COMMEMORATIONS FOR ARMENIAN MASSACRE VICTIMS HELD IN TURKEY

Human rights groups and activists gather in Istanbul to mark centenary
of the start of mass killing of Armenians by Ottoman Turks

Turkish and Armenian activists hold pictures of victims during
a commemoration for the victims of mass killings of Armenians by
Ottoman Turks at the Haydarpasa train station in Istanbul. Photograph:
Stringer/Reuters

Constanze Letsch Friday 24 April 2015 16.03 BST

More than 100 people gathered in front of the Islamic Arts museum in
Istanbul on Friday to commemorate the massacre of Armenians during
the last days of the Ottoman empire.

One hundred years ago the building - today a popular tourist attraction
- served as the Ottoman police headquarters and was the site where
the first 250 Armenian intellectuals were rounded up and incarcerated
prior to their deportation on 24 April 1915.

The commemoration, organised by Turkish and international human rights
organisations, was one of a series of events taking place in Istanbul
to mark the centenary of the Armenian genocide during which over 1.5
million Armenians were killed, according to historians' estimates.

Analysis The Armenian genocide - the Guardian briefing

Turkey has never accepted the term genocide, even though historians
have demolished its denial of responsibility for up to 1.5 million
deaths

Turkey insists the toll has been inflated and rejects that those killed
were victims of genocide, arguing that the Armenians died as a result
of civil war and general unrest during the first world war. On the
eve of the centennial, the Turkish president, Recep Tayyip Erdogan,
reiterated his view that the nation's ancestors never committed
genocide.

But at the commemoration in front of the museum, participants did
not shy away from the use of the g-word.

"This is the first time I have the opportunity to attend the
memorials", said university student Mustafa Polat, 25, a Kurd from
Diyarbakir. "I wanted to be here to remind the world of this genocide.

The truth is clear, this was a crime against humanity that Kurds were
also a part of.

"One doesn't need to be Armenian, or politically educated to recognise
this genocide, it's enough to have a conscience."

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On the "Walk to Remember" through the district of Sultanahmet the
group almost vanished between the throngs of tourists and groups of
Anzac Day visitors looking for their buses to Gallipoli.

Only a few shyly carried folded posters that read "Recognise the
Genocide", some held red carnations or violet crocuses, a stand-in
for the purple forget-me-nots that symbolise the centenary elsewhere.

There were no slogans and no chants. Riot police accompanied the
hurried march to the shore of the Golden Horn, where a boat took
the delegations to the Haydarpasa train station, from where Istanbul
Armenians were deported and sent to their deaths.

Ali Rabis, 58, an unemployed shoemaker from Istanbul, said he has
attended each public commemoration since 2010, when groups first
came together on Istanbul's central Taksim Square to remember the
1915 genocide.

"I am Turkish, which is why I come", he said. "One cannot be aware
of such horrible killings and pretend they have never happened." He
added that he hoped the commemorations would send a strong message:
"If the genocide had not happened in 1915, maybe world war two would
not have been as horrible, maybe the Holocaust would never have
happened. I want that such things never happen again."

Benjamin Abtan, president of the European Grassroots Antiracist
Movement (Egam) that has been part of the commemorations since 2011,
said that despite the modest numbers of participants, the atmosphere
in Turkey has changed.

Centenary of the Armenian genocide: descendants tell their family's
stories

"Very different people are now taking part in the commemorations: more
young people, more women, more religious Muslims, and more Armenians
from Turkey. The Turkish media are more openly referring to the term
genocide. There is more confidence", he said, adding that the movement
had also become more international. "When I came the first time in
2011, I was the only person who was not a Turkish national. Today
there are delegations from over 15 countries, including from Armenia."

On Friday morning, the Russian president, Vladimir Putin, and the
French president, Francois Hollande, joined other state leaders at
the genocide memorial complex in the Armenian capital Yerevan. After
a flower-laying ceremony, Armenia's President Serge Sarkisian told the
guests: "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."

In an angry reaction earlier this month, Turkey recalled its
ambassadors to the Vatican and to the Austrian capital Vienna after
both countries recognised the Armenian massacres as genocide. A
non-binding resolution passed by the European parliament to commemorate
the centenary of the genocide prompted a similarly furious reply,
with Erdogan saying that "such a decision would go in one ear and
out the other".

However, the tone of his message read during the memorial service
in honour of the killed Armenians held on Friday at the Armenian
Patriarchate in Istanbul was softer.

"We share the Armenians' pain with sincerity," his message read. "The
doors of our hearts are open to the deceased Ottoman Armenians'
grandchildren."

The Turkish president underlined that Armenians had made important
economic and cultural contributions to the Ottoman empire, while
insisting Armenians were only one of "millions of people from every
nation living in the Ottoman empire's borders" who also died during
the first world war.

For the first time in the history of the Turkish republic, a Turkish
state official attended the church service. Volkan Bozkir, minister
in charge of Turkey's EU relations, said he was honoured to be able
to attend the service, and added: "We respect the pain felt by our
Armenian brothers".

Later on Friday a rally of Turkish and international human rights
groups and others is planned in Istanbul's Taksim Square. Sarkisian
lauded the attendants as "strong people who are rendering an important
service to their country".

http://www.theguardian.com/world/2015/apr/24/commemorations-for-armenian-massacre-victims-held-in-turkey