.

Christian Armenians

Predominantly Muslim Turkey, which has no diplomatic ties with Armenia, says many Christian Armenians were killed in partisan fighting during the war but denies it amounted to genocide.

It says there was no organised campaign to wipe out Armenians and no evidence of any such orders from the Ottoman authorities.

In February, Armenia, a poor country of 3.2 million that for decades was part of the Soviet Union, withdrew landmark peace accords with Turkey from parliament, setting back US-supported efforts to bury a century of hostility between the neighbours.

Mr Sarksyan said on Wednesday he was ready to normalise relations with Turkey, stating that there should be no preconditions in restarting the peace process.

In another sign of reconciliation, Turkey’s European Affairs minister Volkan Bozkir attended a memorial service at the Armenian Patriarchate in Istanbul, the first time a Turkish government official has taken part in commemoration events there since 1916.

Anniversary events in Armenia this week included an open-air ceremony on Thursday at which the Armenian Apostolic Church made saints of the victims of 1915, and will culminate in a torch-lit march this evening.

“We are glad to see that more countries and even the Pope recognise Armenian genocide. It should be done so that it is never repeated,” Susana Karapetyan, a 32-year-old resident of Yerevan, said earlier this week.

Members of the Armenian diaspora around the world were also expected to hold ceremonies remembering the dead.

Reuters