updated 4/24/2005 11:14:08 PM ET 2005-04-25T03:14:08

Hundreds of thousands of people on Sunday commemorated the mass killings of Armenians during Ottoman rule 90 years ago, vowing to press their case to have the deaths recognized by the world as genocide.

Waving flags and carrying flowers, people streamed through the Armenian capital and marched up to a massive hilltop granite memorial to hear speeches and prayers. Weeping mourners filed into the circular block memorial, laying carnations on a flat surface surrounding a burning flame. A choir in black sang hymns as the crowd filed past, some carrying umbrellas against the sun.

The country observed a minute of silence at 7 p.m., and Yerevan residents were to place candles on window sills in memory of the victims.

Armenians say Ottoman authorities began rounding up intellectuals, diplomats and other influential Armenians in Istanbul on April 24, 1915, as violence and unrest grew, particularly in the eastern parts of the country.

Number, cause of deaths disputed
Armenians say up to 1.5 million Armenians died or were killed over several years as part of a genocidal campaign to force them out of eastern Turkey. Turkey acknowledges that large numbers of Armenians died, but says the overall figure is inflated and that the deaths occurred in the civil unrest during the collapse of the Ottoman Empire.

France, Russia and many other countries have already declared the killings were genocide; the United States, which has a large Armenian diaspora community, has not.

President Bush issued a statement of solidarity with the Armenian people on Sunday from Crawford, Texas.

“I join my fellow Americans and Armenian people around the world in expressing my deepest condolences for this horrible loss of life,” Bush said.

Turkey, which has no diplomatic ties with Armenia, is facing increasing pressure to fully acknowledge the event, particularly as it seeks membership in the European Union. The issue is extremely sensitive in Turkey, and Turks have faced prosecution for saying the killings were genocide.

Ankara earlier this month called for the two countries to jointly research the killings. Bush said he hoped the proposal could aid “a future of freedom, peace and prosperity in Armenia and Turkey.”

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