It began with the haunting flutter of an ancient Armenian duduk flute in Daley Plaza Friday and ended in angry outbursts 100 years in the making.
Some 1,500 people of mostly Armenian origin gathered in the plaza — one of countless such gatherings across the globe — marking the 100th anniversary of the beginning of the Armenian genocide at the hands of the Ottoman Turks.
Armenian flags fluttered in the wind and some carried placards that read “1915. Never again” and “We remember and demand justice for the Armenian genocide.”
An estimated 1.5 million died in massacres, deportations and forced marches that began in 1915 as Ottoman officials worried that the Christian Armenians would side with Russia, its enemy in World War I. The event is widely viewed by historians as genocide. Turkey denies the deaths constituted genocide, saying the toll has been inflated and that those killed were victims of civil war and unrest.
Peter Youssoufian, 73, of Lake Zurich was in the plaza to remember his maternal Armenian grandfather.
“He was a priest conducting mass, and three Turkish soldiers entered his church, put swords into him and killed him,” Youssoufian said. “My mother’s mother was left with five small daughters to raise by herself.”
Speakers praised Pope Francis for his remarks earlier this month, referring to the killings as “genocide,” while some criticized President Barack Obama for failing to use the term in his own speech on the subject.
U.S. Sen. Dick Durbin was unequivocal as he spoke to the crowd in Chicago Friday.
“This gathering is about more than history, it is about honesty, where we acknowledge once and for all that this was a genocide that sadly claimed the lives of 1.5 million Armenians and many other innocent people,” Durbin said to applause.
A little later, about 1,000 people marched east along Wacker Drive toward the Turkish Consul General’s office, just off Michigan Avenue. The protesters were met by about 200 or so flag-waving people of Turkish ancestry.
“By brainwashing and saying lies, they are trying to get land and money from Turkey,” said Yucel Tavolara, 50, who lives in the Northwest suburbs but is originally from Turkey.
As tourists and office workers looked on, the two groups yelled insults across barriers police had put in place.
“Guilty! Guilty!” shouted the Armenian side.
“No more lies!” yelled their opponents.