Citing a coronavirus-related state of emergency, the Armenian government has banned people from visiting a hilltop memorial in Yerevan on Friday to mark the 105th anniversary of the Armenian genocide in Ottoman Turkey.
Huge crowds have for decades marched on April 24 to the Tsitsernakabert memorial to some 1.5 million Armenian subjects of the Ottoman Empire massacred or starved to death during the First World War.
The government decided to cancel the annual daylong procession because of the coronavirus pandemic which has killed 24 people and infected about 1,500 others in Armenia. It said that only the country’s top political and spiritual leaders will lay flowers at Tsitsernakabert this time around.
Officials will then place 105,000 flowers around the eternal fire of the memorial overlooking the city center. According to Deputy Minister of Education and Culture Ara Khzmalian, this will be followed by live performances by Armenian artists to be broadcast live on the night from Saturday to Sunday.
It was also decided that street lights will be switched off and churches across the country will toll their bells at 9 p.m. on Thursday. In addition, the government urged Armenians to turn the lights off in their homes and to light mobile phone flashlights by their windows at the same time.
All roads leading to Tsitsernakabert and entrances to the memorial were already blocked by police on Thursday afternoon. They will remain closed until Saturday night.
People randomly interviewed on the streets of Yerevan welcomed the authorities’ decision to scale back this year’s genocide remembrance ceremonies.
“If there is a danger [of spreading coronavirus] then we must avoid that danger because we have had enough casualties and must not suffer more,” said one woman.