Special for the Armenian Weekly
ISTANBUL, Turkey—On an overcast evening amid the threat of rain, the 7th annual commemoration of the Armenian Genocide took place in Istanbul. These commemorations, which first began in 2010 in Taksim Square and grew in size every year, reached their zenith with the 100th anniversary last year. Government restrictions after the 2013 Taksim Square occupation (the Gezi Park protests) and crackdown moved the event to the top of Istiklal Street. This year, the event moved yet again, this time for security reasons, to the bottom of Istiklal in the area known as Tunel Meydani (Tunnel Square) in Beyoglu. With President Recep Tayyip Erdogan’s crackdown on freedom of speech, the press, and academics critical of his war in the southeast, the mood in Turkey is considerably different and less hopeful than in recent years. The annual commemoration is officially sponsored by the Platform for the Commemoration of the Armenian Genocide (Ermeni Soykirimini Anma Platformu) led by DurDe! Platform–Say Stop to Racism and Nationalism. The Human Rights Association (IHD), Nor Zartonk, and European Grassroots Antiracist Movement (EGAM) were co-sponsors.
The crowd was significantly smaller this year, numbering under 200 people, and was comprised mostly of local Turkish and Armenian activists and intellectuals. Progressive groups participated, such as the Devrimci Sosyalist Isci Partisi (DSIP; the Revolutionary Socialist Workers Party) and a delegation of human rights activists from Europe, including EGAM’s President Benjamin Abtan and AGBU Europe Board Member Nicolas Tavitian. No organized group from North America was present, though a scattering of individuals from the United States were observed. The bombings this year in Istanbul, including one on Istiklal earlier this month, have significantly reduced the number of foreigners visiting Turkey. Security was tight with a cordon of heavily armed police and barricades surrounding the venue. Water cannon trucks were nearby with hundreds of police with riot shields and gas masks waiting in reserve. The police clearly outnumbered the participants. Everyone who entered the area had to undergo a body and bag search.
The commemoration, as in years past, consisted of music and short speeches. Emel Kurma gave the main speech on behalf of the Platform. Others briefly spoke, including Yildiz Onen for DurDe. Two songs were beautifully sung by Leman Stehn, the Armenian “Groong” by Komitas and the Turkish version of “Sarı Gelin/Gyalin,” a song about an impossible love between a Turkish man and an Armenian girl from Erzurum. The names of the Armenian intellectuals and community leaders who were arrested on April 24, 1915 were read aloud. The participants held photograph placards with the names and dates of those who lost their lives both then and in the years since, including most recently Hrant Dink and Sevag Balikci.
The commemoration was considerably shorter than in years past and ended as the rain began to fall more heavily.
Editor’s note: A second commemoration event was held at Istanbul’s Haydarpasha train station. Read the details here.