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Why Are Armenians in Turkey Protesting in Front of an Arts Museum?

This tourist attraction was once the site of a horrific tragedy.

Images of the Armenian intellectuals detained and deported from Istanbul on April 24, 1915. Image via Wikimedia Commons.

To commemorate the centennial anniversary of the Armenian genocide—a horrific event that took the lives of an estimated 1.5 million people—more than 100 Armenians in Turkey organized a demonstration in front of the Museum of Turkish and Islamic Art in Istanbul. Assembled in front of the building, many held signs that read, “recognize the genocide” or carried red carnations in their hands.

This popular tourist attraction is the place where 250 Armenian journalists, doctors, teachers, politicians and other intellectuals were detained, before being deported to other parts of the Ottoman Empire—where some of them were even killed—on April 24, 1915. The museum is a former Ottoman police headquarters; Armenians and their allies gathered there today to remember what is often referred to as “Red Sunday.” In Turkey, where the government refuses to acknowledge the events of 1915 as genocide, such a demonstration invites the surveillance of riot police. They stood by and watched as protesters staged a solemn “Walk to Remember,” marching silently to a boat that took them to a train station from where, 100 years ago, 250 Istanbul Armenians were transaported to their deaths.

Although the demonstration drew small numbers, the changing demographics of the annual protests reflect broader shifts in public opinions.

“Very different people are now taking part in the commemorations: more young people, more women, more religious Muslims, and more Armenians from Turkey. The Turkish media are more openly referring to the term genocide. There is more confidence”, said Benjamin Abtan, president of the European Grassroots Antiracist Movement (Egam), to the Guardian. “When I came the first time in 2011, I was the only person who was not a Turkish national. Today there are delegations from over 15 countries, including from Armenia.”

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