YEREVAN, Armenia, April 24 (UPI) -- Armenia on Friday observed the centennial of Meds Yeghern, the mass killing of up to 1.5 million Armenians by the Ottoman Turks in 1915.
Officials and activists have urged world leaders to use the term genocide when referencing the massacre, a description Turkey refutes.
Violet and gold forget-me-nots, symbols of the massacre, were visible throughout Yerevan, the capital city, and week-long concerts and marches were held.
Armenian officials have urged for wider adoption of the term genocide to describe the mass killings.
"The Armenian genocide is not an allegation or a personal opinion," Hrachia Tashchian, deputy chief of mission at the Armenian Embassy in Washington, told The Washington Diplomat. "It is a widely documented fact supported by a vast amount of historical evidence."
So far, the White House has not officially recognized the massacre as a genocide but 43 U.S. states have done so.
President Barack Obama referred to the killings on Friday as "the first mass atrocity of the 20th century." In his remembrance day message, Obama recalled the efforts by U.S. officials in 1915 to raise awareness about the massacre, confront Ottoman leaders and provide relief to Armenian refugees.
"Against this backdrop of terrible carnage, the American and Armenian peoples came together in a bond of common humanity. Ordinary American citizens raised millions of dollars to support suffering Armenian children, and the U.S. Congress chartered the Near East Relief organization, a pioneer in the field of international humanitarian relief. Thousands of Armenian refugees began new lives in the United States, where they formed a strong and vibrant community and became pillars of American society. ....
"On this solemn centennial, we stand with the Armenian people in remembering that which was lost. We pledge that those who suffered will not be forgotten. And we commit ourselves to learn from this painful legacy, so that future generations may not repeat it."
International delegations, including French President Francois Hollande, Russian President Vladimir Putin and a U.S. delegation led by Treasury Secretary Jack Lew, took part in Yerevan's centennial commemoration. Delegates gathered Friday at the Tsiternakaberd Memorial Complex under a rainy gray sky, shook hands with the Armenian president and laid yellow roses on a memorial wreath.