The Belgian city of Liège played host to representatives from 83 countries today as leaders descended on the city to remember the beginning of hostilities that cost millions of lives. While many point to the assassination of Archduke Franz Ferdinand and his wife by six assassins in Sarajevo, it was in Liège that hostilities truly began after Germany issued an ultimatum to Belgium demanding safe passage for its troops as it looked toward France.

Europe World War I Centenary

Light shun on Gaza and Ukraine on World War I commemoration

In addition to honoring the millions of fallen soldiers and civilians leaders from throughout Europe and the world, used the commemoration as an opportunity to shine light on both Gaza and the Ukraine.

In addition to Belgium’s King Philippe and Queen Mathilde and caretaker Prime Minister Elio Di Rupo, the presidents of France and Germany, the U.S. Secretary of the Army John M. McHugh, and the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge among others were in attendance. Following the Franco-Prussian war in 1870-71, the border between Germany and France was heavily defended prompting Germany to invade France through Belgium which was guaranteed neutrality by the 1839 Treaty of London. That move effectively split the world and remains the bloodiest war in the world’s and Europe’s history.

French President on the murderous conflict in Gaza

French President François Hollande, was somewhat unshockingly, given that country’s history of antisemitism, the first to chastise Israel for the current crisis in Gaza saying,  “When in Gaza a murderous conflict has been going on for over a month…we cannot stay neutral, we have an obligation to act,” he said. “Europe has to take its responsibility to act, along with the U.N. We cannot simply invoke a cult of memory, we have to take our responsibilities.”

He then strayed further from his prepared remarks saying, “I mentioned the neutrality, twice compromised, of Belgium, but today neutrality is no longer an option,” French President François Hollande said in a strongly worded statement that deviated from his planned speech. “How can we stay neutral when a people, not far from Europe, is fighting for its rights and territorial integrity? How to stay neutral when a civilian aircraft can be shot out of the sky? When there are civilian populations being massacred in Iraq, minorities being persecuted in Syria?”

Belgium’s Prime Minister agrees with Hollande and says Europe should withstand racism

Belgium’s Prime Minister echoed Hollande’s statements, “History shows us that economic integration and trade, alone, don’t create unity…and nor do they preclude hostility between peoples,” he said in front of the imposing war memorial. “Their economic interdependence didn’t prevent the disaster we are commemorating today.”

He added that Europe should withstand every form of “racism, xenophobia and anti-Semitism.”

German President Joachim Gauck said that there should still be hope. “The two great wars taught us terrible and bitter lessons. Let us show not merely through words of remembrance and commemoration, but also through our actions in the present and future, that we truly learned our lesson.”

And when Germany is on board with the idea of peace we may just get there.

World War I Facts [INFOGRAPHIC]

World war 1 Europe

Infographic source: historyasia.com