- Associated Press - Saturday, April 18, 2015

ST. PAUL, Minn. (AP) - A St. Paul church is pushing to recognize the deaths of an estimated 1.5 million Armenians a century ago as the first genocide of the 20th century.

In the past month, St. Sahag Armenian Church has put up billboards on Interstate 94 in St. Paul and Interstate 494 in Bloomington calling for remembrance of the Armenian genocide, according to the Pioneer Press (https://bit.ly/1OU1V1s ).

It’s also distributed car decals with forget-me-not flower logos. There are also commemorative events, including a prayer service Saturday at the Cathedral of St. Paul dedicated to those killed.

Pope Francis recently marked the 100th anniversary by calling the massacre by Ottoman Turks “the first genocide of the 20th century” and urging the international community to recognize it as such.

Historians estimate that up to 1.5 million Armenians were killed by Ottoman Turks around the time of World War I.

Turkey denies a genocide took place. It has insisted that the toll has been inflated and that those killed were victims of civil war and unrest.

St. Sahag didn’t have a full-time pastor until about two years ago, when the Armenian Church, an orthodox Christian denomination, assigned Father Tadeos Barseghyan, a 31-year-old priest born in Armenia.

The Armenian community in Minnesota has around 300 to 350 families, according to Barseghyan. But it’s difficult to find a family from the church that wasn’t touched by the Armenian genocide and diaspora.

Dr. Joseph Tashjian, a radiologist from St. Paul, said his grandmother was orphaned in the killings and made it to the United States after a harrowing exodus from Turkey.

Shacke Yeterian Scallen said that 100 years ago, her parents fled Turkish forces with their first child, a 3-month-old baby, who died during the trip.

“They dug a hole in the desert and they buried her there,” she said. “How can they deny it, the Turks, that the genocide never happened?”

The members of St. Sahag said they want to counter what German Nazi leader Adolf Hitler allegedly said shortly before the start of World War II when he was advocating ruthlessness against his enemies: “Who, after all, speaks today of the annihilation of the Armenians?”

“Our purpose is not to condemn somebody. It’s not to blame somebody. It’s to tell our story,” Barseghyan said. “If you cannot remember what happened in the past, we cannot deal with the issues that are facing the world today.”

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Information from: St. Paul Pioneer Press, https://www.twincities.com

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