Thousands of Armenians mark genocide in Beirut

AFP , Tuesday 24 Apr 2012

Members of the largest Armenian community in the Arab world demonstrate to mark Armenian genocide, march to Turkish embassy demanding its recognition of the mass killings

Thousands of Armenians demonstrated in a suburb of the Lebanese capital Beirut on Tuesday to commemorate the 97th anniversary of the Armenian genocide by Ottoman Turks during World War I.

Speaking at a commemoration ceremony at the main Armenian church in the suburb of Antelias, Patriarch Aram I denounced Turkey's efforts to expand its influence in the Middle East.

He stated that while Turkey touts itself as a vanguard of democracy and human rights, it has yet to recognize the systematic killing and deportation of its Armenian population.

"Can a nation that fills its prisons with human rights advocates and journalists lecture others on the imperative to champion democratic principles and human rights?" he asked.

"We hold the present Republic of Turkey, in its capacity as the legitimate successor of the Ottoman Empire, accountable for its crimes against our people," the patriarch said.

After the service, around 7,000 to 10,000 Armenians marched to the Turkish embassy in the Rabieh suburb northeast of Beirut, carrying banners in Arabic, Armenian and English demanding Ankara's official recognition of the Armenian genocide.

In front of the embassy, Armenian MPs gave speeches and the crowd sang the Armenian and Lebanese national anthems, with all three Armenian political parties participating.

Several Turkish flags were torn up and set ablaze and some demonstrators threw water, eggs, sticks and firecrackers onto the embassy premises.

Party leaders and fellow demonstrators prevented a confrontation with the Lebanese security forces when some attempted to break through the barbed-wire barrier.

Armenians mark the anniversary every year on April 24, which is accepted as the date in 1915 when the Ottoman campaign began.

The Armenians say up to 1.5 million people were killed during World War I as the Ottoman Empire was falling apart, a claim supported by several other countries.

Turkey strongly rejects the genocide label, asserting that 300,000 to 500,000 Armenians and at least as many Turks died in the civil strife when Armenians rose up against their Ottoman rulers and sided with invading Russian troops.

Lebanon is home to 140,000 Armenians, the largest such community in the Arab world, the majority of whom are descendants of those who survived the mass killings.

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