Armenian Genocide commemoration in Istanbul in 2010

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On April 24, 2010, for the first time the Armenian Genocide was commemorated in Istanbul, Turkey by Turks. A few small observances were held in Istanbul, under police protection from counter-protesters.

Haydarpasa train station

First-Ever Commemoration Of 1915 Slaughter In Turkey
Satenik Vantsian

About 100 Turks rallied in Istanbul on Saturday in a first-ever public commemoration of the World War One-era mass killings and deportations of Armenians in Ottoman Turkey that was organized by a local human rights group.

The demonstrators gathered on the steps of the Haydarpasa train station from where hundreds of Armenian intellectuals arrested on April 24, 1915 were deported and subsequently executed. They chanted “Never Again!” and carried black-and-white pictures of the most prominent of the deportees.

“The events of 1915 must not be repeated,” Eren Keskin, a human rights campaigner, said, addressing the small crowd. “We have gathered here to say no to genocide.”

Turkish authorities did not try to impede the landmark gathering organized by the Turkish Human Rights Association. Scores of police were deployed around the station to prevent possible incidents between its participants and a group of counter-demonstrators protesting nearby.

Police stepped in when an elderly man condemned the unprecedented commemoration. “Who allowed you to gather here? Who says that Armenians were massacred? That is not true?” he shouted before behind dragged away from the scene.

Taksim Square

A similar gathering was held in Istanbul’s central Taksim Square later in the day. Its organizers, a group of prominent intellectuals and artists, urged fellow Turks to “pay tribute to the victims of 1915” in an online petition circulated earlier this week. Hundreds of people have signed the appeal that stops short of calling the massacres a genocide and uses the Armenian phrase “Great Catastrophe” instead.

The event, organized by the Irkçılığa ve Milliyetçiliğe Dur De Girişimi (Say Halt to Racism and Nationalism Initiative) was attended by 75 intellectuals and roughly two hundred supporters. The group silently lit candles for the dead and placed flowers around the area before departing.

Nearly a thousand police officers secured the area due to threats made by nationalist groups in the lead-up to the commemoration.

The group began its memorial at 7 p.m., sitting near the wall of the Taksim’s Republican Art Gallery surrounded by dozens of reporters and two lines of police extending to the Monument of the Republic.

A small group of nationalists coming from the direction of the Marmara Hotel attempted to protest the memorial but were prevented from reaching the vigil by police barricades.

The nationalist group chanted slogans such as “Damn the Armenian diaspora,” “We are the soldiers of Mustafa Kemal,” and “This is Turkey-It will remain so” and threw flyers in the air that denied Armenian claims of genocide and accused the group commemorating the 1915 events of being on the side of foreign powers against Turkey.

The police escorted the group away from the square, although the protestors returned 15 minutes later, heckling the commemorators; in response, those holding the vigil answered by clapping.

As a result, the police formed a security cordon toward İstiklal Avenue to keep the opposing parties apart.

Although the commemoration remained a silent vigil as planned by organizers, the group began to chant slogans as it proceeded down İstiklal Avenue, shouting “The brotherhood of Armenians, Turks and Kurds” and “Shoulder to shoulder against fascism” before dispersing further down the street.

Despite the significance of the vigil, many passersby were unaware of the reason for Saturday evening’s gathering.

Meanwhile, human rights activists gathered at the Haydarpaşa train station on the city’s Asian side to hold another gathering.

The Istanbul branch of the Human Rights Association, or İHD, organized a rally attended by roughly 100 people on the steps of the train station from where the first convoy of 220 Armenians was deported on April 24, 1915.

Under the slogan "Never Again" and the watchful eye of the police, demonstrators carried black and white photos of some of the deportees, most of whom never returned.

Police kept at bay a group of counter-demonstrators, including former diplomats, who waved the Turkish flag.

Forty-two Turkish diplomats were killed by members of the extremist Armenian Secret Army for the Liberation of Armenia, or ASALA, organization in the 1970s and 1980s.

Despite this, many Turkish intellectuals and artists have signed a petition calling on "those who feel the great pain" to show their sorrow.

Avoiding an open confrontation over classifying the 1915 events as “genocide” – an idea the Turkish government fiercely rejects – the petition speaks of the "Great Catastrophe" of the 1915-17 massacres.

In spite of the precaution, organizers were afraid of a backlash from those who could object to the demonstration.

"All precautionary measures have been taken but it's always possible that someone will lose it," Cengiz Aktar, a columnist for the Hürriyet Daily News & Economic Review and an Istanbul academic backing the petition, told AFP.

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