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France officially commemorates Armenian genocide for the first time

President Emmanuel Macron plants a tree at the Tsitsernakaberd Armenian Genocide Memorial in Yerevan.
President Emmanuel Macron plants a tree at the Tsitsernakaberd Armenian Genocide Memorial in Yerevan. Melik Baghdasaryan/Reuters

On Wednesday France holds its first ever "national day of commemoration of the Armenian genocide", a move that has angered Turkey. French President Emmanuel Macron announced the national day of remembrance in February.

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Starting in 1915, the Ottoman Empire rounded up and killed up to 1.5 million Armenians in what some have called the first genocide of the 20th century. Turkey has always denied that the mass killings amounted to genocide, and considers those who died were victims of civil war and starvation.

France was the first European country to recognise the massacres as genocide, in a 2001 law. When he announced the national day of remembrance, President Macron said that France "knows how to look history in the face”.

Since then, France and Turkey have clashed over the decision. Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan has pointed the finger at France, and the massacres committed by French troops during the colonial era, a sentiment he reiterated on Wednesday, in a televised speech, in which he slammed those who think they are in a position to teach Turkey a lesson.

"It is clear who killed 800,000 people in the Rwandan genocide, the French are responsible,” he said, referring to an accusation by the current Rwandan government that France helped the Hutu regime, which was responsible for the 1994 genocide – a claim that Paris has always denied.

Erdogan also brought up Algeria, for which “archives and documents clearly prove” France’s responsibility in extra-judicial killings and torture.

Marking the genocide in France

Armenians commemorate the massacres on 24 April, the day in 1915 when Ottoman troops rounded up thousands of Armenian intellectuals suspected of being hostile to Ottoman rule.

The date in France is being marked by a speech by Prime Minister Edouard Philippe, who will lay flowers at a monument commemorating the genocide which was installed on the banks of the Seine in central Paris in April 2003.

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