Saturday, April 23, 2016

Candle Light Vigil.

Candle light march through the streets of Yerevan.

When I planned the timing of this trip, it all revolved around the order in which we had to visit the three Caucasus countries.  It had not even dawned on me that we would be in Armenia on Genocide Day, more formally known as Armenian Genocide Remembrance Day, which falls on April 24 each year.  That's tomorrow.

A bit of history, in a nutshell, and I will try to stick to the facts because this is a sensitive issue and I don't want to upset anyone who might read this posting.

In 1915, the leaders of the Ottoman government set in motion a plan to expel and massacre all Armenians living in their domain.

For the Armenians, April 24th represents an extremely painful chapter in their history.   On that day, in 1915, hundreds of Armenian intellectuals (i.e., poets, musicians, publicists, editors, lawyers, doctors, writers, etc) were arrested in Istanbul, Turkey under warrants issued by the Ottoman authorities as Turkey was still under Ottoman rule at that time.  They were then sent into exile and massacred.

In the broader picture, it is generally accepted that there were about 2 million Armenians living in Turkey at the time of the 1915 massacre.  By the early 1920s, when the massacres and deportations finally ended, some 1.5 million of Turkey’s Armenians were dead, with many more forcibly removed from the country.

Despite pressure from Armenians and social justice advocates throughout the world, the Turkish government does not acknowledge the enormity or scope of these events and it is still illegal in Turkey to talk about what happened to Armenians during this era.  Perhaps Turkey should consider taking apology lessons from other countries, including the US.  Here are the Top 10 National Apologies as compiled by Time Magazine.

Tomorrow morning, a mourning procession of hundred of thousands Armenians and supporters will participate in a silent march that winds its way through the streets of Yerevan and ends at the Armenian Tsitsernakaberd Genocide Memorial where mourners  will place flowers around the eternal flame.  George Clooney has arrived into Yerevan to participate in tomorrow's events.  His face has been splashed all over the local news here.

Tonight, the Armenian Revolutionary Federation (ARF) Youth organized a candle light march that ended at  the Armenian Tsitsernakaberd Genocide Memorial.  Part of the 5 kilometer procession route was on Mashtots Avenue which we can actually see over to from the front window of our apartment.

Earlier this afternoon, Gurgen had told us about the march and Pat and I were intending to head out see it.  But as it turned out, we got so relaxed we forgot all about the march until Pat actually heard the sounds of the marchers.  And she's the one with the hearing aids :-)

I grabbed my camera and we quickly rushed out of the building and made our way over to Mashtots - less than a block away.  What we saw was an endless stream of mainly young people, some carrying Armenian flags and banners and others carrying candles in holders that had been fashioned out of upside down 2 liter bottles cut in half.  Hey, great way to repurpose those damn plastic bottles!  While you might have expected a march of young militants, instead it was remarkably peaceful.  Almost solemn.  The other thing that I noticed was that no one was holding up any protest banners.  I am sure there must have been some but none crossed my view.

There were policemen keeping an eye on both the marchers and observers like Pat and I.  In the US, they would have been outfitted in riot gear and perhaps, there would have even been some on motorcycles and horses but here, they were dressed as ordinary policemen.  Crowd control didn't really seem to be necessary.

Pat respectfully stayed on our side of the street and watched the marchers go by and we stayed until pretty much the last set of marchers passed us by.













Tomorrow is a national holiday.  Gurgen has offered to take us on a hour long walk through the city tomorrow morning so we'll be meeting up with him.  After that, Pat and I will just hang out in the apartment and relax.  We've been on the go for three weeks now and I think one day of just doing nothing is in order.  It's been a long day and I'm tired.  I'm going to bed now.

Goodnight from Yerevan!