By the Associated Press
Armenia’s government and the country’s opposition are putting their differences aside Tuesday to mark the massacre of 1.5 million Armenians a century ago by Ottoman Turks.
A day after the opposition succeeded in pushing the prime minister out of office, Armenians across the country are commemorating the massacre that began 103 years and which Armenians and many historians consider to be genocide. Turkey, successor of the Ottoman Empire, vehemently denies the claim and insists that the massacre was part of hostilities around World War I.
Armenia’s acting prime minister and other officials laid flowers at a hilltop memorial complex in Yerevan, the capital of the Caucasus Mountains country, early Tuesday along with thousands of residents.
Leaders of the opposition and some 10,000 supporters marched to the memorial later. Protesters carried the Armenian tricolor and chanted the name of the protest leader Nikol Pashinian who was leading the procession.
Opposition supporters were celebrating the resignation of Prime Minister Serzh Sargsyan on Monday after days of anti-government protests.
“We need a change of government,” said 43-year-old businessman Gregor Adamyan. “We’re tired of pressure and corruption of one clan.”
The protests, which lasted ten days, mostly focused on people’s frustration with the current authorities. The coalition of the three parties leading the protest currently holds just 7 percent of the parliamentary seats and has not taken any stand on relations with Russia, Armenia’s key ally and economic donor.
Ties with Russia did not appear to be at the forefront of most protesters, and many of those marching in Yerevan spoke favorably of Russia.
Ruben Ter-Martirosyan, a 37-year-old unemployed man, wants to see a more balanced relationship between the two former Soviet nations:
“Armenia needs to be a bridge between Russia and Europe, not a vassal of the Kremlin.”
Earlier Tuesday, a deputy Russian Foreign Minister earlier met with the Armenian ambassador in Moscow. The ministry said Moscow is following developments in Armenia closely and wishes the country a smooth and peaceful political transition.
Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan in a statement on Tuesday offered condolences “to the children and grandchildren of Ottoman Armenians who lost their lives during World War I.”
But in an apparent stab at Armenian authorities, he took the chance to criticize “those who resort to create hatred, grudge and hostility by distorting our common history.”
Russia has recognized the massacre as genocide. U.S. President Donald Trump last year described it as “one of the worst mass atrocities of the 20th century,” but stopped short of calling it genocide.