Yerevan (AFP) – In a show of unity Tuesday, Armenians marked the anniversary of the massacre of 1.5 million of their kin by Ottoman forces in 1915, a day after leader Serzh Sarkisian resigned after days of protests.
The commemorations are a hugely emotional event for the country and Armenians of all stripes flocked to a hilltop memorial in the capital Yerevan with flowers in their hands to honour the victims of the World War I-era killings.
This year’s events were held a day after Sarkisian, who the opposition accused of a blatant power grab, stunned the country by saying he was in the wrong and resigning after 10 days of protests.
Commemorations at the Tsitsernakaberd memorial in Yerevan — the country’s most visited landmark — were led by the acting head of government, Karen Karapetyan, and the head of the Armenian Apostolic Church, Catholicos Karekin II.
Protest leader Nikol Pashinyan was expected to lead supporters to the memorial later Tuesday.
Ahead of the commemorations both Pashinyan and Karapetyan urged unity in the former Soviet republic.
“Tomorrow we will go together to tell our martyrs that the people have won, that the genocide for our people is in the past,” Pashinyan said late Monday.
Karapetyan called on Armenians to show the world that “we can unite in critical times, hold negotiations and find logical solutions”.
Pashinyan and Karapetyan were set to meet on Wednesday to discuss the transfer of power.
The protest leader has said that parliament would have to elect a new prime minister within a week and that new parliamentary elections were also on the cards in the Moscow-allied country.
Political turmoil enveloped the impoverished country of 2.9 million people after Sarkisian was last week elected prime minister by lawmakers after serving a decade as president.
The opposition said the 63-year-old wanted to extend his chokehold on power under a new parliamentary system of government.
Tens of thousands of people subsequently took to the streets of the capital Yerevan and other cities in largely peaceful protests.
Sarkisian initially refused to resign but quit on the 11th day of demonstrations after a number of serving and former servicemen joined the protests.
The commemorations remain a diplomatic minefield amid a lack of international consensus over Armenia’s bid to get the massacres recognised internationally as a genocide.
Majority Muslim Turkey, which was born out of the ashes of the Ottoman Empire, has refused to call the slaughter of Christian Armenians genocide.
Ankara concedes that up to 500,000 people were killed, but says this was mostly due to fighting and starvation during World War I, when Armenians rose up against their Ottoman rulers and sided with invading Russian troops.