Armenians commemorate 1915 genocide —despite Turkish censorship

April 24 marks the 92nd anniversary of the start of the Armenian genocide, and Armenians worldwide commemorated the “First Genocide of the 20th Century” with solemn religious and civil ceremonies. However, little more than a week before the anniversary, the United Nations dismantled an exhibit on the Rwandan genocide and postponed its scheduled opening by Secretary General Ban Ki-moon—in response to objections from the Turkish mission to the exhibit’s references to the Armenian genocide, which Turkey denies happened.

The panels of graphics, photos and statements were assembled in the UN lobby on April 5 by the British-based Aegis Trust. The trust campaigns for the prevention of genocide and runs a center in Kigali, the Rwandan capital, memorializing the 500,000 victims of the massacres there in 1994.

Hours after the show was installed, a Turkish diplomat noticed references to the Armenians in a section entitled “What is genocide?” and raised protests. The passage said that “following World War I, during which one million Armenians were murdered in Turkey,” Raphael Lemkin, a Polish lawyer credited with coining the word genocide, “urged the League of Nations to recognize crimes of barbarity as international crimes.” James Smith, the chief executive of Aegis, said he was told by the UN April 7 the text would have to be struck or the exhibit would be closed down.

Armenian ambassador Armen Martirosyan told the New York Times he sought out Kiyotaka Akasaka, UN under-secretary general for public information, and thought he had reached an agreement to let the show go forward by deleting the words “in Turkey.” But Akasaka said: “That was his suggestion, and I agreed only to take it into account in finding the final wording.” Turkish ambassador Baki Ilkin said: “We just expressed our discomfort over the text’s making references to the Armenian issue and drawing parallels with the genocide in Rwanda.”

Smith said he was “very disappointed because this was supposed to talk about the lessons drawn from Rwanda and point up that what is happening in Darfur is the cost of inaction.” (NYT, April 10 via the Armenian-American website MezunUSA)

Historical material realted to the Armenian Genocide and a list of global commemorations is online at They write:

During WWI, The Young Turk, political faction of the Ottoman Empire, sought the creation of a new Turkish state… Those promoting the ideology called “Pan Turkism” (creating a homogenous Turkish state) now saw its Armenian minority population as an obstacle to the realization of that goal.

On April 24, 1915, several hundred Armenian community leaders and intellectuals in Constantinople (modern day Istanbul) were arrested, sent east, and put to death. In May, after mass deportations had already begun, Minister of the Interior Talaat Pasha ordered their deportation into the Syrian Desert.

The adult and teenage males were separated from the deportation caravans and killed under the direction of Young Turk functionaries. Women and children were driven for months over mountains and desert, often raped, tortured, and mutilated. Deprived of food and water and often stripped of clothing, they fell by the hundreds & thousands along the routes to the desert. Ultimately, more than half the Armenian population, 1,500,000 people were annihilated. In this manner the Armenian people were eliminated from their homeland of several millennia.

On April 29, 1915, Henry Morgenthau, Sr. United States Ambassador to the Ottoman Empire, had stated that “I am confident that the whole history of human race contains no such terrible episode as this. The great massacres and persecutions of the past seem almost insignificant when compared to the sufferings of the Armenian race in 1915.”

In 1915, thirty-three years before UN Genocide Convention was adopted, the Armenian Genocide was condemned by the international community as a crime against humanity.

(Westender, Brisbance, Australia, April 24)

Tens of thousands of people silently marched in Yerevan, Armenia’s capital, in the annual remembrance of the estimated 1.5 million victims of the Armenian genocide. The official commemoration of the anniversary began with a prayer service at the genocide memorial on Yerevan’s Tsitsernakabert Hill. It was led by the head of the Armenian Apostolic Church, Garegin II, and attended by President Robert Kocharian and other top government officials.

In a written address to the nation, Kocharian evoked the increasingly successful Armenian campaign for international recognition of the genocide. “The international community has realized that genocide is a crime directed against not only a particular people but the entire humanity,” he said. “Denial and cover-up of that crime is no less dangerous than its preparation and perpetration.” Nearly two dozen countries, among them France, Canada and Russia, have formally recognized the Armenian massacres as the first genocide of the 20th century.

Prime Minister Serzh Sarkisian said genocide recognition will remain on the Armenian government’s foreign policy agenda, but also called for normalizing relations with Tirkeu. “We remember our past, but Armenia is moving forward, seeking to establish normal relations with all of its neighbors,” he said. Sarkisian voiced solidarity with dissident Turkish intellectuals who publicly recognize the genocide, and recalled the recent assassination of Turkish-Armenian editor Hrant Dink who also challenged the official Turkish revisionism.

Said Hrant Markarian of the governing Armenian Revolutionary Federation (Dashnaktsutyun): “A state can not live by denying its past. Turkey must recognize the Armenian genocide as soon as possible for the sake of Turkey’s future.”

Dashnaktsutyun branches in the worldwide Armenian diaspora have for years lobbied the parliaments and governments of Western states to officially recognize the Armenian genocide. The nationalist party controls one of the two main Armenian lobbies in Washington seeking to push a genocide resolution through the US House of Representatives this year.

While praising Armenian efforts at genocide recognition, Raffi Hovannisian, a US-born opposition leader, sounded a note of caution. “I believe that we must not excessively concentrate on or be very buoyed this spate of recognitions because the Armenian genocide and the loss of our people’s homeland is a fact affirmed by many historians,” he said. (Armenia Liberty, April 24)

See our last posts on Turkey and Armenia.

  1. Update
    From the New York Times, May 1:

    Revised Genocide Exhibit Opens
    A United Nations exhibit on the Rwandan genocide that was dismantled three weeks ago after Turkey objected to a reference to the Armenian genocide was opened in revised form by Secretary General Ban Ki-moon. Where the original exhibit had an entry called “What is genocide?” that cited the deaths “following World War I” of a million Armenians “in Turkey,” the revised entry is called “Defining the Crime” and refers to “mass killings of Armenians in the Ottoman Empire during World War I.” Some 1.5 million Armenians were killed by Ottoman Turks, but Turkey says they were victims of war and unrest instead of genocide. The exhibit observes the 13th anniversary of the 100-day slaughter in Rwanda of 800,000 Tutsis by Hutus.