The Armenian Church on Thursday conferred sainthood on some 1.5 million Armenians massacred by Ottoman forces a century ago, as tensions raged over Turkey’s refusal to recognise the killings as genocide.
The ceremony, which is believed to be the biggest canonisation service in history, came ahead of commemorations expected to see millions of people including heads of state on Friday mark 100 years since the start of the killings.
The two-hour ceremony outside Armenia’s main cathedral, Echmiadzin, close to the capital Yerevan, ended at 7:15 pm local time, or 19:15 according to the 24-hour clock (1515 GMT), to symbolise the year when the massacres started during World War I.
“During the dire years of the genocide of the Armenians, millions of our people were uprooted and massacred in a premeditated manner, passed through fire and sword, tasted the bitter fruits of torture and sorrow,” Catholicos of All Armenians, Karekin II, said at the ceremony.
“The canonisation of the martyrs of the genocide brings life-giving new breath, grace and blessing to our national and ecclesiastical life.”
Clergymen in ornate robes sang ancient chants outside the imposing cathedral built in a pale pink variety of limestone at an open-air altar in a churchyard full of spring greenery.
At the end of the ceremony attended by President Serzh Sarkisian, bells rang out across Armenia and a minute of silence was observed.
Bells also tolled in cities around the world including New York, Madrid, Venice, Berlin and the Notre Dame Cathedral in Paris, Armenian television said.
“Today’s canonisation unites all Armenians living around the globe,” said Huri Avetikian, an ethnic Armenian librarian from Lebanon who arrived in her ancestral homeland to attend the service.
“Souls of the victims of the genocide will finally find eternal repose today,” said 68-year-old social worker Varduhi Shanakian.
“Supreme justice will triumph.”
In canonising the victims, “the Church only recognises what happened: that is, the genocide”, Karekin II said ahead of the event which Christian Today, an online publication covering religious news, said could become “the biggest saint-making service in history”.
Ex-Soviet Armenia and the huge Armenian diaspora worldwide have battled for decades to get the World War I massacres at the hands of the Ottoman forces between 1915 and 1917 recognised as a targeted genocide.
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