About 100 Turks rallied in Istanbul on Saturday in a first-ever public commemoration of the World War One-era mass killings and deportations of Armenians in Ottoman Turkey that was organized by a local human rights group.
The demonstrators gathered on the steps of the Haydarpasa train station from where hundreds of Armenian intellectuals arrested on April 24, 1915 were deported and subsequently executed. They chanted “Never Again!” and carried black-and-white pictures of the most prominent of the deportees.
“The events of 1915 must not be repeated,” Eren Keskin, a human rights campaigner, said, addressing the small crowd. “We have gathered here to say no to genocide.”
Turkish authorities did not try to impede the landmark gathering organized by the Turkish Human Rights Association. Scores of police were deployed around the station to prevent possible incidents between its participants and a group of counter-demonstrators protesting nearby.
Police stepped in when an elderly man condemned the unprecedented commemoration. “Who allowed you to gather here? Who says that Armenians were massacred? That is not true?” he shouted before behind dragged away from the scene.
A similar gathering was due to take place in Istanbul’s central Taksim Square later in the day. Its organizers, a group of prominent intellectuals and artists, urged fellow Turks to “pay tribute to the victims of 1915” in an online petition circulated earlier this week. Hundreds of people have signed the appeal that stops short of calling the massacres a genocide and uses the Armenian phrase “Great Catastrophe” instead.
Tens of thousands of Turks signed a similar online petition that was initiated by the same public figures in December 2008. It offered Armenians a personal apology and called for the Turkish government to acknowledge the killings.