Churches across Jerusalem rang their bells 100 times before ecumenical services Friday at the Church of the Holy Sepulchre to mark the 100th anniversary of the killings of more than 1.5 million Armenians by the Ottoman Turks.
The Armenian community in East Jerusalem, in place for centuries, is one of the oldest outside Armenia. Many more Armenians settled in Israel following the collapse of the Soviet Union.
For the first time, Christian churches of various denominations in East Jerusalem joined their Armenian brethren in marking the anniversary of the massacre.
As well, hundreds of protesters carried the red, blue and orange Armenian flag and signs reading “Turkey guilty of genocide” at a demonstration near the Turkish consulate in East Jerusalem on Friday.
Israeli police set up barricades and kept the protesters at a distance to prevent any violence.
Hratch Sevan, 49, an Armenian resident of East Jerusalem with a long established business in the city, attended along with his wife and three children, the youngest of whom was in a baby carriage.
He said the demonstration was the largest he could remember.
“We mark this anniversary every year, but this year it has drawn the largest crowd and biggest interest so far,” he said.
Sevan says he thinks the rise in interest is due to the atrocities committed by militants from the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria (ISIS) against Christians.
“Turkey should admit that what happened in 1915 was genocide,” he said. “It should give us back our rights and our land, which it still occupies until this day.”
Sevan said his grandfather left his hometown, Urfa, still under Turkish rule, soon after the massacre. He came to Jerusalem where he resided with his family until his death in 1950.
“We have never stopped demanding to get back our rights and land,” he said, expressing hope that one day soon he can take his children and go back to Urfa as a part of Armenia.
“We feel now that we are getting closer to achieving this goal after Pope Francis and many world leaders have started to talk openly about it and have recognized it as genocide,” he said.
Before arriving at the Turkish consulate, members of the Armenian community laid wreaths at a genocide memorial at the Armenian St. James Cathedral in Jerusalem’s Old City.
A placard was placed at the memorial carrying the flags of all the countries that have so far recognized the Armenian genocide.
Abukhater is a special correspondent.