ISTANBUL, Turkey (A.W.)—On April 24 in Istanbul, four events commemorating the 95th anniversary of the Armenian Genocide were held—including three held outside, in public—all while obstacles, counter protests, and fascist rhetoric tried to disrupt the commemorations, and reminded the few hundred participants of the long way ahead.
A two-day conference on the genocide also began that weekend in Ankara.
The first event was organized by Kurdish mothers whose sons had “disappeared.” For the past few years, an organization has brought these mothers together and has held silent protests every Saturday. In Beyoglu at noon, in an act of solidarity with Armenians and as a powerful statement on the continuities between the Ottoman Empire and modern Turkey, these mothers, joined by human rights activists and supporters, held up photographs of not only their sons but of the Armenian intellectuals who were arrested and killed on April 24, 1915 and in the weeks following it. The organizers of the gathering made statements calling Turkey to recognize the Armenian Genocide.
A small counter-demonstration by the Workers’ Party was held on a street nearby. They condemned genocide commemorations in Turkey, holding banners that read, “The Armenian Genocide is an imperialist lie.”
The second commemoration event was held at 1:30 p.m. at the Haydarpasha train station. Organized by the Istanbul branch of the Human Rights Association of Turkey, the commemoration brought together a few hundred people who held photographs of the intellectuals murdered in 1915. Lawyer and activist Eren Keskin, a leading figure in the Human Rights Association, read a statement that highlighted the importance of recognition and justice. Dozens of journalists, photographers, and TV crews were present at the commemoration, which was held amidst a heavy police presence but saw no serious incidents. Several individuals, however, started yelling at the organizers near the end of the commemoration, and the police intervened.
At 5 p.m., a genocide commemoration lecture was held at the Cezayir Center’s meeting hall in Beyoglu. The lecture, by Armenian Weekly editor Khatchig Mouradian, was attended by Turkish intellectuals and activists who have been outspoken about 1915 in Turkey, along with reporters and members of the local Armenian community. (The Weekly will provide coverage of the lecture in a separate story.)
At 7 p.m., a candlelight vigil was held in Taksim Square in the presence of hundreds of policemen and a large crowd of reporters and onlookers. Organized by Turkish intellectuals, the vigil was the most advertised of the commemoration events that day, and attracted the largest number of participants and counter-demonstrators. The organizers read a statement about April 24, 1915, saying that this was their pain as well. Then, for almost half an hour, the participants in the vigil sat in silence while counter protestors nearby—pushed back by the police—yelled, “Death to the Armenian Diaspora.”
Contrary to what was reported in some U.S. and European papers, these commemoration events were not the first in Turkey. The Istanbul Human Rights Association has been organizing lectures, panel discussions, and musical performances in commemoration of the genocide for the past several years. What was distinct about the commemorations this year was the fact that they were held outdoors, on or near busy streets, intersections, and station, hence generating greater attention.
In Ankara, a two day-long genocide conference on the history and consequences of the Armenian Genocide took place. The conference was canceled earlier in the week due to bureaucratic, political pressure, and security concerns; however, an announcement was later made that the conference would be held as scheduled. Despite the confusion the cancellation created, most scheduled speakers and scholars, including those from overseas, attended the conference, or will do so on April 25.
A more detailed report with photographs will be posted soon.