Friday, April 24, 2015, 8:30 AM


(Left to right) Catholicos of All Armenians Karekin II, Armenian
first lady Rita Sargsyan, Armenian President Serzh Sargsyan, Russian
President Vladimir Putin, Cypriot President Nicos Anastasiades and
French President Francois Hollande lay flowers during a commemorative
ceremony for victims of the mass killings of Armenians under the
Ottoman Empire at the Tsitsernakaberd Armenian Genocide Memorial
Center in Yerevan, Armenia, 24 April 2015.

YEREVAN, ARMENIA -- The presidents of Russia and France joined other
leaders Friday at ceremonies commemorating the massacre 100 years ago
of 1.5 million Armenians by Ottoman Turks, an event which remains a
diplomatic sore point for both sides.

The annual April 24 commemorations mark the day when some 250 Armenian
intellectuals were rounded up in what is regarded as the first step
of the massacres.

An estimated 1.5 million died in the massacres, deportations and
forced marches that began in 1915 as Ottoman officials worried that
the Christian Armenians would side with Russia, its enemy in the
World War I.

The event is widely viewed by historians as genocide but modern Turkey,
the successor to the Ottoman Empire, vehemently rejects the charge,
saying that the toll has been inflated, and that those killed were
victims of civil war and unrest.

On the eve of the centennial, Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan
insisted that his nation's ancestors never committed genocide.

Russian President Vladimir Putin, French President Francois Hollande
and other dignitaries assembled Friday morning at the Tsitsernakaberd
memorial complex in the capital, Yerevan.

Each leader walked along the memorial with a single yellow rose
and put it into the center of a wreath resembling a forget-me-not,
a flower that was made the symbol of the commemoration.


People lay flowers at the Tsitsernakaberd Memorial, on April 24, 2015
in Yerevan, as part of the Armenian genocide centenary commemoration.

"We will never forget the tragedy that your people went through,"
Hollande said.

France is home to a sizeable Armenian community. Among the French
Armenians at Yerevan was 90-year old singer Charles Aznavour, who
was born in Paris to a family of massacre survivors.

Russian President Vladimir Putin used his speech to warn of the
dangers of nationalism as well as "Russophobia" in a clear dig at
the West-leaning government in Ukraine.

Earlier this month, Turkey recalled its ambassadors to Vienna and
the Vatican after Austria and Pope Francis described the killings
as genocide.

The European Parliament has also triggered Turkey's ire by passing a
non-binding resolution to commemorate "the centenary of the Armenian

Armenian President Serge Sarkisian expressed hope that recent steps
to recognize the massacre as genocide will help "dispel the darkness
of 100 years of denial."


(L-R) French President Francois Hollande, Cypriot President Nicos
Anastasiades, Russian President Vladimir Putin and Armenia's
Apostolic Church leader, Catholicos Garegin II walk as they leave
the Tsitsernakaberd Memorial in Yerevan on April 24, 2015 after
attending a commemoration ceremony for the 100th anniversary of the
Armenian genocide.

Armenians and Turks planned to march in Istanbul's main square to
remember the Armenian intellectuals who were rounded up in the city
100 years ago and to urge the government into recognizing genocide.

A small nationalist group planned a protest denouncing the accusations
of genocide.

Sarkisian welcomed the rally in Taksim Square to honor the dead,
calling them "strong people who are doing an important thing for
their motherland."

Turkish Prime Minister Ahmet Davutoglu earlier this week issued a
message of condolence to the descendants of the victims, without
calling the killings genocide.

On Friday, Volkan Bozkir, minister in charge of Turkey's relations with
the European Union, attended a service at the Armenian Patriarchate
in Istanbul to honor the dead in the 1915 massacre -- a first by a
Turkish government official.

"We respect the pain experienced by our Armenian brothers," Bozkir
said. "We are in no way opposed to the commemoration of this pain...

We felt indebted to attend this service."

From: Baghdasarian