Commemorations ceremonies will be held across the world on April 24 to mark the massacre of Armenians in the Ottoman Empire 100 years ago.
Hundreds of thousands are expected to join a procession to a hilltop memorial in the Armenian capital, Yerevan, to lay flowers at the eternal flame at the center of a monument commemorating the victims.
The Russian and French presidents, Vladimir Putin and Francois Hollande, are expected to be among heads of state to travel to Armenia for the commemorations. Treasury Secretary Jacob Lew will lead the U.S. presidential delegation.
In Istanbul, a service expected to be attended by Turkey’s EU Affairs Minister Volkan Bozkir is to be held at the Armenian Patriarchate.
Commemorations will take place in other cities with large Armenian diaspora communities such as Paris and Los Angeles.
The events will take place after more than a week of tense diplomatic storms between Turkey and the international community.
The slaughter and deportation of up to 1.5 million Armenians by Ottoman Turks during World War I is considered by many historians and several nations, including Russia and France, as genocide.
Turkey objects, saying that Armenians died in much smaller numbers and because of civil strife rather than a planned Ottoman government effort to annihilate the Christian minority.
The Armenian Apostolic Church made saints the victims of the massacres and deportations during a ceremony outside the Echmiadzin Cathedral, near Yerevan, on April 23.
“Over a million Armenians were deported, killed, and tortured,” Catholicos of All Armenians, Karekin II, said at the ceremony. “But in the face of this they stayed faithful to Christ. They were persecuted for their faith in Christ.”
At the end of the ceremony, bells tolled in Armenian churches around the world.
It was the first time in 400 years that the Armenian Apostolic Church has authorized any canonizations.
Later on April 23, German President Joachim Gauck described the massacre as genocide, a move likely to cause outrage in Turkey.
Speaking at a church service in Berlin, Gauck said, “The fate of the Armenians stands as exemplary in the history of mass exterminations, ethnic cleansing, deportations and yes, genocide, which marked the 20th Century in such a terrible way.”
Gauck, who holds a largely ceremonial role, added that Germans may share “partial guilt in the genocide of the Armenians” as an ally of Turkey in World War I, since German military advisors had been aware and were involved in the planning.
His comments came as the German parliament, the Bundestag, prepared to debate a motion on the 1915 massacres on April 24.
On April 22, Turkey recalled its ambassador to Austria after parties in parliament issued a joint declaration describing the massacres of Armenians as genocide.
On April 12, Pope Francis angered Turkey when quoting part of a statement from John Paul II and the Armenian patriarch in 2000, referring to the event as “the first genocide of the 20th century.”
In a statement on April 23, U.S. President Barack Obama described the massacre of ethnic Armenians in the Ottoman Empire 100 years ago as “terrible carnage,” but avoided the term genocide.
Addressing a meeting on April 23, Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan said, “The Armenian claims on the 1915 events, and especially the numbers put forward, are all baseless and groundless.”
Earlier this week, Prime Minister Ahmet Davutoglu reiterated Turkey’s stance that the killings were not genocide, but said the country will “share the pain” of Armenians.
In an interview with CNN Turk television, broadcast on April 23, Armenian President Serzh Sarkisian said “reconciliation between the two peoples will have to come about through Turkey recognizing the genocide.”
Turkey is hosting world leaders on April 24 to mark the 100th anniversary of the start of the Battle of Gallipoli between Allied troops and forces of the Ottoman Empire. The events will be attended by Britain’s Prince Charles and the prime ministers of Australia and New Zealand.
Sarkisian has accused Ankara of deliberately “trying to divert world attention” from the Yerevan commemorations.