Armenians mark mass killings amid fresh tensions with Turkey
Yerevan: Tens of thousands of Armenians on Saturday marked the 95th anniversary of mass killings under the Ottoman Empire amid fresh tensions with Turkey over the collapse of reconciliation efforts.
Despite the political tensions, this year also saw the anniversary marked for the first time in Turkey, where rights activists and artists in Istanbul broke with taboo and commemorated the massacres.
Under grey skies in the Armenian capital Yerevan, a stream of people marched to lay flowers at a hilltop memorial to the massacres, which Armenians insist constituted genocide.
Turkey fiercely rejects the genocide label and the dispute has poisoned relations between the two neighbours for decades.
Unprecedented reconciliation efforts begun last year fell apart just before the anniversary, when Armenia announced on Thursday that it was halting ratification of agreements normalising ties.
President Serzh Sarkisian, who attended a solemn ceremony at the memorial, said international recognition that the killings constituted genocide was inevitable.
"We thank all of those who in many countries of the world, including in Turkey, understand the importance of preventing crimes against humanity and who stand with us in this struggle. This process has an inevitable momentum which has no alternative," he said.
In Istanbul, the IHD human rights group held a rally of about 100 people outside the Haydarpasa train station, from where the first convoy of Armenians were deported on April 24, 1915.
Hundreds later staged a sit-in at Taksin Square in the heart of the city as a strong police deployment kept a close watch.
Turkish intellectuals and artists signed a petition calling on "those who feel the great pain" to show their sorrow. Avoiding an open confrontation over the term genocide, the petition speaks of the "Great Catastrophe".
Tens of thousands of Lebanese-Armenians also took to the streets in a peaceful demonstration in Beirut, while others blocked a main highway into the city.
In Paris several thousand people urged Turkey to recognise the genocide at a rally at the foot of the statue of Armenian priest and composer Komitas.