30 April 2019
Since 2013, the Armenian genocide is commemorated in Istanbul by various human rights defense associations. AGBU Europe has been supporting these associations by standing by them in Istanbul on April 24, as it has again this year. This time however, the commemorations were officially forbidden. Nonetheless the organizers maintained the call to gather throughout the day.
In the morning of April 24, about a hundred people gathered in Sultanahmed, in front of the current Turkish & Islamic Arts Museum, once the prison where Armenian intellectuals were rounded up on April 24, 1915. A delegation led by the European Grassroots Antiracist Movement (EGAM) was also present, including MEP José Inácio Faria from Portugal and French MP Mireille Clapot. What was supposed to be a silent march in memory of the victims of the genocide was cut short by the police forces who asked people to leave right away.
A press conference that was held thereafter in the office of IHD Human Rights Association was heavily guarded by riot police outside the building. Authorities clearly showed their intention to put pressure on the participants and organizers of the commemorations. This hardened line adopted by the Turkish authorities this year was also reflected in the official statement made by President Erdogan on April 24, as he tweeted that “the relocation of the Armenian gangs and their supporters, who massacred the Muslim people, including women and children, in eastern Anatolia, was the most reasonable action that could be taken in such a period.”
Police units were also present, in the afternoon, during the religious service organized in memory of Sevag Balikçi at the Armenian cemetery of Siçli. Alexis Kalk, member of Nor Zartonk was arrested by the police after the ceremony for having used the word “genocide” during his speech. He was later released.
In the evening, the gathering organized by DurDe, usually hold on Taksim square, was relocated to a quieter area and could not last very long. Authorities banned the use of posters, banners, the use of the word genocide as well as flowers, and candles! A massive riot police presence encircled the public commemoration.
Present all through the day at the various sites of the commemoration, MP Garo Paylan remembered the Armenian intellectuals who were arrested on April 24, 1915: “every single one of those 238 people had dreams, the Armenian MPs at the Assembly of Representatives, just like me, had dreams; they demanded equality, freedom and justice. But those dreams did not find a response. The junta of the period who could not work out a solution tried to crush those demands for equality and justice with a genocide.”