BEIRUT: Tens of thousands of Lebanese of Armenian origins marched in the suburbs of Beirut Friday, commemorating the 100th anniversary of the Armenian genocide and vowing never to forget the atrocities committed against their ancestors by the Ottoman Empire. Carrying Armenian flags and pictures of the violet forget-me-not flower, the symbol of the centennial, marchers of all ages trekked south from the Armenian Apostolic Patriarchate in Antelias to national football stadium in Burj Hammoud.
Up to 1.5 million Armenians were massacred by Ottoman Turks during World War I, carnage described by Pope Francis last week as “the first genocide of the 20st century.”
Turkey, however, has rejected the genocide label, saying the casualties were caused by civil unrest in the Ottoman Empire.
Speaking before the march, the head of the Catholicosate of the Great House of Cilicia, Aram I Keshishian, said Armenians did not need condolences from Turkey, but “recognition and justice.”
“We tell the world that we emerged victorious from the genocide because our people lived.”
Prominent members of the Armenian community also spoke, highlighting the need for the countries of the world to recognize the genocide and pressure Turkey to do the same.
Tashnag Party leader MP Hagop Pakradounian said Armenians and other states in the Arab world have suffered from atrocities committed by the Ottoman Empire.
“Arab people have lived [under] oppression and injustice,” he added. “Four centuries of occupation and the killing of Christians and Muslims in Lebanon, Syria and Iraq ... make the cause of genocide an Arab-Armenian one,” Pakradounian said, calling on Turkey to recognize the genocide and compensate the victims.
In separate remarks, Lebanese officials expressed their solidarity with Armenians.
Prime Minister Tammam Salam spoke with the head of the Armenian Apostolic Church in Lebanon by phone to express his sympathy for the world’s Armenians.
“Lebanese people highly appreciate the positive and significant role the Armenian sects are playing at the national level ... to boost national harmony and unity,” Salam said, according to a statement released by his office. “Lebanon takes pride in all its components, and shares their causes and the sufferings they have endured throughout history.”
Foreign Minister Gebran Bassil reiterated Lebanon’s solidarity to Armenian Prime Minister Hovik Abrahamyan whom he met in Yerevan, saying the world is still threatened by terrorism. “Escaping punishment is a repetition of the crime,” said Bassil, who is accompanied on his trip by Education Minister Elias Bou Saab and Energy Minister Arthur Nazarian. “Repetition of the crime doesn’t happen in one place only ... but against all people.”
Information Minister Ramzi Joreige also marked the anniversary, saying the cause should be adopted by all Lebanese. “Expressing solidarity, after 100 years of ignoring this case on the international level, is a national cause for Lebanese, as the Armenians are an integral part of Lebanese [society].”
Lebanese Forces MP Antoine Zahra said Turkey has not even morally confessed that the genocide took place. “All that’s wanted is [for them] to recognize this genocide,” he said, speaking to Future TV. “Moral recognition of the genocide is the [starting point] for reconciliation.”
But Sidon residents expressed solidarity with families of Turkish origin and opposed a decision by Bou Saab to order the closure of schools Friday to mark the genocide.
Al-Jamaa al-Islamiya swathed the mosques it manages with Turkish flags and pictures of Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan.
Bassam Hammoud, the Jamaa politburo chief in south Lebanon, told The Daily Star that the move was made to show opposition to Bou Saab’s decision, alleging the minister had political and religious motives.
Turkish flags were also on display in Tripoli.