Ceremonies are being held in Armenia to mark the centenary of the start of mass killings of Armenians by Ottoman Turks, reports BBC. The presidents of France and Russia joined other leaders at the memorial for the victims on the outskirts of the capital, Yerevan. Armenia says up to 1.5 million people died, a figure disputed by Turkey.
Turkey strongly objects to the use of the term genocide to describe the killings and the issue has soured relations between the nations. Turkey accepts that atrocities were committed but argues there was no systematic attempt to destroy the Christian Armenian people. Turkey says many innocent Muslim Turks also died in the turmoil of war. A memorial service will also be held in Turkey on Friday and its prime minister, Ahmet Davutoglu, has said the country will “share the pain” of Armenians. But he reiterated Turkey’s stance that the killings were not genocide.
Turkey is on Friday also hosting ceremonies to mark the 100th anniversary of the start of the Battle of Gallipoli. However, the actual fighting there began on 25 April, and Armenian President Serzh Sargsyan has accused Turkey of “trying to divert world attention” from the Yerevan commemorations.
After a flower-laying ceremony in Yerevan, Mr Sargsyan addressed the guests, saying: “I am grateful to all those who are here to once again confirm your commitment to human values, to say that nothing is forgotten, that after 100 years we remember.” US President Barack Obama issued a carefully worded statement for the anniversary, referring to “one of the worst atrocities of the 20th Century”, without using the term genocide.
During his 2008 presidential election campaign, then senator Obama had vowed to “recognise the Armenian genocide” and in his new statement said: “I have consistently stated my own view of what occurred in 1915, and my view has not changed.” However, his phrasing has angered Armenian Americans.
Bryan Ardouny, executive director of the Armenian Assembly of America, said in a statement: “President Obama’s exercise in linguistic gymnastics on the Armenian genocide is unbecoming of the standard he himself set and that of a world leader today.”