YEREVAN (RFE/RL)–Hundreds of thousands of people silently marched to a hilltop memorial in Yerevan on Saturday in an annual remembrance of more than one million fellow Armenians slaughtered by Ottoman Turks during Armenian Genocide.
An incessant stream of people passed through the Dzidzernagapert memorial to the genocide victims throughout the day, laying flowers by its eternal fire surrounded by twelve inward-bending basalt columns.
The day-long procession began in the morning after a traditional prayer service held there by the supreme leader of the Armenian Apostolic Church, Catholicos Karekin II, in the presence of President Serzh Sarkisian and other top state officials. Karekin presided over a special liturgy in memory of the dead at the main church cathedral in Echmiadzin shortly afterwards.
April 24 marks the 95th anniversary of the arrest of more than 250 Armenian political leaders, intellectuals and artists in Constantinople ordered by the government of the Ottoman Empire. Their subsequent executions were followed by massacres and deportations of Armenians in what is now eastern Turkey and other parts of the crumbling empire. An estimated 1.5 million victims lost their lives death marches to the Syrian desert during the genocide and nearly 90 percent of the Armenian Homeland.
The stark memorial perched on Dzidzernagapert Hill overlooking central Yerevan is the focal point of the annual genocide commemorations in Armenia and the Armenian Diaspora communities around the world.
In a written address to the nation issued on the occasion, President Serzh Sarkisian said the 1915-1918 Genocide “had no precedents in the history of not only the Armenian people but the entire world.”
“The Ottoman Empire’s state machine carried out a plan to annihilate the Armenians through all of its structures that acted in accordance with explicit orders,” he said. “This day of 1915 became a watershed. The millennia-long history of the Armenian people was cut and divided into two parts: before and after the watershed.”
Against all odds, continued Sarkisian, the Armenians have managed to “return to the international political arena” and are now determined to prevent “a repeat of such crimes.”
The Armenian leader also thanked foreign backers of the decades-long Armenian campaign for international recognition of the genocide. “There is no alternative to the inevitable expansion of this process,” he said, reaffirming his government’s support for the drive.
Successive Turkish governments have denied a planned government effort to exterminate the Ottoman Empire’s Armenian population. They have claimed that Ottoman Armenians died in much smaller numbers and because of siding with invading Russian troops. Accordingly, they have strongly condemned foreign governments and parliaments recognizing the massacres as genocide.