Armenia unites to mark Ottoman massacres after leader quits

Armenians lay flowers during a memorial service at the monument to the victims of mass killings by Ottoman Turks, to commemorate the 103rd anniversary of the massacre in Yerevan, Armenia on April 24, 2018. (AP)
Updated 25 April 2018

Armenia unites to mark Ottoman massacres after leader quits

  • Protest leader said that he would conduct "political consultations" to discuss a number of concrete steps.
  • Unemployment in Armenia stood at 18 percent last year.

YEREVAN: Tens of thousands of Armenians led by opposition leader Nikol Pashinyan marched on Tuesday to honour 1.5 million of their kin killed by Ottoman forces in 1915, a day after the country's prime minister resigned following more than a week of opposition rallies.
The commemorations, which are a hugely emotional event for the South Caucasus country, came after Serzh Sarkisian on Monday stunned the country by standing down from his new post as prime minister.
Sarkisian, who had previously spent a decade in power as president, was accused of a blatant power grab by the opposition, who staged days of rallies in protest.
Clutching a purple rose, the bearded Pashinyan, 42, led a huge crowd of his supporters on a commemorative march to a hilltop memorial in the capital Yerevan to honour the victims of the World War I-era killings.
Sporting his trademark khaki-coloured T-shirt and a bandaged hand, Pashinyan -- who on Wednesday is expected to hold talks on the transfer of power -- called on the marchers to avoid shouting political slogans.
The acting head of government, Karen Karapetyan, appealed for unity after the wrenching political turmoil in a country locked in a simmering territorial conflict with Azerbaijan.
Russia -- which has a military base in Armenia -- appealed for stability but said it would not interfere.
Many Armenians said it was important the country managed to avoid bloodletting ahead of the highly symbolic commemorations.
"Thank God Armenian blood was not shed on the eve of the Genocide Remembrance Day," Seyran Halachyan, 58, told AFP at the foot of the hilltop memorial, the country's most visited landmark.
Ashot Minasyan, 72, said he was grateful to Sarkisian for not crushing peaceful protests and "leaving without bloodshed".
Acting government head Karapetyan thanked all political forces for heeding his call for unity.
"We are going through a difficult new phase in our history," he said in a statement.
"Today we show the world that despite difficulties and unresolved domestic issues we are together and united. This is our duty to the genocide's innocent victims."
Earlier in the day he also held official commemorations at the hilltop Tsitsernakaberd memorial, with thousands laying flowers at the monument.
Protest leader Pashinyan said that on Tuesday he would conduct "political consultations" to discuss a number of concrete steps so that a people's victory "could be legally guaranteed".
He has said that parliament would have to elect a new prime minister within a week and that snap parliamentary elections were also on the cards.
Many said they felt mixed emotions because the impoverished country's future was uncertain.
"I've been thinking from the start of the day that everything is just beginning," said Asya Bagdasaryan, 43.
"What awaits us in the future? Will there be new shocks?"
Armenia -- which depends on investment and aid from Russia -- over the past few years has been hit hard by economic troubles in the former Soviet master.
Unemployment in Armenia stood at 18 percent last year. The opposition says some 290,000 people have left the country since Sarkisian came to power in 2008.
Political turmoil enveloped the impoverished country of 2.9 million people after Sarkisian was last week elected prime minister by lawmakers after serving two successive presidential terms.
The opposition charged that the 63-year-old wanted to extend his grip on power under a new parliamentary system of government, saying he failed to tackle poverty and corruption.
Protests broke out several days before his expected election, with tens of thousands of people eventually taking to the streets of Yerevan and other cities in largely peaceful protests.
Sarkisian initially refused to resign but quit on the 11th day of demonstrations after a number of serving servicemen joined the marches.
His resignation came as a shock, with analysts saying just last week that the opposition did not have enough resources to force the veteran leader to quit.
Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov expressed hope that the country's new leader would suit "all forces representing the Armenian people".
A spokesman for Azerbajan's foreign ministry expressed the hope that new Armenian authorities would adopt a "constructive" approach over the breakaway region of Nagorny Karabakh.

Sri Lanka rejects plans for $10m Shariah university

Updated 23 min 27 sec ago

Sri Lanka rejects plans for $10m Shariah university

  • Madrasas to be absorbed by Ministry of Education in wake of Easter Sunday attacks
  • More than 100 arrests have been made following the rioting. A curfew has been lifted and life is returning to normal

COLOMBO: Sri Lankan Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe on Tuesday refused permission for a planned $10 million (SR37.5 million) Shariah university in one of the country’s main cities.

And in the wake of the deadly Easter Sunday terror attacks on hotels and churches, the premier also announced that all madrasas would be brought under the umbrella of Sri Lanka’s Education Ministry.

The latest moves by the Sri Lankan government follow widespread unrest on the island, with anti-Muslim riots having caused damage running into millions of dollars.

Wickremesinghe’s orders came after a fact-finding report into the university compiled by MP Ashu Marasinghe. He recommended that the institution, being constructed at Batticaloa, in the Eastern Province, should be privately operated and titled Batticaloa Technology University. The new education complex is located close to the township of Kattankudy where suspected ringleader of the Easter Sunday suicide bombings, Zahran Hashim, lived and preached his messages of hate and violence.

The Sri Lankan government analyst’s department said on Tuesday that DNA tests proved Hashim died in the attack at the Shangri-La hotel in Colombo.

President’s Counsel, Ali Sabry, a prominent lawyer and political analyst, told Arab News on Tuesday that the premier’s announcement was welcome.

“We don’t need a Shariah university at this juncture when there is a lot of suspicions on various Islamic topics that need to be clarified by Islamic theologians following the suicide attacks by Muslim extremists,” Sabry said. He stressed that the country’s main focus should be on strengthening ways to ensure peaceful coexistence among all communities.

The Sri Lankan University Grants Commission had a set of guidelines to license new universities, and Wickremesinghe’s latest recommendations would also be included among the requirements for a new university, Sabry added.

The prime minister’s ruling on madrasas (Islamic seminaries) would provide more transparency on the activities of the institutions, he said. “Their curriculum and their co-curricular activities should maintain a common standard and these madrasas should prepare the students to make them fit into society instead of just learning Arabic and Islam only.”

M.R.M. Malik, director of the Muslim Affairs Ministry in Colombo, told Arab News that currently all madrasas function under his ministry. “There are 317 madrasas throughout the island with an estimated 25,000 students. In addition to the local teachers, there are 38 Arabic teachers and 85 foreign students,” he said.

Most of the teachers are from Egypt, Pakistan and India, while many of the overseas students studying at the madrasas are from Libya, Pakistan, Jordan and India.

Sri Lanka Muslim Council President N.M. Ameen told Arab News that the local community had never wanted a Shariah university. However, he said the proposed curriculum for the madrasas should be constructed in consultation with Islamic scholars and the Muslim community.

Meanwhile, Western Province Gov. Azath Salley, revealed that damage caused by anti-Muslim riots had reached nearly Rs900 million (SR19.2 million). The governor was speaking to Arab News following a visit to some of the worst-affected villages on the island.

“Speaking to the families of the vandalized properties, it’s clear that an organized gang had attacked these earmarked properties owned by Muslims,” said Salley. “One child, whose father was killed in his presence, is still in a state of utter shock and dismay.” He added that turpentine oil had been poured on the face of the dead carpenter by his killers and set on fire.

The governor urged the authorities to bring the attackers to justice. He added that the government would provide compensation to victims of wrecked properties.

Police spokesman Ruwan Gunasakera said that more than 100 arrests had been made following the rioting, and that a curfew had been lifted and life was returning to normal.