Yerevan (AsiaNews) – Ceremonies have been held in Armenia and around the world to mark the centenary of the start of mass killings of Armenians by Ottoman Turks, a dark page in the history of the 20th century that remains a source of tension between modern Turkey – which continues to reject the term "genocide" – and part of the international community.
Yesterday’s ceremony in Yerevan began with a minute of silence in honour of the martyrs. Several foreign heads of state and government attended the ceremony in the Armenian capital, including French President Francois Hollande and his Russian counterpart, Vladimir Putin.
Lawmakers and ministers came from various countries, including the United States, Israel and Germany. German President Joachim Gauck yesterday described the slaughter of 1.5 million people as genocide. Card Kurt Koch, president of the Pontifical Council for Christian Unity, represented the Holy See.
During the memorial service, world leaders laid wreaths at the eternal flame inside the Armenian Genocide memorial complex, which includes 12 basalt slabs that represent the 12 lost Armenian provinces that are now part of Turkey.
The international delegations then visited the museum dedicated to the Armenian tragedy. Two priests from a local Church brought a painting depicting the canonisation of martyrs to the memorial monument.
A day earlier, Catholicos Karekin II canonised all the martyrs killed by the Ottoman Empire between 1915 and 1917 in a ceremony in Echmiadzin, a few km from the capital, at what is left of the oldest Christian cathedral (4th century). This event involved the largest number of martyrs in the history of the Church.
In his address, Armenian President Serzh Sargsyan thanked those who attended the ceremony, which in his view confirms their commitment "to human values, to say that nothing is forgotten, that after 100 years we remember."
In his speech, French President Francois Hollande said that the Armenian tragedy was one of the worst crimes of 20th century. Denying it is a threat to humanity. This is a clear message to Ankara, which refuses to characterise the mass slaughter of Armenians as genocide.
When Pope Francis marked the anniversary on 12 April, describing the slaughter of Armenians as the "first genocide of the twentieth century", he sparked criticism and threats from of Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan.
Russian President Vladimir Putin, who was in Yerevan yesterday, described the killings as "one of the most tragic disasters in the history of humankind" which "shook the whole world".
"There cannot be any justification for mass murder of people," he said. "Today we mourn together with the Armenian people."
Centennial commemorations for the Armenian Genocide were also held in various parts of the world.
In Lebanon – home to one of the largest Armenian diasporas – tens of thousands of people attended a commemoration service in Beirut.
In Jerusalem, Armenian priests held a two-hour mass in the Old City. Posters outside the church called on Turkey to recognise the mass killings as genocide.
In Tehran, hundreds of Armenian-Iranians attended a peaceful rally from an Armenian church to the Turkish Embassy.
A memorial service was held in Turkey on Friday. The country’s prime minister, Ahmet Davutoglu, said the country would "share the pain" of Armenians. However, he reiterated Turkey's stance that the killings were not genocide.
In Istanbul, Armenian and Turkish activists organised a number of activities – including concerts, discussion panels and ceremonies – in the days leading up to the 100th anniversary.