More than 3,000 marchers on Friday called for reconciliation between Turkey and Armenia on the centennial anniversary of the 1915 events.
“Turkey has been a great friend, a great ally to the United States,” said Solomon Ortiz, a former U.S. congressman who participated in Friday’s events. “Now it’s time to move very consciously on the reconciliation between Turkey and Armenia.”
Beginning in front of the White House, “the peace and solidarity walk” organized by the Turkish American Steering Committee, ended 4 miles later at Turkish Embassy in Washington where the crowd swelled to 5,000 demonstrators.
Turkey’s Ambassador to Washington Serdar Kilic met demonstrators in front of the embassy.
“It would be quixotic if somebody said six months ago that nearly 7,000 people Turkish flags in their hands would gather in Washington to stand with Turkey chanting slogans ‘Unite us, don’t divide us,’ ‘Let the history decide’,” he said.
He added that it is crucial to see Turkish and non-Turkish Muslim community in solidarity as he thanked the Steering Committee, formed in October, for its success in gathering the amount of people in such a short time.
Marchers were largely from the Turkish-American community but were joined by smaller numbers of non-Turks, including Palestinians, Egyptians and Somalis who came from across the U.S.
Demonstrators protested claims by Armenians that the Ottoman Empire committed genocide when it relocated more than 1 million Armenians due to security concerns during World War I.
Many held signs that read “Armenian genocide is an imperialist lie,” and “We stand with Turkey,” as they called on the U.S. to reconcile Armenians and Turks who have lived together for centuries.
“We came out in support of Turkey,” said Osama Abu Irshad, a Palestinian-American. “We understand that this historical event is being politicized and we agree with the Turkish president, Mr. Erdogan, that this needs to be investigated by historians, not by politicians.”
In 2014, when current President Recep Tayyip Erdogan served as prime minister, he expressed his condolences for the first time to Armenians who lost their lives during the 1915 events.
“I offered a hand of friendship in 2014 to Armenia, but, unfortunately, it came to nothing,” Erdogan said in a recent speech.
The head of the U.S. Council of Muslim Organizations said the group joined the walk to show solidarity with Turkey.
“Turkey should not be singled out in a conflict that took place 100 years ago. Millions of people with different ethnic and religious background lost their lives during the World War I. We are sorry for all innocents who lost their lives. Our hearts are with the victims,” said Ossama Jammal.
He welcomed Turkey’s effort to reconcile with Armenia and added that as a Muslim organization his group would support Turkey’s efforts to shed light on that dark period of history.
Ambassador Kilic said the Muslim organization released a statement in support of Turkey with respect to the 1915 events. “This is a first in the U.S.,” he said.
“I feel that the solidarity that the Turkish people displayed in the U.S. will send the message that Turkey is not alone and will contribute to Turkey’s influence on decisions to be taken by the U.S. administration or the Congress in future.” he added
The 1915 events took place during World War I when a portion of the Armenian population living in the Ottoman Empire sided with the invading Russians and revolted.
The relocation by the Ottomans of Armenians in eastern Anatolia following the revolts resulted in numerous casualties. Turkey does not dispute that there were casualties on both sides, but rejects the definition of “genocide.”
“We Egyptian-Americans are with Turkey and Turkish people. We believe that Turkey is the leader of Muslim world,” said Ahmed Shata, deputy chair of Egyptian-Americans for Democracy and Human Rights.
Turkey and Turkish people have always supported Egyptian and Syrian people, now it is time to support Turkey, he added.
About 1,000 Armenian demonstrators held a counter demonstration across the street from the Turkish embassy, calling on Turkey to recognize the 1915 events as genocide.
At times the two groups exchanged words but the protests remained peaceful until a pair of opposing protesters scuffled after one apparently trampled on a Turkish flag.
One arrest was made in an unrelated incident.
Two miles away, a “Performance for Peace” dance was staged in front of the Lincoln Memorial, consisting of nearly 100 dancers and a color guard.
In an effort to raise awareness and increase cooperation between Turkey and Armenia, dancers wore red t-shirts with the words “PEACE” and “#Next100Years” printed on them.
At the end of the show, performers unfurled a 165-foot (50-meter) long Turkish flag.
“We are proud to open the Turkish flag” in one of the most visited places in Washington, said Ayhan Ozmekik, spokesman of the Istanbul-based Turkic Platform that organized the event to target American audiences.
A similar performance was conducted April 21 in New York’s Times Square.