The annual daylong procession began with an official wreath-laying ceremony led by President Armen Sarkissian and Prime Minister Nikol Pashinian.
For the first time in many years, the country’s political leaders were not joined by Catholicos Garegin II, the supreme head of the Armenian Apostolic Church at odds with Pashinian’s government. Garegin and other high-ranking clergymen visited Tsitsernakabert separately to hold a traditional prayer service by its eternal fire.
“The pain of the immense human and territorial loss suffered by the Armenian people more than one hundred years ago still echoes in our hearts,” Sarkissian said in a statement issued on the occasion.
Sarkissian and Pashinian called for greater international recognition of the genocide, which had begun with mass arrests on April 24, 1915 of Armenian intellectuals and activists in Constantinople. An estimated 1.5 million Armenian subjects of the Ottoman Empire were massacred or starved to death in the following months and years.
Both Armenian leaders linked the genocide to last year’s war in Nagorno-Karabakh described by Yerevan as a “Turkish-Azerbaijani aggression.” Pashinian spoke of an existential “pan-Turkic threat” facing Armenia and Karabakh.
“The second Karabakh war, the Azeri-Turkish aggression aimed at annihilating the Armenians of Artsakh (Karabakh), Turkey’s expansionist foreign policy, and territorial aspirations towards Armenia testify to the revival of a genocidal ideology,” read a statement released by the prime minister. “Armenophobia is in the essence of pan-Turkism, and today we can see its most disgusting manifestations in Azerbaijan as fostered by the authorities of that country.”
Pashinian stressed at the same time that Armenia is open to a “regional dialogue” with Turkey and Azerbaijan.
“However, the dialogue we imagine cannot be engaged from a position of strength,” he said. “It can only succeed if underpinned by the principle of equality.”
“We will never question the fact of the Armenian Genocide,” added Pashinian.
Ankara continues to deny a premeditated government effort to exterminate Ottoman Turkey’s Armenian population. Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan has claimed 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 government.
The vehement Turkish 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 the Tsitsernakabert memorial when they visited Armenia in 2016 and 2001 respectively. They both officially recognized the genocide, as have the governments and/or parliaments of more than two dozen nations, including France, Germany, Russia and the United States.