Tens of thousands of people joined by Armenia’s top political and spiritual leaders visited the Tsitsernakabert memorial in Yerevan on Thursday to mark the 99th anniversary of the start of the Armenian genocide in Ottoman Turkey.
An incessant stream of mourners marched to the hilltop memorial and laid flowers by its eternal fire throughout the day in the annual remembrance of 1.5 million Armenians massacred during World War I.
As always, the silent procession began after a prayer service led by Catholicos Garegin II, the supreme head of the Armenian Apostolic Church, in the presence of President Serzh Sarkisian and other top state officials.
“Today we bow to the memory of the innocent victims of the Armenian Genocide,” Sarkisian said in a written address to the nation issued on the occasion.
“They were killed simply because they were Armenians,” he said. “The crime designed minutely and in advance pursued a clear goal: to take possession of the home country, the property and the millennium-old heritage by exterminating the native people living there. By this they committed a monstrous crime seeking to once and forever annihilate Armenians as a political factor.”
“In contrast to the past, we are ready to confront such calamities both psychologically and in terms of an organization degree especially in our homeland. Nowhere in the world is as safe for an Armenian as it is under the auspices of his own state,” added the Armenian leader.
Sarkisian asserted at the same time that the Armenian genocide remains “alive” because of its “utter denial” by Turkey, the successor state to the Ottoman Empire. “We are convinced that the denial of a crime constitutes the direct continuation of that very crime,” he said. “Only recognition and condemnation can prevent the repeat of such crimes in the future.”
That the mass killings and deportations, which began with the arrest on April 24, 1915 of several hundred Armenian intellectuals in Constantinople, constituted genocide is acknowledged by many Western historians. The parliaments of about two dozen countries, including France, Italy and Russia, have passed resolutions recognizing the genocide.
Successive Turkish governments have claimed, however, that Armenians died in smaller numbers and as a result of internal strife, rather than a genocidal government policy.