Armenians marched in Yerevan on an annual pilgrimage Saturday to honour the victims of mass killings by Ottoman Turks between 1915 and 1917. In France, home to a large expatriate Armenian community, celebrations will be held on Paris' Champs Elysees.
AFP - Tens of thousands of Armenians on Saturday marked the 95th anniversary of mass killings under the Ottoman Empire amid fresh tensions with Turkey over the collapse of reconciliation efforts.
As light rain fell over the Armenian capital Yerevan, they marched in procession to lay flowers at a hilltop memorial to the massacres, which Armenians insist constituted genocide.
Turkey fiercely rejects the genocide label and the dispute has poisoned relations between the two neighbours for decades.
Unprecedented reconciliation efforts begun last year fell apart just before the anniversary, when Armenia announced it was halting ratification of agreements normalising ties.
President Serzh Sarkisian, who attended a solemn ceremony at the memorial with the head of the Armenian Apostolic Church, Karekin II, said in a statement that international recognition that the killings constituted genocide was inevitable.
Armenian massacre survivors recount their experience
"We thank all of those who in many countries of the world, including in Turkey, understand the importance of preventing crimes against humanity and who stand with us in this struggle. This process has an inevitable momentum which has no alternative," he said.
Armenians say up to 1.5 million of their kin were systematically killed between 1915 and 1917 as the Ottoman Empire, the predecessor of modern Turkey, was falling apart.
The events are marked every year on April 24, the date in 1915 when Ottoman authorities rounded up and arrested more than 200 Armenian intellectuals and community leaders in Constantinople.
Turkey categorically rejects the genocide label and says between 300,000 and 500,000 Armenians and at least as many Turks died in civil strife when Armenians took up arms in eastern Anatolia and sided with invading Russian troops.
Armenia and Turkey signed a landmark deal in October to establish diplomatic ties and reopen their border, in a move internationally hailed as a key step in overcoming the two countries' longstanding enmity.
But ratification of the deal faltered amid mutual recriminations that the other side was not committed to reconciliation and Armenia on Thursday announced it was removing the agreement from its parliament's agenda.
Yerevan blamed Turkey for stalling ratification and linking the agreement with Armenia's conflict with Turkish ally Azerbaijan over the breakaway Nagorny Karabakh region.
Analysts said the announcement left almost no hope of the process quickly moving forward.
But observers also said the process had not been a complete failure as it was the closest the two sides had come to reconciliation and had prompted debate about the Ottoman-era events.
For the first time in Turkish history, a group of more than 60 intellectuals, academics and artists called for a meeting in Istanbul on Saturday to commemorate the events of 1915.
Ahmet Insel, a professor of economics from Istanbul's Galatasaray University who is one of the organizers, said their aim was to draw attention to the human tragedy of the events of 1915.
"We want to register that the events were a great murder for humanity without getting dragged down into the discussion on whether they constituted genocide or not," he told Turkey's NTV news channel this week.
The governments or parliaments of many countries, including France and Canada, have recognised the massacres as genocide and Armenians will be watching Saturday for US President Barack Obama's annual statement on the killings.
Last year Obama avoided using the politically charged term "genocide" in a move analysts said was aimed at not endangering the reconciliation efforts.
Date created : 2010-04-24