YEREVAN, April 24. /ARKA/. Armenians are commemorating and honoring around the world the victims of the Armenian genocide committed in Ottoman Empire. Every year on April 24 tens of thousands people from the Armenian capital and the provinces are taking flowers to Tsitsernakaberd Memorial in Yerevan.
As usual, the Genocide Memorial will be visited by the president of Armenia, members of the government and the parliament, clerical leadership, diplomats, hosted politicians, cultural workers, intellectuals. Mass protests will be staged outside Turkish embassies over the world. A traditional march under candle light and Turkish flag burning was held by youth in Yerevan on Wednesday night, on the eve of the commemoration.
HISTORY OF GENOCIDE
Massacres of Armenians because of their ethnicity in Ottoman Turkey in 1915 were the first genocide in the XX century. April 24 is considered a symbolic day to commemorate the victims of the crime planned with intent to destroy Armenians. On that day about thousands of Armenian intellectuals – scientists, writers, artists, physicians, clericals and public figures were arrested in Constantinople in 1915 and killed afterwards.
The second stage of what was planned as the “final solution” to the Armenian issue was drafting about 300,000 Armenians into the Turkish Army where they were disarmed and killed by comrades-in-arms.
The third stage of the Genocide was marked by slaughters, deportation and forced “death marches” of women, children and old people to the Syrian dessert. During the deportation hundreds of thousands were killed by Turkish soldiers, gendarms and Kurdish gangs. Whoever survived starved to death or died of epidemics. Thousands of women and kids suffered violence. Tens of thousands were forcibly converted into Islam.
There were two million Armenians living in Ottoman Empire on the eve of the World War I. About one and a half million were exterminated in the period from 1915 to 1923. The remaining half a million fled to countries all over the world.
The purposeful destruction of Armenians was not limited to the genocide period. As early as after the Russian-Turkish war of 1877-1878 Christians of Balkan countries were unyoked from Ottoman Empire. By 1912 the Empire lost almost all its possessions in Europe, apart from Istanbul and the environs. Hence, Armenians of Western Armenia found themselves to be the only Christians still under the yoke.
In order to keep hold of the Asian parts the government of Ottoman Empire undertook forced assimilation or destruction of Western Armenians who were an obstacle in the way of creating a Pan-Turkish state.
Systematic extermination of Armenians in their historic homeland started in the beginning of 90ies in XIX century and peaked during the World War I.
The 1915 Genocide was initiated by Young Turks’ “Union and Progress” party supported by the German Empire, ally of the Ottoman Empire in the World War I. The perpetrators of the crime managed to avoid punishment but were found and assassinated by Armenian patriots in different ends of the world.
Best representatives of the world’s intellectual elites, Anatole France, Franz Werfel, Valery Briusov, Maksim Gorky, Fridtjof Nansen and many others voiced their support for Armenians suffering the genocide.
A joint statement made by Russia, France and Great Britain in May 1915 was the first international response to extermination of Armenians. The crime against the Armenian nation was defined as a “new crime against humanity and civilization”. The super powers warned the Ottoman Empire of the responsibility for the crime. The US Senate passed decisions on status of Armenians in 1916, 1919 and 1920.
Uruguay’s parliament was the first to pass a special decree recognizing and condemning the tragedy of 1915 (on April 20 1915). Laws and decisions on the Armenian genocide were later adopted by the European parliament, Russia’s State Duma and parliaments of other countries, particularly of Cyprus, Argentina, Canada, Greece, Lebanon, Belgium, France, Sweden, Slovakia, Netherlands, Poland, Germany, Venezuela, Lithuania, Chile and Vatican.
The Armenian Genocide is recognized by some forty US states, some states of Brazil and Australia, about 40 communes of Italy, Scotland, Wales, Ireland, Swiss cantons of Geneva and Vaud, as well as by tens of international organizations, including World Council of Churches, Association of Genocide Scholars, Human Rights’ League, the Elie Wiesel Foundation for Humanity, US union of Jewish communities.
Yet, the successor of the Ottoman Empire, modern Turkey denies the fact of the genocide using diplomatic pressure to prevent international recognition and condemnation. Pressure is put also on the United States that have not yet acknowledged and condemned the genocide fearing to spoil its relations with strategic ally Ankara.
The United States presidents have referenced the Armenian Genocide in various forms in their addresses every April 24, but refrained from using the “genocide” term. The current US president Barak Obama promised to acknowledge and condemn the Armenian genocide in his election campaign and used “mets yeghern” in his traditional addresses, which stands for “genocide” in Armenian.
The US Senate committee adopted an Armenian Genocide Resolution on April 10, with a vote of 12 in favor and 5 opposed. The resolution urged the US president to ensure that U.S. foreign policy “reflects appropriate understanding and sensitivity concerning issues related to human rights, crimes against humanity, ethnic cleansing, and genocide documented in the United States record relating to the Armenian Genocide”. But the Turkish authorities put up tough resistance to these efforts.
On the 99th anniversary of the Armenian Genocide Turkish prime-minister Recep Erdogan made an unexpected statement on the Armenian genocide. During Wednesday’s parliament session he delivered his condolences to grandchildren of Armenians killed in the events in the beginning of XX century.
"It is our hope and belief that the peoples of an ancient and unique geography, who share similar customs and manners, will be able to talk to each other about the past with maturity and to remember together their losses in a decent manner”, Erdogan said.
“The incidents of the First World War are our shared pain,” Erdogan said, adding that millions of people of “of all religions and ethnicities” died during the war. “Using the events of 1915 as an excuse for hostility against Turkey and turning this issue into a matter of political conflict is inadmissible,” Erdogan added.
"And it is with this hope and belief that we wish that the Armenians who lost their lives in the context of the early 20th century rest in peace, and we convey our condolences to their grandchildren."
Despite his conciliatory tone, Erdogan also said it was "inadmissible" for the events of 1915 to be used as an excuse today for hostility against Turkey, The Guardian says.
The executive director of the Armenian National Committee of America said that Turkey was increasingly isolated over its version of what happened in 1915.
"Ankara is repackaging its genocide denials," Aram Hamparian said in response to Erdogan's remarks. "The fact remains that, as this cold-hearted and cynical ploy so plainly demonstrates, Turkey is, today, escalating its denial of truth and obstruction of justice for the Armenian genocide."
According to turcologist Artak Shakaryan, Erdogan’s statement is addressed not to Armenians but to mass media worldwide. The purpose of the statement is to distract attention and check what will be the response to their message, Shakaryan told Novosti-Armenia. According to the expert, Erdogan is trying to voice old ideas in a new sauce saying archives are open and suggesting to create a join commission. The expert is convinced the statement will have no significant impact on Turkish society or Erdogan’s rating as there is nothing epoch-making in his statement.