Armenia decries crimes against 'civilisation' on genocide anniversary

Yerevan (AFP) –


Armenian Prime Minister Nikol Pashinyan on Friday decried crimes against "civilisation" and demanded an apology from Turkey as his country marked the 105th anniversary of the WWI-era Armenian genocide.

The genocide is a "crime not only against our ethnic identity, but also against human civilisation," Pashinyan said in a message after laying flowers at a genocide memorial in the capital Yerevan.

Commemorative events were scaled back this year due to the coronavirus restrictions imposed throughout the country, and the Yerevan memorial was closed to the public.

In a short video address at the memorial, Pashinyan said that after more than a century, "the consequences of the genocide have not been eliminated."

"Turkey has not yet apologised for what it did," he said, adding that Yerevan "demands" that Ankara officially recognise the massacres as genocide.

Armenians say up to 1.5 million people were killed as the Ottoman Empire was falling apart during World War I in what amounted to genocide, a claim supported by some 30 countries.

Turkey fiercely rejects the genocide label, arguing that 300,000 to 500,000 Armenians and at least as many Turks died in civil strife when Armenians rose up against their Ottoman rulers and sided with invading Russian troops.

Yerevan has long demanded Ankara provide financial compensation and restore property rights to the descendants of those killed in the 1915-1918 massacres, which Armenians call Meds Yeghern or the Great Crime.

Pashinyan said Armenians "are still facing the challenges posed to our people at the outset of the twentieth century."

He said that instead of visiting the memorial, Armenians worldwide will be able to send their names to a mobile number to have them displayed on the pillars of the memorial until dawn.

Commemorations started in Armenia on Thursday evening, when street lights were switched off and church bells chimed across the country.

Yerevan residents also switched off lights in their homes and many lit candles or waved mobile telephone flashlights at windowsills.

Last month, Armenia -- which has reported 1,596 coronavirus cases and 27 deaths -- declared a state of emergency and imposed a nationwide lockdown to slow the spread of the infection.