Armenia’s leaders laid flowers at the Tsitsernakabert memorial in Yerevan on Friday during official commemorations of the 105th anniversary of the Armenian genocide in Ottoman Turkey which were scaled back due to the coronavirus pandemic.
President Armen Sarkissian, Prime Minister Nikol Pashinian, parliament speaker Ararat Mirzoyan and Catholicos Garegin II, the supreme head of the Armenian Apostolic Church, visited the hilltop memorial separately, observing social distancing rules aimed at stopping the spread of the virus in the country.
Garegin and several other senior clergymen prayed by its eternal fire for some 1.5 million Armenians who were massacred or starved to death by the Ottoman Turks during the First World War.
For the first time ever, ordinary Armenians were not allowed to walk to Tsitsernakabert because of a coronavirus-related nationwide lockdown imposed by the Armenian government last month. Heading a government appeal, many of them turned off the lights in their homes and lit mobile phone flashlights by their windows for three minutes in memory of the dead on Thursday evening. Churches across the country tolled their bells in the meantime.
“The Armenian Genocide perpetrated by the Ottoman Empire was a crime not only against our ethnic identity but also against human civilization,” Pashinian declared in a televised address to the nation broadcast live from Tsitsernakabert.
“More than a century has passed but the consequences of the Genocide have not been eliminated,” he said. “Turkey has not yet apologized for what it did. That is why we declare that we remember and demand.”
Both Pashinian and Sarkissian thanked the three dozen countries, including the United States, France, Germany and Russia, whose parliaments and/or governments have recognized the Armenian genocide. Sarkissian urged more states to do the same.
“We cannot on one hand declare that we are going to fight together against xenophobia, discrimination, intolerance, anti-Semitism, denial and other all-human vices, and on the other hand ‘play diplomacy’ with Turkey on the Armenian Genocide,” the president said in a statement released on Thursday.
Turkey continues to deny a premeditated government effort to exterminate the Armenian population of the Ottoman Empire. Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan again claimed last year that Armenians themselves massacred Muslim civilians and that their mass deportations to a Syrian desert was “the most reasonable action that could be taken” by the Ottoman regime of the “Young Turks.”
Ankara’s vehement denials are dismissed by most scholars outside Turkey. “The historical record on the Armenian Genocide is unambiguous and documented by overwhelming evidence,” the International Association of Genocide Scholars said in 2007.
Pope Francis and his predecessor John Paul II prayed at Tsitsernakabert when they visited Armenia in 2016 and 2001 respectively. They both used the word “genocide” in reference to the mass killings and deportations which began on April 24, 1915 with the arrest and subsequent execution of hundreds of Armenian intellectuals in Constantinople.