Armenia late Thursday turned off street lights nationwide as President Armen Sarkisian acknowledged the coronavirus lockdown altered the annual comemmoration of the victims of WWI-era genocide by Ottoman Turks.
In the capital Yerevan, a torch-lit procession traditionally held on April 23 each year had been cancelled and access was closed to the genocide memorial that dominates the city skyline.
The 105th anniversary of the tragedy “is commemorated in accordance with a protocol forced on us by the (coronavirus) pandemic,” President Sarkisian said in a statement.
“We remember our victims all the time and everywhere, no matter where in the world we are,” Sarkisian said.
Instead of the usual ceremonies, street lights were switched off and church bells chimed across the country.
Under spring rain, Yerevan plunged into darkness as residents also switched off lights in their homes. Many lit candles or mobile telephone flashlights at windowsills.
Last month, Armenia — which has reported 1,401 coronavirus cases and 22 deaths — declared a state of emergency and imposed a nationwide lockdown to slow the spread of the infection.
Armenians say up to 1.5 million people were killed during World War I as the Ottoman Empire was falling apart, a claim supported by many other countries.
Turkey fiercely rejects the genocide label, arguing that 300,000 to 500,000 Armenians and at least as many Turks died in civil strife when Armenians rose up against their Ottoman rulers and sided with invading Russian troops.
Yerevan has long demanded from Ankara the financial compensation and restoration of property rights for the descendants of those killed in the 1915-1918 massacres, which Armenians call Meds Yeghern — the Great Crime.
President Sarkisian said the “recognition of the Armenian Genocide by Turkey and elimination of its consequences is a matter of security for Armenia, the Armenian nation, and the region.”
On Friday, Prime Minister Nikol Pashinyan and the head of the Armenian Church, Catholicos Garegin II, will lay flowers at a hilltop genocide memorial in Yerevan.