Presidents Francois Holland of France and Vladimir Putin of Russia and officials representing more than 50 other states joined Armenia’s leaders on Friday in commemorating the 100th anniversary of the Armenian genocide.
The two men as well as the presidents of Cyprus and Serbia delivered speeches during a remembrance ceremony held at the Tsitsernakabert genocide memorial in Yerevan. The foreign dignitaries attending it included a U.S. government delegation led by Treasury Secretary Jacob Lew.
The heads of the visiting delegations walked to the memorial one by one, escorted by Armenian schoolgirls holding the national flags of their respective countries. Each foreign leader then a put a yellow rose into a wreath shaped as a forget-me-not flower, the official emblem of the commemorations of the genocide centennial.
“I bow to the memory of the victims and I have just told my Armenian friends that we will never forget the tragedies that your people went through,” Hollande told the several hundred participants of the event.
“One hundred years ago, destructive hatred wanted to exterminate a population because it was Armenian,” he said. “This hatred committed considerable massacres but it could not achieve its ultimate end. You are standing there, alive. Armenia bears a remarkable memory, but its message is universal, it is one of resistance, it is one of recognition, it is one of hope.”
“We are also aware that it is with the disappearance of 1.5 million Armenians 100 years ago that the word ‘genocide’ was invented, so to speak,” Hollande went on, pointing to Raphael Lemkin, a Polish Jewish intellectual who coined the term in 1944.
Putin, meanwhile, described the 1915 slaughter as “one of the most appalling tragedies in the history of humankind.” “The events of 1915 shocked the entire world and were perceived in Russia as its own calamity,” he said in his speech.
“And today we mourn together with the Armenian people,” added Putin. “Remembrance events will take place in hundreds of Russian cities -- I want to stress that, dear friends: in hundreds of Russian cities.”
Both Putin and Hollande emphasized the fact that the Russian Empire, France and Britain jointly condemned the mass killings and deportations of Armenians as a “crime against humanity” in May 1915, one month after they were ordered by the rulers of the Ottoman Empire.
The French president also stated that international condemnation of the Armenian and other genocides is important for preventing more crimes against humanity. In that context, he pointed to the continuing “barbarity of the terrorists” from the Islamic State militants controlling large parts of Iraq and Syria.
Russia and France are among two dozen countries that have officially recognized the Armenian genocide. One of those nations, Cyprus, has also criminalized public denial of the genocide.
“We are here to honor the resilience of the Armenian people,” Cypriot President Nicos Anastasiades declared at Tsitsernakabert.