Sebastien Malo

The Daily Star
http://www.dailystar.com.lb/article.asp?editi on_id=1&categ_id=1&article_id=114202
April 26 2010

Organizers appalled by absence of Government representatives

BEIRUT: Tens of thousands of Lebanese of Armenian decent rallied
Saturday to commemorate the massacres of their relatives at the hands
of Ottoman Turks almost a century ago, while organizers and political
leaders expressed their worries at Turkey's growing influence in the
region and in Lebanon.

The boisterous crowd of Armenians who gathered at the yearly
demonstration reaffirmed the claim that 1.5 million Armenians where
killed in a genocide by Ottoman Turks between 1915 and 1923.

Sixty-thousand Armenians ignored the political divisions that
frequently pit them against one another and marched together according
to organizers.

The protesters waved banners calling for the recognition of the
genocide and flags of Armenia and Lebanon as they walked on the coastal
highway - partially closed for the occasion - under the curious eyes
of drivers caught in the opposite lane's congested traffic. Several
troops of scouts, clad with their multicolor uniforms, could be seen
chanting slogans and drumming as they strolled alongside families
and dignitaries. They paraded for nearly two hours after a morning
Mass at the Armenian Catholicostate in Antelias and headed to the
Bourj Hammoud Municipal Stadium where they listened to speeches by
Armenian political and social leaders.

"This march is very important because 10 decades after the Ottomans
committed the first genocide, authorities are still denying it took
place," said 64-year-old Mardig, a teacher and businessman of Armenian
descent whose parents settled in Sidon in 1920.

For the Armenians whose relatives have been compelled to live in
exile, universal recognition of the genocide has become a crucial
quest. "Everybody knows the reality, but because of economic reasons,
great powers are denying it happened," said Mardig, his son at his
side. Since the collapse of the Ottoman Empire in 1922 and the
subsequent creation of modern day Turkey, authorities in Ankara
have persistently denied the contentious accusations of genocide
and claimed that both Turks and Armenians were killed as a result of
their empire's chaotic breakdown.

So far, only 20 countries - including Lebanon - have assigned the
stigmatizing label of genocide to the massacres, often as a result
of the large number of Armenian descendents among their population.

Ankara has generally responded with hostility when countries have
passed resolutions recognizing the genocide. Last month, such a
declaration by the US House of Representatives' Foreign Affairs
Committee saw Turkey reconsider its ties with Washington.

Several organizers and political leaders said that with Lebanon's
Parliament having already passed a resolution recognizing the genocide
in 2000, they hoped the government would now curtail its growing
economic ties with Turkey, and that it would show less contempt toward
its Armenian population.

With Turkey's growing importance in the region, Armenians accuse the
Lebanese government of increasingly taking decisions that please their
Turkish counterparts, but are unpopular among the Armenian community.

In 2008, for instance, the Lebanese government stripped Martyrs Day -
a tribute to the killing of Lebanese intellectuals by the Ottomans -
from the list of public holidays celebrated in the country, a move
many Armenians have yet to stomach.

During a speech in Bourj Hammoud Municipal Stadium, Armenian Tashnag
Party MP Hagop Pakradounian warned his Armenian audience against the
growing influence of Turkey in the Middle East and in Lebanon. "We
demand not to fall to Turkey's ambitions in the region. Turkey
is trying to take a role of mediator, but that is only a cover to
... take control of the Middle East. We won't let Turkey go too far,
especially in Lebanon," he said.

Organizers said they were particularly appalled by the absence of
representatives of the heads of the government's executive branch,
which they said they perceived as a snub. "I'm very upset," said Krikor
Khasholian, a member of the manifestation's organizing committee. "We
sent them an invitation and expected they would [reply]."

"The Lebanese are keener to establish relations with Turkey than
to respect their Lebanese citizens," added Maral Joulouyan, another

Several protesters at the rally said this year's march was particularly
significant given the current peace talks between Armenia and
Turkey. The talks are hugely unpopular among the Armenian Diaspora,
which objects ways in which border issues are being discussed,
and given Ankara's refusal to recognize the genocide as part of the
process. "The talks have been a slap in the face of the whole Armenian
Diaspora," said Rafi, an engineer at the march.

The event was organized by the Central Committee of the Commemoration
of the Armenian Genocide in Lebanon, which comprises all Armenian
political parties, organizations and associations.