Armenians are marking the centenary of the massacre of up to 1.5 million of their people allegedly by Ottoman forces, with world leaders holding a minute’s silence in the capital, Yerevan.
Armenian President Serzh Sarkisian and First Lady Rita Sarkisian were joined on Friday by the leaders of France and Russia marking the event that still remains a diplomatic minefield around the world.
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“Recognition of the genocide is a triumph of human conscience and justice over intolerance and hatred,” Sarkisian said during a commemoration at a hilltop memorial in Yerevan.
In a speech at the same ceremony, French President Francois Hollande urged modern day Turkey to end its refusal to recognise the massacre as “genocide”.
A law adopted by France in 2001 on recognition of the killings as genocide was “an act of truth”, Hollande told an audience that also included the leaders of Cyprus and Serbia and delegates from some 60 countries.
President Vladimir Putin for his part said Russia was standing shoulder to shoulder with ex-Soviet Armenia, still a close ally for Moscow in the region.
Meanwhile, the parliament in Germany, Turkey’s biggest trade partner in the European Union, risked a diplomatic rupture with Ankara and upsetting its own many ethnic Turkish residents by joining the many Western scholars and two dozen countries to use the word, “genocide.”
Its resolution, approved overwhelmingly, marks a significant change of stance in a country which has worked hard to come to terms with its responsibility for the murder of six million Jews in the Holocaust.
The annual April 24 commemorations mark the day when about 250 Armenian intellectuals were rounded up in what is regarded as the first step of the massacres.
The event is widely viewed by historians as genocide but modern Turkey, the successor to the Ottoman empire, vehemently rejects the charge, saying that the toll has been inflated, and that those killed were victims of civil war and unrest.
On Friday, Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan said that he was aware of what Armenians went through, adding that “sincerely shared their pain.”
“You [Armenians] should know that the gates of our hearts are open to grandchildren of all Ottoman Armenians,” he said in his message read out during a religious ceremony at Armenian Patriarchate in Istanbul.
“Today, we work with our citizens, friends, regardless of their religious and ethnic identities, to achieve better days on the basis of peace and brotherhood.”
Hundreds of thousands of Armenians will later join a procession to the mass killing memorial carrying candles and flowers to lay at the eternal flame in Yerevan.
Members of the Armenian diaspora that came into existence as a result of the mass killing that went on until 1917 were also to commemorate the sombre anniversary in cities around the world.
In the Iranian capital Tehran, thousands of Iranian Armenians gathered at the St. Sarkis Cathedral to mark the event.
Turkey has said up to 300,000 people were killed, but mostly due to war and starvation, and rejects the use of the term “genocide”.
On Wednesday Turkey recalled its ambassador to Vienna in response to Austrian legislators’ decision to condemn the massacre as “genocide”.