Tuesday, 31 March 2009

At the Origins of Commemoration: The 90th Anniversary of Declaring April 24 as a Day of Mourning and Commemoration of the Armenian Genocide

2009 marks the 90th anniversary of April 24 as a day of commemoration. Here is the history of this important event:

A special committee was formed in Constantinople, in March 1919, by a group of Ottoman Armenian intellectuals who survived the Armenian Genocide. The main goal of this committee was the organization of commemoration ceremonies dedicated to the 4th anniversary of the Armenian Genocide. The committee, known as “The April 11th Board of Ceremonial Mourning” consisted of 13 members including Yevphime Avetisian, Zaruhi Galamkarian, Mari Stambulian, Perchuhi Parsamian, Miss Arpiar, Tigran Zaven, Merujan Parsamyan, Hakob Siruni, Gevorg Mesrop, Tagvor Suqiasian, Dr. Barsegh Tinanian, Shahan Perperian and Hovhannes Poghosian. Due to the efforts of these people the memory of the victims of Armenian Genocide was commemorated among the Armenians of Constantinople for the first time in 1919. Armenian writer, publicist and public figure Hakob Siruni wrote in his memoirs: “The mourning ceremony became a tradition. Since then, the 24th of April was adopted as a symbol of mourning.”

According to the committee, commemoration ceremonies were intended to be held from April 11th through the 18th, but due to the Armenian Patriarch’s illness at the time, the date was delayed by one day. Bishop Mesrop Naroian held a liturgy for the victims of the Armenian Genocide from April 15th to the 25th in St. Trinity church of Bera district of Constantinople. The Armenian patriarch of Constantinople, Zaven Eghiaian, gave a sermon. On this proclaimed “day of mourning,” all Armenian national colleges and shops in Constantinople were closed. Representatives of Saint Trinity Greek Church, RA P. Takhtadgian and others presented public statements during the ceremony.

During the afternoon, those attending the ceremony gathered Armenians moved on to the St. Trinity Armenian Evangelical Church located in the Cheshme district of the city. After the liturgy, the ceremonial mourning took place, marked with speeches, declamations and sacred music. Shahan Perperian gave the opening remarks on behalf of the Board of Ceremonial Mourning followed by representatives of the Armenian parties, including Vahan Zeituntsian and Professor H. Hakobian, Dr. Khandjian from the Doctor’s Union, Gevorg Mesrop from the Teacher’s Union along with many others. The speeches were intermingled with declamations and sacred music. A volume entitled “Memorial for April 11th” was published in Constantinople (published by - O. Arzumanian, 1919) edited by Theodik. It was published specifically for the Day of Mourning. This volume included the biographies, photos and unprinted pages of the Armenian martyrs of Constantinople and other provinces.

This initial commemoration for the victims of the Armenian Genocide in Constantinople was not the only one of its kind. On April 24, 1919, again in the St. Trinity Church in Bera, another liturgy was held for the same cause. It was officiated by the Armenian Patriarch, this time commemorating the American missionaries martyred during World War I. Representatives of the US Embassy to Turkey: Mr. Heike and Mr. Faull, a journalist from the “Times”, colonel Bennett and others brought their participation during the ceremony.

The next day, on April 25th, a similar ceremony dedicated to the martyrs of the Armenian Genocide took place in the Armenian Catholic Church at the Vatican under the approval of Pope. The entire Armenian community in Italy was present along with several Cardinals and Bishops (as representatives of the Pope), members of the Italian Government, Minister of Education M.Ludzatti, Speaker of Parliament Lombardo, Deputy Foreign Minster, French ambassador to Italy and other officials.

Since the first commemoration of the Armenian Genocide victims in Istanbul, April 24 officially was adopted as “Day of Mourning and Commemoration”.

*The Armenian Genocide Museum & Institute (press release)


nazarian said...

It's mind blowing that as little as 4 years after Metz Yeghern, not only there were Armenians in Turkey but they had kept their last names, they had operational churches and were allowed to have sermons like this.

artmika said...

I was shocked too, when I received this press release from the Genocide Museum, for the same reasons you mentioned. To learn that the first commemoration of the Armenian Genocide victims was taken place in Istanbul was a revelation for me.

nazarian said...

It made me willing to think about reconsidering my stance about the Turkish nation. This, and the fact that until now there is a sizeable Armenian minority, and that they lent us a helping hand when we were close to starvation in 1992, are facts that play in their favor.

Anonymous said...

