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Armenian Church declares genocide victims saints

April 23, 2015

Amid tensions over Turkey's refusal to call Ottoman forces' killings of Armenians genocide, the Armenian Church declared the victims to be saints. The canonization was held ahead of centennial commemorations.

A woman prays in memory of the victims of mass killings of Armenians by Ottoman Turks at the Armenia's main cathedral in Echmiadzin, April 23, 2015
Image: Reuters/D. Mdzinarishvili

Church leaders and state officials gathered at the Echmiadzin Cathedral near Armenia's capital Yerevan on Thursday to mark 100 years since the killings began.

"The canonization of the martyrs of the genocide brings life-giving new breath, grace and blessing to our national and ecclesiastical life," Catholicos Karekin II, the leader of the Armenian Apostolic Church, said at the open-air ceremony, which Armenia's President Serge Sarkisian attended.

The two hours of proceedings ended at the symbolic time of 7:15 p.m. local time (1915 in 24-hour time), when church bells rang out 100 times, a gesture which was to be repeated at Armenian churches around the globe.

"Souls of the victims of the genocide will finally find eternal repose today," 68-year-old social worker Varduhi Shanakian said.

Armenia, an ex-Soviet country of 3.2 million people, wants the world to recognize the World War I massacres of up to 1.5 million Armenians by Ottoman forces between 1915 and 1917 as genocide. Modern Turkey, the successor nation to the Ottoman Empire, has refused to call the killings genocide and criticized other countries that have done so.

Hundreds of thousands of people, including members of the vast Armenian diaspora, were expected to join commemorations in Yerevan on Friday.

se/sms (AFP, Reuters)