International Delegation Commemorates Genocide Anniversary in Istanbul

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ISTANBUL — An unprecedented joint delegation of the Armenian General Benevolent Union (AGBU) Europe and European Grassroots Antiracist Movement (EGAM) comprising 20 people from 15 European countries, gathered here to commemorate the Armenian Genocide of 1915. They were invited by DurDe! (Say Stop to Racism and Nationalism), a Turkish organization that has been commemorating the Armenian Genocide for the past four years.

On April 24, symbolically at 19:15, up to 2,000 Turks, Armenians and others peacefully gathered at Taksim Square in an emotional moment of mourning, commemoration and solidarity. Earlier in the day, they also gathered outside the former Sultanahmed Prison (now a museum), where Armenian intellectuals, professionals and others arrested on April 24, 1915, were first jailed, before being taken away and murdered.

A strong police presence kept watch as a small gathering of protesters shouted nationalist slogans nearby.

These events were organized by DurDe! and IHD, a Turkish Human Rights Association. The international delegation, organized and led by EGAM and AGBU Europe, included leading European activists against racism as well as young Armenian leaders.

In the days leading up to the April 24 commemoration in Istanbul, delegation members held numerous meetings, a press conference and a conference at Sehir University to explain their views and actions, as well as to learn about developments in Turkey relating to the recognition of the Genocide and the treatment of minorities.

EGAM President Benjamin Abtan said his visit was intended primarily as an expression of support for those in Turkey who are fighting against racism. “Genocide is the worst expression of racism,” he said. “Genocide denial is a continuation of the crime of genocide.”

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On April 25, at the invitation of AGBU-Armenia, a small group of delegates travelled to Yerevan to commemorate the Armenian Genocide together and share their experience in Istanbul with the Armenian public. The delegation members — EGAM’s Abtan, AGBU Europe Board Member Nicolas Tavitian and DurDe! Representative Yildiz Önen — laid a wreath at the Genocide Memorial in Yerevan and met with Armenian Genocide Museum-Institute Director Hayk Demoyan. They also held a press conference and met with representatives of non-governmental organizations involved in Armenia-Turkish relations at the AGBU Armenia offices.

The Delegation’s activities in Istanbul and Yerevan received ample coverage in the Turkish, Armenian and European press. An appeal, issued by the organizers and signed by well-known figures in Europe, was published in the European press shortly before April 24. Tatevik Baghdasaryan (left), host of Armnews talk show Manramasner, interviewed DurDe! Representative Yildiz Onen and AGBU Europe Board Member Nicolas Tavitian. The interview can be seen at: http://www.armnewstv.am/hy/1346315300.

AGBU Europe Board Member Nicolas Tavitian said, “After the assassination of Hrant Dink in 2007, many Turks realized that the Armenian Genocide continues to kill, and that its continued denial is toxic for Turkish democracy.” He added, “Courageous people have started to push in the right direction, and their numbers are growing. But their struggle is not over and they need all the support they can get. That is why we were in Istanbul, and why we look forward to many more joining us next year.”

For her part, the AGBU Yerevan Office Director Arpi Vartanian said, “It was important for representatives of AGBU Europe, DurDe and EGAM to visit Yerevan and present in person their initiatives and impressions in Turkey. The people in Armenia are interested in learning about Genocide recognition events outside Armenia, and especially in Turkey,” she said. “The opportunity to discuss and share with the press and members of civil society here was important. These types of events and initiatives – both in Turkey and in Armenia – make a huge impact on civil society.”