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YEREVAN, Armenia — Hundreds of thousands of Armenians laid flowers Sunday at a monument to the victims of mass killings by Ottoman Turks, creating mounds of blossoms that rose higher throughout the day.
This year’s 96th anniversary of the start of the slaughter has added poignancy because it coincides with Easter and the Christian celebration of rebirth.
Historians estimate that up to 1.5 million Armenians were killed by Ottoman Turks around the time of World War I. Turkey denies that the deaths constituted genocide, contending the figures are inflated and those killed were victims of civil war and unrest as the Ottoman Empire collapsed.
President Serge Sarkisian said in a national address that Armenia now strives for peace with Turkey. But while praising Turkish intellectuals and others who have spoken out for reconciliation, he had stern words for the Turkish government.
“Today in Turkey, more than ever, reasonable voices are being heard,” Sarkisian said. “Nevertheless, the official policy of Turkey carries on with the course of denial. ... For us one thing is incontestable: The policy of denial is a direct continuation of the Armenian genocide.
Several thousand young Armenians burned a Turkish flag before marching to the monument on the eve of the anniversary.
On Sunday, hundreds of thousands of Armenians from across the country, joined by members of the extensive Armenian diaspora, marched to the monument on a hill overlooking Yerevan, the capital. Some carried banners reading: “Genocide never gets old” and “Nobody and nothing will be forgotten.”
Simon Avakian came with his children from the U.S. state of Massachusets. “Living in America they must not forget about this and must do everything for international recognition of genocide,” he said.
Among those laying flowers at the monument was U.S. Ambassador Marie Yovanovitch, who said that Americans and their government stood with Armenians across the world on this day.
By mid-afternoon, flowers around the memorial’s eternal flame were piled seven feet (two meters) high.