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France marks first national commemoration of Armenian genocide

Eric Feferberg, AFP | Paris Mayor Anne Hidalgo, French PM Edouard Philippe and co-president of Coordination Council of Armenian organisations of France, Mourad Franck Papazian at an Armenian genocide anniversary commemoration, April 24, 2019.

France held its first "national day of commemoration of the Armenian genocide" on Wednesday, fulfilling a pledge by President Emmanuel Macron that sparked an angry response from the Turkish government.

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Macron announced the commemoration at a meeting with representatives of the country’s large Armenian community in February, honouring a promise made during his 2017 presidential campaign.

"France is, first and foremost, the country that knows how to look history in the face,” he said at the time, noting that France was among the first countries to denounce the World War I slaughter of Armenians by their Ottoman rulers.

France was the first major European country to recognise the massacres as genocide in 2001, following a lengthy struggle that has strained relations with Turkey.

Angry response from Ankara

For decades, Armenia and Turkey have been at odds over whether the World War I killings and deportations which Armenia says left 1.5 million dead should be described as genocide.

Turkey accepts that many Armenians living in the Ottoman Empire were killed but denies that the killings were systematically orchestrated and constitute a genocide.

Macron’s announcement in February drew an angry response from Ankara, with a spokesman for Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan declaring: “No one can sully our history.”

French MP Jacques Marilossian, a member of Macron's Republic on the Move (LREM) party whose grandparents immigrated to France from Armenia, told FRANCE 24 that his grandparents never spoke about the genocide. More than a century later, Marilossian said he did not blame Turkey or the Turkish people, but the Turkish government, called “the Young Turks” at that time. "We should find a way to tell them we are not blaming Turkey for that [the massacres]. We are blaming the Turkish government in 1915."

‘We are not blaming Turkey, we are blaming Turkish government of 1915’

Earlier this month, Turkey also chastised the Italian parliament for approving a motion to officially recognise the killings as genocide.

Armenians commemorate the massacres on April 24 – the day in 1915 when thousands of Armenian intellectuals suspected of harbouring nationalist sentiment and being hostile to Ottoman rule were rounded up.

‘Historical accuracy and reconciliation’

French Prime Minister Edouard Philippe led the commemorations in France on Wednesday, laying flowers at a Monument for the Armenian Genocide erected on the northern bank of the river Seine in April 2003.

"France intends to contribute to the recognition of the Armenian genocide as a crime against humanity, against civilisation," said Philippe.

"It will not be impressed by any lies, by any pressure, what we are looking for is historical accuracy and reconciliation," he said.

(FRANCE 24 with AFP)

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