Armenian genocide commemoration highlights struggle for Caucasus

Thousands marched in Yerevan April 24, the 93rd anniversary of the start of the mass killing campaign of at least 1.5 million Armenians by the Ottoman Empire. More than 10,000, mostly youths and students, carried torches and candles, demanding Turkey join several other countries around the world in officially recognizing the massacres as genocide. After burning a Turkish flag in Yerevan’s Freedom Square, participants marched to a monument to the victims of the genocide, where they laid wreaths and flowers. Many carried flags of the 23 countries whose governments or parliaments have recognized the killings as genocide, including Canada, France, Switzerland and Poland.

Turkey rejects the killings constituted genocide, saying that 300,000 Armenians and at least an equal number of Turks were killed in civil strife between 1915 and 1917. The dispute remains a major obstacle in relations between Turkey and Armenia, which have no diplomatic ties and whose border has remained closed for more than a decade. Some marchers in Yerevan held banners reading “Save Europe! Keep Turkey out of the EU!” (The Austrialian, April 24)

Turkish media reports highlight recent overtures by Ankara to normalize relations. Turkey’s Foreign Minister Ali Babacan wrote a letter to his Armenian counterpart April 22, saying that Turkey is open to dialogue. Yerevan also says it is for dialogue, but calls for the re-opening of closed borders first. (Turkish Daily News, April 22)

In October 2007, the Foreign Affairs Committee of the US House of Representatives approved a resolution officially recognizing the Armenian genocide. The issue is yet to be discussed on the House floor.

Armenian political scientist Arman Ayvazyan, head of Yerevan’s Center of Strategic Research, said US reluctance to recognize the genocide is due to Washington’s need to secure Turkey’s cooperation in stabilizing northern Iraq. He said the Armenian genocide “should be considered not as a historical but as a modern problem,” and also linked it to the contest over the disputed territory of Nagorno-Karabakh.

“The problem of Nagorno-Karabakh emerged as a result of genocide of Armenians,” he said. “Turkey calls us aggressors, saying that we occupied Nagorno-Karabakh… Turkey…occupied the western part of our territory and now helps Azerbaijan occupy our eastern lands as well.” (, Azerbaijan, April 23)

Nagorno-Karabakh Republic—known to Armenians as Artsakh—has been an unrecognized de facto independent state since a 1994 ceasefire left Armenian separatist forces in control there. Negotiations continue on the return of Azeri prisoners of war still held by the Artsakh authorities. (De Facto News, April 23) A two-day conference on the Armenian genocide held at Artsakh State University was pointedly entitled “Western Armenia: past and present”—a name clearly implying that Turkey’s eastern provinces are considered occupied Armenian territory. (, April 11)

See our last post on Armenia, the genocide remembrance issue, and the struggle in the Caucasus.