The 1.5 million Armenians massacred by Ottoman forces in the genocide that lasted from 1915 to 1922 were canonised yesterday evening in a two-hour ceremony.
Exactly 100 years ago, on 24 April 1915 – a day known today as “Red Sunday” – the Ottomans rounded up 270 of the most influential Armenian intellectuals and community leaders in Constantinople, now Istanbul. At the time of this “decapitation strike” there were 2 million Armenians in the Ottoman Empire. Seven years later, there were 388,000. The slaughter was characterised by the utmost brutality, and the bones of those driven into the desert are still found today.
“During the dire years of the genocide of the Armenians, millions of our people were uprooted and massacred in a premeditated manner, passed through fire and sword, tasted the bitter fruits of torture and sorrow," Catholicos of All Armenians, Karekin II, said at the ceremony outside Armenia's main Echmiadzin Cathedral, close to the capital, Yerevan.
“The canonisation of the martyrs of the genocide brings life-giving new breath, grace and blessing to our national and ecclesiastical life.”
At the end of the ceremony, attended by President Serzh Sarkisian, bells rang out across Armenia and a minute’s silence was observed. Bells also tolled in cities around the world including New York, Madrid, Venice, Berlin and the Notre Dame Cathedral in Paris.
The Germany President on Thursday described the mass killings as genocide, marking a shift in his country’s stance after officials previously avoided the term. President Joachim Gauck said it is clear today that “the fate of the Armenians is exemplary for the history of mass destruction, ethnic cleansing, expulsions and genocides which marks the twentieth century in such a terrible way." What happened, he said, was "planned and systematic mass murder".
As well as Turkey, Britain and the United States refuse to acknowledge the attempt to exterminate the Armenian people by a programme of systematic mass slaughter as genocide.
However for the first time ever, a Turkish government official attended a liturgy in Ankara commemorating victims of the Genocide, local television channels have reported.
The liturgy takes place at the Istanbul patriarchate of the Armenian Apostolic Church. the Turkish Minister for EU Affairs, Volkan Bozkir, attended. "We deeply respect the pain which our Armenian brothers have suffered. And we who suffered as well [during that period] are not against commemorating those dead. For that reason, I feel that it’s my duty to participate in this liturgy," he said.
On Divine Mercy Sunday Pope Francis reaffirmed at a special Mass for Armenians in St Peter's Basilica that what Armenians call the "Metz Yeghern" or "Great Evil" was indeed genocide.