HOST 1: Today marks the one hundredth anniversary of the mass killings most historians refer to as the Armenian genocide. Up to one and a half million Armenians were killed during the Ottoman Empire in 1915.
HOST 2: Many countries, including Turkey, refuse to call the killings a genocide. Today, thousands of Armenians marched to the Turkish consulate in Manhattan, trying to get recognition for the century-old killings. Charlotte Gibson reports.
St. Vartan Armenian Cathedral is a massive church located on 34th Street and 2nd Avenue. It is the heart of the Armenian community in New York City.
This morning thousands gathered to attend church to remember those who died. Lisa Stepanian is the Executive Director of the Armenia Fund USA.
STEPANIAN: “Already I have goosebumps so it’s a very special day for all Armenians all over the world.” (00:08)
The group was preparing to march and spend the afternoon protesting at the Turkish Consulate at third and 28th, demanding that Turkey recognize the genocide.
SCENE AND OF MARCH/PROTEST
Turkey has insisted for a century that the Christian Armenians and Muslim Turks killed in 1915 were victims of civil war and unrest as the Ottoman Empire collapsed during World War I. It says there was no plan to wipe out Armenians and therefore does not add up to genocide.
Howard Eissenstat is a historian at St. Lawrence University. He says for Turkey to admit to the genocide would require them to rethink their own history.
EISSENSTAT: “When they think genocide, they think in terms of the Holocaust, they think in terms of the Nazis, they don’t think in terms of the many more complicated more muddy genocides that have also occurred, so for them, the Armenian genocide means the holocaust, and they don’t see that.” (00:19)
Norair Meguerbitchian is the chair of the Armenian Democratic Liberal Party. He says Turkey’s denial is an affront to a core part of their national identity.
MEGUERBITCHIAN: “The fiftieth anniversary of the genocide, the first fifty years, the survivors of the Armenian genocide were like in a comma, they really didn’t do much, however, starting 1965, the fiftieth anniversary, we woke up and starting pursuing the cause so that the world would know.” (00:09)
Today, only 20 nations officially recognize the Armenian Genocide. The list does not include the United States, Israel and many others who count on Turkey as an important ally in the Middle East.
The White House announced on Tuesday that it does not want to use the term genocide.
In 2007, when he was running for president, Barack Obama called the mass killing a genocide. But, during his presidency, he has resorted to citing “regional priorities,” in its decision not to say the killings amounted to genocide.
The decision has angered many Armenians in the United States and abroad who say they hoped President Obama would use the centennial as an opportunity to put things right.
MEGUERBITCHIAN: “You will see that the Armenian community are very mad with President Obama. There’s a cause we have and we are going to pursue it regardless.” (00:08)
This Sunday, Armenians will continue to commemorate the 100th anniversary of the Armenian Genocide this Sunday in Times Square.
Charlotte Gibson, Columbia Radio News.