Armenia remembers massacre amid political crisis
By Stefan J. Bos
Thousands of people, including leaders of the opposition and their supporters, marched to a hilltop memorial complex in Yerevan, the capital of this Caucasus Mountains nation. Armenia's acting prime minister and other officials also laid flowers here along with thousands of residents.
They are commemorating the massacre by Ottoman Empire forces that began 103 years and which Armenians and many historians consider to be genocide.
Pope Francis, who visited Armenia in 2016, has also described the slaughter of some 1.5 million predominantly Christians Armenians during World War I as a genocide, but he also prayed that such a tragedy never happens again.
Turkey, the successor of the Ottoman Empire, refuses to call the killings genocide, saying the massacre was part of hostilities around the First World War.
Tuesday's ceremony came a day after the opposition succeeded in pushing Prime Minister Serzh Sargsyan out of office. He said he was resigning to help safeguard civil peace following almost two weeks of mass street protests that have plunged the impoverished ex-Soviet republic into political crisis.
Sargsyan, seen as a close ally of Russian President Vladimir Putin, had served as Armenia’s president for a decade until this month. He had faced accusations of clinging to power when Parliament elected him as prime minister last week.
Under a revised constitution, the prime minister now holds the most power in the tiny southern Caucasus nation, while the presidency has become largely ceremonial.
Despite the prime minister's resignation, opposition leader Nikol Pashinian told supporters that a struggle for freedom should continue. "The Velvet, nonviolent, people's revolution cannot stop as it is only half complete and it must go on to the end," he said.
He stressed that he hoped that "everyone is standing here for the final victory. " Pashinian added that "the Republic of Armenia starting from this moment there will be an atmosphere of freedom, brotherhood, legality, equality, and national unity."
Observers said that Pashinian's remarks suggested that he wanted to serve as prime minister for a transitional period, followed by elections that could reduce the ruling Republican Party's dominance. Pashinian seeks to bolster the position of his party -- which now holds only four mandates in Armenia's 105-seat National Assembly.