LONDON (Combined Sources)–Great Britain’s religious and political leaders joined survivors of the Holocaust–Cambodia’s killing fields and the Rwandan genocide for the country’s first Holocaust Memorial Day ceremony on January 27.
The ceremony was timed to mark the 56th anniversary of the liberation of the Auschwitz death camp in Nazi-occupied Poland–where more than a million men–women and children–many of them Jews–were exterminated by the Nazis.
A single flame lit the stage as a disembodied voice opened the ceremony: "In a century of mass murder–over 170 million human beings have been wiped off the face of the earth. Today we remember them."
Prime Minister Tony Blair–attending with the heir to the throne Prince Charles–and leaders of all of Great Britain’s political parties and religious faiths–said the passing of time made it more vital than ever to remember the perpetrators of these horrors.
More than 2,000 guests–including 200 Holocaust survivors–packed into London’s Westminster Central Hall for a moving service of poetry–music and prayer. Cecile Kayirebwa–who survived the 1994 genocide in Rwanda–sang a song she wrote after seeing her mother and father slaughtered. "War is ordinary and so is death," she sang. "But not the one that took away my father and my mother."
About 20 Armenia’s–including the Armenian Bishop of Britain–took part in the candle lighting ceremony at the end of the national event and two survivors from the 1915 massacres–Yerevant Shekerdenian and Anig Bodossian were present. The Home Office said they had been invited as members of the "community" and not direct participants. The Committee for Recognition of the Armenian Genocide–though welcoming this move–only viewed this concession as an inclusion of the Armenian community–rather than inclusion of the Armenian Genocide in the event.
More than 500 Turks–Turkish Cypriots and Azeris demonstrated outside the venue–waving Turkish and Azeri flags and protesting over the presence of Armenian community representatives.
The Armenian community came together the day before Holocaust Memorial Day to hold a silent vigil outside the Home Office in London–to show the community’s unity and strength in calling on the government to change its decision.
Though it rained virtually non stop–400 Armenia’s came to the 12 hour vigil to show solidarity–including two survivors of the genocide itself. Scores of photographers and journalists reported on the vigil–which also included BBC and ITN camera crews–the two biggest news providers in the UK
Hratche Koundarjian stated–"British people have been awaked to the fact of the Armenian Genocide. They are angry that on Holocaust Memorial Day–of all days–the memory of 1.5 million Armenia’s murdered in 1915 plays second fiddle to politics".
The British Armenian community is now looking forward to the 24th of April remembrance of the Genocide and working to highlight the government’s shameful policy of denial.