The annual daylong procession began with an official wreath-laying ceremony at the hilltop memorial led by Pashinian and President Vahagn Khachaturian.
The country’s political leaders were again 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 genocide began 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.
“The goal of Ottoman Turkey was to exterminate our ancestors,” Pashinian said in a statement released on the occasion.
He called for a greater international recognition of the genocide. He stressed that Armenia will strive for it “not to increase regional tensions but, on the contrary, to defuse the region.”
In that regard, Pashinian again touted his government’s commitment to “opening an era of peaceful development” in the region after the devastating 2020 war with Azerbaijan, saying that it will strengthen Armenia’s independence and security.
“This is also a reason why we are holding talks aimed at normalizing relations between Armenia and Turkey. We hope that the aspirations of the Turkish side are sincere and that we will be able to move forward in this direction,” added his statement.
Special envoys named by the Turkish and Armenian governments held two rounds of negotiations earlier this year. They are expected to meet again in the coming weeks and months.
Armenian opposition leaders claim that Pashinian is ready to make sweeping concessions to Ankara, including on the genocide issue, in return for the opening of the Turkish-Armenian border and establishment of diplomatic relations between the two nations. Pashinian’s government and political allies maintain that Yerevan stands for an unconditional normalization of Turkish-Armenian ties.
Turkey continues to deny a premeditated government effort to exterminate Ottoman Turkey’s Armenian population. Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan has alleged 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.
Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu underscored Ankara’s stance on Saturday when he publicly made a hand gesture associated with the Turkish ultranationalist group Gray Wolves during a visit to Uruguay. Cavusoglu gestured to members of the South American country’s Armenian community demonstrating outside the Turkish Embassy in the capital Montevideo.
Uruguay is the first country to have officially recognized the Armenian genocide in 1965. Thirty other nations, including Russia, France, Germany and the United States, have followed suit since then.
Pope Francis and his predecessor John Paul II prayed at the Tsitsernakabert memorial when they visited Armenia in 2016 and 2001 respectively. They both described the mass killings as genocide.
The vehement Turkish denials of the genocide 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.