Apr 25 2012
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Armenians mark genocide with march to Turkish Embassy
25 April 2012
ANTELIAS/ RABIEH, Lebanon: Nearly 25,000 Lebanese-Armenians marched to the Turkish Embassy in Metn’s Rabieh Tuesday, calling on Ankara to recognize the Armenian Genocide committed by the Ottoman Army at the height of World War I.
The large turnout – which surprised even organizers – prompted the Turkish Embassy to request an increase in security outside the embassy, according to an Internal Security Forces source who spoke on condition of anonymity.
Interior Ministry officials estimated that 20,000 to 25,000 people took part in the march, which began at the Armenian Orthodox Catholicosate of Cilicia in Antelias.
Armenian Patriarch Aram I denounced Turkey’s efforts to expand its influence in the region during a mass before the march at the Catholicosate.
“Can a nation which fills its prisons with human rights advocates and journalists lecture others on democratic and human rights?” he asked.
“We hold the present Republic of Turkey, in its capacity as the legitimate successor of the Ottoman Empire, accountable for its crimes against our people,” the patriarch added.
Once they were meters away from the Turkish Embassy’s gates, protesters began to burn Turkish flags, and chant anti-Turkish slogans. “We fight for justice, and we demand it from the fascist Turkish regime,” read one of the banners raised at the barbed wire separating some 200 riot police from the crowd.
Despite documentation and widespread acceptance by historians on the killings and deportations, Ankara refuses to recognize the Armenian Genocide and argues that both Armenians and Turks were killed in battles during WWI.
Many protesters at Rabieh Tuesday told The Daily Star they believed the Turkish government refuses to recognize the genocide in order to avoid both apologizing and paying reparations to Armenians. The majority of young people at the march’s front said they believe Turkey will ultimately recognize the events of 1915 as genocide, despite 97 years of denial.
Walking past banners bearing the word “recognize,” Peter Sarkissian called it unfortunate that Turkey insists on denying what he called a crime by the country’s ancestral regime.
Sarkissian, a Lebanese-Armenian on a visit from New York, said that “the cruelty is continuing through the denial of the rights of an entire nation ... there is a strong pain because Turkey has still not accepted its responsibility for the genocide.”
“A crime which has many witnesses cannot be denied,” he added.
Separate demonstrations took place in Yerevan, Jerusalem, Bucharest, Paris, Istanbul and other cities.
For many, April 24 is an occasion to remember the victims and honor memories of their relatives. “Even if 100 years or 200 years pass, we should always remember the victims because this cause is about them and is about the suffering they went through,” said Kevork Georges.
Others questioned modern Turkey’s claims to respect human rights and freedom. “If Turkey is a nation that respects itself, respects human rights and is courageous as it claims to be, it has to recognize what it has done to minorities,” said protester George Arbajian.
After an hour in front of the embassy and efforts by MPs and officials to restrain angry crowds from entering, demonstrators headed back to Antelias.
Beirut MP Serge Torsarkissian of the March 14 coalition hailed the rally, which he participated in, calling it an opportunity to remind officials at the embassy and in the Turkish government that Armenians will not stop demanding justice.
“The embassy and the new Ottoman Empire should be aware that the rights of the Armenian people will not fade in time,” he said.
His rival in Parliament, Metn MP Hagop Pakradounian of March 8 also marched, saying “this day proves that we will continue to demand justice until Turkey recognizes its guilt and gives reparations to Armenians around the world.”
Politicians from across the political divide in the country expressed their solidarity with Lebanese-Armenians.
“I express my solidarity with Armenians in the country who have suffered in Armenia and have also suffered in Lebanon’s Civil War,” Beirut MP Nadim Gemayel said in a statement at Parliament.
Free Patriotic Movement leader Michel Aoun criticized the Turkish government for refusing to recognize the massacres. “I had hoped that Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoglu would recognize the Armenian Genocide. But as long as he doesn’t apologize for it, he is responsible for it,” said Aoun.
Not all of those commemorating Tuesday were able to walk all the way to Rabieh. Braving the heat with a walking stick in hand, an Armenian woman in her early 80s said she has taken part in dozens of similar rallies in her lifetime, but had to rest this time after the Antelias mass.
“I’ve walked a lot, I’ve seen a lot in my life ... today is about sadness for the Armenian people, but also about faith in God and justice,” she said. “The memories of my family are what keep me alive.”© Copyright The Daily Star 2012.
© Copyright Zawya. All Rights Reserved.
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