Sarah Marcus

Globe and Mail
April 25 2010

Armenians disagree whether opening border should be conditional on
neighbouring Turks acknowledging genocide

.Armenians came in the tens of thousands, climbing slowly up a steep
hill to lay flowers at a monument in the country's capital, Yerevan,
commemorating up to 1.5 million of their forebears who were massacred
under the Ottoman Turks during the First World War.

This year marks the 95th anniversary of the mass killings, recognized
by some countries, including Canada, as genocide. To Armenians'
continuing outrage, Turkey rejects this label, accepting that many
Christian Armenians - though not up to 1.5 million - were killed,
but stressing that this happened as part of the wider conflict and
that many Muslim Turks and Kurds died too.

This year, for the first time however, a commemorative event will be
held in Istanbul, led by a group of Turkish intellectuals.

The mood among the huge crowds paying their respects in Yerevan was
reflective and sober, with many people reduced to tears.

"There is not one person in Yerevan who did not lose at least one
family member in the genocide,' says 25-year-old Gagik Petrosyan,
whose great grandmother was killed.

The period of terror commemorated on Saturday was something that
100-year-old Tigranuhi Asatrian witnessed first hand.

In 1918, when she was eight, she and her family fled their village in
the region of Kars, then located on the western fringes of the Russian
Empire, only escaping alive because Turks with whom her father worked
warned him of the violence being unleashed against Armenians.

Despite this warning, which saved her life, Ms. Asatrian said she
cannot forgive the Turks.

"I saw too much to forgive. I saw children raped. I saw a five-year-old
boy whipped to death," she said in an interview in the one-room
Yerevan apartment she shares with her son and daughter-in-law.

She often stands on her small balcony, staring out at snowy Mount
Ararat, the enduring symbol of Armenia, looming over the city.

"It is as if she is remembering her homeland," said Gayane Asatrian,
her daughter-in-law.

Ararat is now out of reach for her mother-in-law, located over the
border in modern Turkey, in an area that Armenians consider their
rightful land.

For some of the many ethnic Armenians scattered across the globe,
only their ancestral turf feels like home.

Armenian-Canadian Zabelle Berberian, 54, is one of them. Her forebears
fled the genocide and arrived, via Lebanon, in Canada. She left Toronto
in 1986, fulfilling a lifelong dream of getting married in Armenia -
her husband is also Armenian-Canadian - and then settling in Yerevan.

"I feel at home in Armenia. The culture brought me back here,"
she says.

Many Armenians abroad are active lobbyists for wider international
genocide recognition.

Recent attempts to quell nearly a century of animosity between Turkey
and Armenia faltered two days before this year's anniversary.

Armenia's President Serzh Sargsyan announced on Thursday that his
country would put on hold but not abandon negotiations to normalize
relations with Turkey, which were kick-started a year ago.

Once ratified by both countries' parliaments, the agreement would have
seen the border open, but that opportunity appears stymied for now.

An open border would benefit both countries, increasing Turkey's
influence regionally and giving Armenia an economic boost, and some
observers say progress may still be made.

Some Armenian critics said that no agreement should have been made
until Turkey recognizes the killings as genocide, but many Armenians
want the border to open and think that it should not be linked to
this question.

As the politicians wrangled, Ms. Asatrian mapped a seemingly simple
yet so far elusive path forward.

"Turkey should ask for forgiveness and Armenia should give it,"
she says, "and our peoples should live well together."