This year marks the 95th anniversary of the mass murders and expulsion of Armenians from Turkey. While the Turkish government claims a total of 300,000 died, Armenia estimates 1.5 million died.
Last week, tens of thousands of people in the capital of Yerevan walked up the steep hill to the national memorial to lay flowers around its eternal flame. With President Serzh Sarkisian present, the Armenian Orthodox Church led a commeorative service.
There has been a longstanding controversy behind this event, as Turkey is unwilling to call it a genocide. A genocide, as described in the UN Convention on Genocide, is when acts are carried out “to destroy, in whole or in part, a national, ethnic, racial or religious group.” Turkey claims that there was no plan to systematically eliminate Armenians, and that innocent Turks were causalities as well.
On a political level, relations between Turkey and Armenia remain tense. They both signed an agreement to establish diplomatic relations in October 2009, but it has since faltered.
However Al-Jazeera reports that in Istanbul citizens gathered to remember the tragedy. “It is an unusual event…it is a measure of the degree to which the ability to discuss the issues here in Turkey has freed up, ” said correspondent Anita McNaught. “They have come here as Turks and Armenians, and relatives of Armenians living in Turkey sitting side by side.”