Hundreds of thousands of people silently marched to a hilltop memorial in Yerevan in an annual remembrance of some 1.5 million fellow Armenians slaughtered by Ottoman Turks.
An incessant stream of people passed through the Tsitsernakabert memorial to the genocide victims throughout the day, laying flowers by its eternal fire surrounded by twelve inward-bending basalt columns.
The day-long procession began in the morning after a traditional prayer service held there by the supreme head of the Armenian Apostolic Church, Catholicos Garegin II, in the presence of President Serzh Sarkisian and other top state officials.
Armenia -- Thousands of people march to the Armenian genocide memorial in Yerevan, 24Apr2011.
April 24 marks the anniversary of the 1915 arrest of more than 250 Armenian political leaders, intellectuals and artists in Constantinople that was ordered by the government of the Ottoman Empire. Their subsequent executions were followed by mass killings and deportations of Armenians in what is now eastern Turkey and other parts of the crumbling empire. Many of the victims lost their lives in so-called death marches to the Syrian desert.
The stark memorial perched on Tsitsernakabert Hill overlooking central Yerevan is the focal point of the annual genocide commemorations in Armenia and the Armenian Diaspora communities around the world.
“The Ottoman Empire implemented at the state level the program of elimination and expulsion of the Armenian people,” Sarkisian said in a traditional written address to the nation issued on the occasion.
“Throughout the process, at its every stage the murders, deportations, conversions and enslavement of the Armenians were viewed as routine trifles,” he said. “As for foreign interventions, they failed to stop the perpetrators and in some instances pushed them towards even more gruesome acts.”
“However, despite every devious program and calculations, the Armenian nation survived the Mets Yeghern,” the president added, using the Armenian term for the genocide.
Armenia -- President Serzh Sarkisian and other top state officials attend a prayer service led by Catholicos Garegin II at the Armenian genocide memorial in Yerevan, 24Apr2011.
Sarkisian went on to praise Turkish intellectuals and other prominent public figures who increasingly challenge the official Turkish version of the events of 1915.
Successive Turkish governments have denied a planned government effort to exterminate the Ottoman Empire’s Armenian population. They have claimed that Ottoman Armenians died in much smaller numbers and because of siding with invading Russian troops.
Sarkisian condemned this stance as a “a direct continuation of the Armenian Genocide.” “The official policy of Turkey carries on with the course of denial,” he said. “Moreover, that policy becomes more ‘sophisticated,’ becomes more, so to speak, ‘flexible,’ and from time to time makes singular, formal-propaganda steps.”
“Any attempt to erase the tracks of a crime is a new crime,” he added.
In a separate statement, parliament speaker Hovik Abrahamian called on Ankara to “eliminate all legal, political and other impediments that do not allow the Turkish society to examine its past in an uninhibited manner.” He also urged more foreign governments and parliaments to officially recognize the mass killings as genocide.
More than two dozen nations, including France, Canada and Russia, have already done so.