Armenians mark 91st anniversary of mass killings in Ottoman Empire

Hundreds of thousands of Armenians on Monday streamed to a hilltop memorial in the capital, Yerevan, to mark the 91st anniversary of mass killings of Armenians in the Ottoman Empire.

Armenia accuses Turkey of the massacre of up to 1.5 million Armenians between 1915 and 1919, when Armenia was under the Ottoman Empire. Turkey rejects the claim and says Armenians were killed in civil unrest during the collapse of the empire.

Crowds of Armenians as well as expatriates living abroad laid flowers and wreaths at the vast Genocide Victims Memorial overlooking Yerevan.

"Today we are paying tribute to the victims of the genocide of Armenians," President Robert Kocharian said in an address to the nation. "The Ottoman Empire and its successor state bear full responsibly for this crime."

The killings began before April 24, but memorial services are held on this date because it is the anniversary of the day in 1915 when Turkish authorities executed a large group of Armenian intellectuals and political leaders, accusing them of helping the invading Russian army during World War I.

The commemoration events started late Sunday when several hundred members of youth groups staged a burning of Turkey's national flag and then marched through the city with torches and banners reading "The blood of 2 million Armenians is on Turkey's conscience" and "Genocide is the shame of humanity, and first of all of Turkey."

Armen Tumanyan, a computer programmer in Yerevan, took his 4-year-old son, Karen, to participate in the commemoration ceremony. "He doesn't understand yet what is happening, but I am sure he will come here with his own children  he will never forget his visit to the Memorial."

The former Soviet nation of Armenia has pushed for the United States and other nations to declare the killings a genocide. Many countries, including Russia and France, have officially recognized the event as genocide, along with some U.S. states, reports AP.

O.Ch.