Contrary to what people expected, the police was there to protect the mourners. The people honoured the 1.5 million Armenians killed by the Ottoman Turks in 1915 by keeping a respectful silence, lighting candles and throwing red flowers in the air, in Istanbul’s central Taksim square.
There were threats of violence that never became facts. Only a small group of very excited nationalists yelled as much as they could, reminding everyone that the Armenians are still occupying Nagorno-Karabakh, which is formally part of Azerbaijan, a country ethnically related to the Turks. I was in NK and they are right: the question is unsettled and Azeri lands are under Armenian occupation. I even sneaked into Aghdam, a thoroughly destroyed Azeri city controlled by the Armenian army.
But that’s an unrelated thing: what matters here is the hundreds of thousands of lives that were lost and which Turkey has never properly acknowledged. No one called that genocide, but I feel that many would if that wasn’t going to lead them to prison. Judges consider that as an “insult to Turkishness” and jail writers and politicians alike. Journalist Hrat Dink was murdered for insisting in using the “G” word in relation to the Armenians. Anyway, it was a very important and brave step that, for the first time, hundreds of Turkish citizens showed their willingness to honestly deal with the past.
The act was short, about 15 minutes, and then the mourners dispersed, leaving behind the nationalists with their hatred. A bunch of people walked along Istiklal Caddesi, the fabulous Istanbul street, chanting: “The brotherhood of Armenians, Turks and Kurds” and “Shoulder to shoulder against fascism”.