(Vatican Radio) Ceremonies have begun in Armenia to mark the centenary of the start of mass killings of as many as 1.5 million Armenians by Ottoman Turks. Several leaders remembered what Pope Francis and other officials view as the first genocide of the 20st century. There was a moment of reflection when a giant church bell reverberated over the square. Many gathered here in the capital Yerevan to remember on a windy, sun filled Friday, one of the world's darkest chapters. Exactly 100 years ago the mass killings began of predominantly Christian Armenians by Ottoman Turks. The annual April 24th commemorations mark the day when some 250 Armenian intellectuals were rounded up in what is regarded as the first step of the massacres.
Eventually as many as 1.5 million Armenians men, women and children died in what the Pope Francis and several other leaders view as "the first genocide of the 20th century". Most of them either immediately killed or died during deportations and forced marches in 1915, as Ottoman officials worried that the Christian Armenians would side with the enemy Russia. Armenia's President Serge Sarkisian has expressed hope that the recognition of the killings as genocide would "dispel the darkness of 100 years of denial." Modern Turkey, the successor of the Ottoman Empire, strongly objects to using the term genocide. It claims the death toll has been inflated and that those killed died of civil war and unrest. Turkish Prime Minister Ahmet Davutoglu has expressed condolences to the descendants of the victims without calling the mass killings genocide.
Yet French President Francois Hollande, Russian President Vladimir Putin and other dignitaries united in mourning the many men, women and children who died as they gathered at Yerevan's Tsitsernakaberd memorial complex. Each leader walked along the memorial with a single yellow rose. They put it into the center of a wreath resembling a forget-me-not, a flower chosen to symbolize the many victims. "We will never forget the tragedy that your people went through," Hollande said. France is home to a sizable Armenian community. Among the French Armenians at Yerevan was 90-year old singer Charles Aznavour, who was born in Paris to a family of massacre survivors.
However even on this day, politics were never far away: Russian President Vladimir Putin used his speech to warn against what he called Russophobia in a clear message to the Ukrainian government and the West, which has imposed sanctions over Russia's role in the conflict in Ukraine.
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