(ACCC) - Armenians in Jerusalem and around the world marked Armenian Genocide Remembrance Day on Tuesday with ceremonies commemorating Armenians in Turkey who were killed between 1915 and 1923.
A remembrance service was held in the Armenian Patriarchate of Jerusalem in the capital’s Old City on Monday night, and a requiem service and holy mass were conducted in the St. James Cathedral of the Armenian Church on Sunday morning, also in the Old City.
Armenians say that approximately 1.5 million Armenian people living in the eastern Ottoman Empire died during a series of massacres, killings and death marches into the Syrian Desert, perpetrated by the Young Turk regime of the Ottoman Empire.
Modern Turkish governments have however vehemently denied that the killings constituted a genocide and claim that the numbers of Armenians killed were much lower.
On Monday evening, ahead of the commemoration services, Archbishop Aris Shirvanian of the Armenian Patriarchate addressed members of the Yedidya Synagogue in Jerusalem to speak about the events surrounding the genocide and its repercussions on the Armenian people.
“All Armenians stand together and claim justice and reparations,” he told The Jerusalem Post. The Armenian people and the descendants of those killed have pursued recognition of the genocide since 1965, he said.
“Until then, the generation of the survivors who had suffered as children and seen with their own eyes the killings and kidnappings, starvation and tortures were in a period of mourning, but the new generation has sought justice for what was done to the Armenian people during this great crime, the first genocide of the twentieth century.”
Israel has not recognized the killings as genocide, largely due to concerns about possible damage such a move could cause regarding its diplomatic relations with Turkey.
Last year, Knesset Speaker Reuven Rivlin said that he intended to establish an annual parliamentary session to mark the Armenian genocide.
A spokesman for Rivlin told the Post on Tuesday that although no such session has been formally scheduled, in light of Rivlin’s position on the issue it is likely to go ahead in the near future, but did not say if it would happen in the coming Knesset session.
MK Arye Eldad (National Union), who has made efforts in the Knesset to officially recognize the genocide, said Israeli recognition “is getting closer,” especially following the “breaking of the taboo of even discussing it in the Knesset,” in reference to a session held in the Education Committee in December.
“The issue is extremely important,” Eldad said. “There are those who try to deny the Holocaust and so we demand that people are ethical and recognize that this really happened. So we need to do the same thing for the Armenians who were killed in their hundreds of thousands, at the very least we can do something symbolic and mark the day.”
Regarding the potential for harming relations with Turkey, Eldad commented that any hopes that the Turkish government will become more amenable to Israel in the near future are futile.
Emphasizing that the issue is a “moral and ethical necessity,” Eldad nevertheless argued that, “there are no relations with Turkey at the moment so they can’t extort us with the threat that relations will be downgraded.”
Only 21 countries officially recognize the mass killings as genocide, including Canada, France, Italy and Switzerland, largely due to Turkish political pressure.
In January, France formally passed a law outlawing Armenian genocide denial, which prompted Turkey to recall its ambassador.
Speaking on the issue, Ophir Yarden of the Inter-religious Coordinating Council in Israel, who arranged for Archbishop Shirvanian to speak at the Yedidya Synagogue, labeled Israel’s failure to recognize the genocide a “double standard.”
“The lack of recognition is very painful for the Armenian community,” Yarden said. “As a state in which the Jewish Holocaust is so significant, it is just plain wrong not to recognize suffering and genocide of other people.
“Hitler himself spoke about the failure of the international community to prevent or recognize the Armenian genocide as a reason not to be concerned about carrying out a genocide against the Jews.”
Yarden added that the world still has not learned the lessons of the Holocaust or Armenian genocide, “as we’ve seen similar events in Cambodia, Darfur, and other places since then.”