Armenia to mark Ottoman slayings, predicts 1.5 million turnout for march
by Simon Ostrovsky
Agence France Presse — English
April 19, 2005 Tuesday 2:57 AM GMT
YEREVAN April 19 — Armenia marks the 90th anniversary Sunday of
mass killings by the Ottoman Turks, a slaughter that is among the
most painful episodes of Armenia’s ages-old history and that remains
a monumental impediment to modern relations between Armenia and Turkey.
Organizers have planned a week of events to commemorate the killings
and have laid on a program that culminates Sunday in a solemn march
that authorities predicted would be attended by 1.5 million people,
including thousands of diaspora Armenians expected to attend.
“We expect 1.5 million people to participate in the memorial march
to symbolize the number of victims of the genocide on April 24,”
said Aram Simonian, one the event’s organizers.
Although the entire population of this country nestled in the Caucausus
mountains bordering Iran, Turkey and Georgia does not exceed three
million, Simonian said many ethnic Armenians who reside in France,
the United States and elsewhere would visit their ancestral homeland
for the occasion.
Armenia hopes that the march and other events leading up to the
anniversary this weekend will draw attention to the massacres and
put pressure on Turkey to recognize them as a genocide.
It was on April 24, 1915 that the Ottoman Turkish authorities arrested
some 200 Armenian community leaders in the start of what Armenia
and many other countries say was an organized genocidal campaign to
eliminate ethnic Armenians from the Ottoman Empire during World War I.
Armenians say up to 1.5 million of their kinsmen perished in
orchestrated killings between 1915 and 1917 as the Ottoman Empire,
the predecessor of modern Turkey, was falling apart.
Ankara counters that 300,000 Armenians and thousands of Turks were
killed in “civil strife” during World War I when the Armenians rose
against their Ottoman rulers and sided with invading Russian troops.
Armenia hopes also to draw international attention to its cause as
Turkey bids to join the European Union (EU), saying it should face
up to its past before joining the bloc.
“We would very much like it if this issue was raised by this
organization (the EU) as a prerequisite,” Armenia’s Foreign Minister
Vardan Oskanian said recently.
Ankara has shown more willingness to review its history in the face
of this week’s events which are potentially damaging to its image
and its EU accession talks.
Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan proposed recently the
creation of a joint Armenian-Turkish commission to review the issue,
though officials expressed confidence that the study would confirm
Turkey’s current position.
“Turkey is ready to face its history, Turkey has no problem with its
history,” Turkish Foreign Minister Abdullah Gul said.
The killings have already been acknowledged as genocide by a number
of countries, including France, Canada and Switzerland but have not
been recognized as genocide by Israel and the United States which
enjoy strong strategic relations with Turkey.
Ankara recognized Armenia’s independence when it broke away from the
Soviet Union in 1991 but has refused to establish diplomatic relations
with Yerevan because of Armenian efforts to secure international
condemnation of the World War I massacres as genocide.
In 1993, Turkey shut its border with Armenia in a show of solidarity
with its close ally Azerbaijan, which was at war with Armenia over
the Nagorny-Karabakh enclave, dealing a heavy economic blow on the
Armenia plans to hold a series of seminars, exhibitions, film
screenings and concerts in the lead up to Sunday’s march when churches
throughout the mountainous republic will hold memorial services.