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Last Updated: Thursday, 12 October 2006, 13:34 GMT 14:34 UK
Armenian diaspora bound by killings
By Steven Eke
Regional affairs analyst, BBC News

Massacre of  Armenians, 1915
The row over the killings has festered for decades

From the Armenian perspective, the passing of a law in France forbidding denial of what Armenians consider to have been genocide is recognition of a great historical disaster.

There are politically and financially influential Armenian communities in several countries, most importantly the US, Canada and France. They have driven efforts to force recognition of the massacres in 1915 as genocide.

With Armenians so dispersed around the globe, the genocide theme has evolved into a central aspect of their national and self-identity.

But in Armenia itself, perspectives on the mass killings are sometimes quite different from the angry and highly politicised debate abroad.

Seminal event

One of the first things foreign visitors to Armenia are taken to see is the genocide memorial.

The towering concrete structure stands on a hill overlooking the country's capital, Yerevan.

It houses a small, sombre museum and is generally a low-key affair - except on one of Armenia's public holidays, genocide memorial day, held in late April every year.

Then a significant part of Armenia's population - just three-million or so strong - visit it to lay flowers.

At other times, the killings are part of a shared history, but one obscured by daily life.

Armenia is very poor, and its people have much more immediate concerns to be worried about.

That is not so among the Armenian diaspora. Revealingly, most of the best-known reflections of the killings, in music and literature, were produced outside Armenia.

In France, and especially the US, Armenians have excelled in science and commerce, and have a vocal presence in politics and the judiciary.

This leads Turkey and its allies to speak of an "Armenian lobby", which they say exerts disproportionate influence.

But among the diaspora, the mass killings in 1915 are the seminal event of modern Armenian history, something that binds together what is one of the world's most dispersed peoples.

Indeed, many diaspora Armenians passionately believe that the killings define latter-day Armenian identity.

And it is the diaspora, rather than Armenia itself, that drives the effort to have those killings recognised internationally as genocide.




SEE ALSO
Fears of Turkey's 'invisible' Armenians
22 Jun 06 |  From Our Own Correspondent
Armenian quest for lost orphans
01 Aug 05 |  Europe
Country profile: Armenia
27 Sep 06 |  Country profiles

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