Government and people are two different things. The government ussually represents only a segment of the population. Lets actually take a look into the events that led up to April 1915. (Simplified yet crucial). Prior to the Ottoman revolution the ARF decided to cooperate with the Committee of Union and Progress (the Young Turks) at the “Second congress of the Ottoman opposition" which took place in Paris, France in 1907.
The other Armenian political party, the Hnchaks and their leaders Paramaz and Sapah-Gulian in particular noted the Young Turk hostility and intolerant attitude to other national groups and condemned their drive to centralize state power seeing it as nothing less than the efforts of the new Turkish elite to defend what remained of the now much reduced colonial empire.
Now not all of the Hnchaks agreed with this assessment, but Paramaz was with that wing of the Hnchaks who anticipating the disaster of the genocide, opposed the ARF deal with the Young Turks, began cultivating the Turkish opposition and advocated the revival of Armenian armed self-defense and prepared to go underground again. Unfortunately they were betrayed by a fellow Armenian, not their fellow Turkish oppositionist but a fellow Armenian.
Paramaz was tried and hung with 19 other Hnchak leaders in June of 1915. Yet in 1918 Hnchaks in Constantinople commemorated the 20 martyrs (there is a picture of Sapah-Gulian addressing at one of the commemorations), this was also done on a yearly basis until Ataturk came to power. My point being; the governments are ultimately responsible for their actions, and Armenians and Turks have worked together on opposite sides of the political sphere in the past and may do so again. But lets hope the present Armenian regime will have some dignity and not capitulate on key demands, ie. Recognition that genocide did occur by the CUP led government against ethnic Armenian citizens.

spm said...

The reaction of Armenians to anything Turkish is shocking at times. Germans produced one of the finest music and literature in the world, as well as engineering and science. But that didnt prevent Hitler to coerce them into conducting Jewish Holocaust. But nobody considers now days any german as a murderer. Among turkish also are good and bad, evil and saint. Of course, until Turkey as a country does not admit the fact of Armenia Genocide and does not stop embellishing their history and fooling their own people that Armenians are enemies, and no such thing as Genocide happen, the problem will remain political. But we also should learn to look at the history objectively and emotionless. Otherwise Armenian accusations are so hysterical at times, that others just prefer to ignore them.

Anonymous said...

Lent a hand?? Nazarian re-read the history. Turkey closed their border to not allow earthquake relief into Armenia. There was even stories of broken glass being carted in, having replaced the pilfered relief sent through Turkey from the west.

Shiva said...

spm, the Holocaust has been recognized by Germany and the world, except for some nutcases and Islamic leaders who just want to anger Israeli Jews and Zionists. What would people think of Germans if they refused to do so?

Yes, Turkey is nice, touristy, and has wonderful food, weather, and so on. We can establish friendly relations with Turks on an individual level, but at the state or governmental level? Is that what you're getting at? You're preaching to the converted.

As for others ignoring Armenian accusations... people have been doing that since before 1915.

Onnik Krikorian said...

I think there's plenty that everyone has to learn about the circumstances of the Genocide away from BOTH partisan ARMENIAN and TURKISH nationalist subjective perceptions of history.

There's no doubt in my mind that it was Genocide, of course, and there's no doubt that Turkey does need to come to terms with its own past. However, I'm pretty sure most Armenians don't know how things happened and why.

On a related note, I find this information very interesting, and hope that any historical commission is conducted properly. Basically, that means a proper study of the Genocide away from the agendas of nationalists on both sides.

Onnik Krikorian said...

It's also worth noting Kemal Ataturk's apparent position on the Genocide:

These left_overs from the former Young Turk Party, who should have been made to account for the lives of millions of our Christian subjects who were ruthlessly driven en masse, from their homes and massacred, have been restive under the republican rule. [...]

Anyway, there's plenty for Turkey to come to terms with, but there's also much that many Armenians don't know about the Genocide as well.

I also think people should read this position on the matter by one of the few [Diaspora] historians to access to the Ottoman Archives and who also opposes the apparent existence of important documents under lock and key in the Diaspora.

Study the Armenian Genocide with confidence, Ara Sarafian suggests

It's time to close this chapter with a full understanding of what happened, and a resolution in the U.S. Congress is not going to do anything other than continue the stalemate if Armenia and Turkey are now close to righting a historical wrong.

However, that will probably not involve land reparations apart from a few key church properties and perhaps customs concessions (unless Armenia is to become a Kurdish and Turkish republic overnight, of course).

Personally speaking, I would prefer a calm and gradual approach which would lead Turkey to understand what happened and for that history to be taught in schools so closure can occur.

I can't see what a US resolution will do that and it seems as though Obama and the EU is of the same opinion. Here's hoping...