Thousands gathered Friday evening in Istanbul to mark the centennial of the mass killings of Armenians in Ottoman Turkey.
Armenians from around the world assembled in the evening sunshine at the entrance of central Taksim Square to remember the hundreds of thousands of their countrymen and women who died 100 years earlier in massacres and death marches as Turkish authorities forcibly deported them.
The event began with a smaller group hanging strips of cloth on a wooden “wishing tree,” each representing a victim or survivor of the killings. A large crowd of chanting demonstrators arrived shortly afterward demanding that the events of 1915 be recognized as genocide. Turkish authorities are fiercely opposed to doing so, however, claiming instead that the deaths were the result of civil war that led to suffering on both sides.
Many attendees were members of the Armenian diaspora and had travelled to Turkey especially for the ceremony as well as a preceding program of concerts lectures and memorial services. Some clutched photographs of their ancestors — both survivors and victims — and told the stories behind the sepia-toned faces.
Roxeanna Makasdjian, a red-haired 54-year-old from San Francisco who runs a nonprofit focused on human rights and genocide, held a picture of her great grandmother and two others aloft. They lived through the killings, she told VICE News, but others in her family did not.
Makasdjian described her attendance at the ceremony as being partly in a spirit of defiance. “This is where it all started and happened… We’re here to show that the Turkish government at the time did not succeed in exterminating the Armenian people.” She added, however, that she hoped increased recognition of the killings would help lead to reconciliation between Armenians and Turks.
Commemoration events were held around the world. In the Armenian capital of Yerevan, a ceremony was held at the Tsitsernakaberd Memorial Complex attended by local officials and foreign leaders, including France’s Francois Hollande and Vladimir Putin of Russia. Armenian President Serzh Sargsyan said the Armenian people had been “displaced and annihilated under a state-devised plan.”
Turkey, meanwhile, seemingly attempted to distract international attention away from centennial events in Armenia by staging its annual Battle of Gallipoli anniversary ceremonies a day earlier than usual.
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