109th anniversary of the Armenian Genocide commemorated at Parliament Hill in Ottawa

By Noushig Ghazarian Nalpatian

April 24, 2024, marks the 109th anniversary of the Armenian Genocide, where 1.5 million Armenians were killed by the Ottoman Empire. On April 24, 1915, leaders and intellectuals from the Armenian Community in Constantinople were arrested and detained, which later spread through the Ottoman Empire initiating a series of widespread arrests which eventually led to imprisonment, relocations, and genocide of the 1.5 million Armenians.

A century later, history has repeated itself once more. September 2023 Azerbaijan launched an illegal assault on Artsakh yet again. It displaced 120,000 ethnic Armenians from their homes and ancestral lands.

The denial and the non-recognition of these attacks is playing out again and yet again, the world is standing silent by not calling out the perpetrators and its allies. In a world where the majority is silenced and adheres to the threats of the powerful come voices that are being heard and demands that are being met.

The Canadian Armenian community along with its supportive Canadian government representatives have rallied together in unison to bring forward by calling out and seeking justice for the ethnic Armenians of Artsakh and the 1.5 million Armenians that perished in 1915.

On May 1, 2024, a commemoration of the Armenian Genocide was held at Parliament Hill at the Sir John A. MacDonald building. The event was organized by the Armenian National Committee of Canada and was sponsored by a friend of the Armenian community and a supporter of its causes Mr. Bryan May, who is the Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister of Small Business and to the Minister Responsible for the Federal Economic Development Agency for Southern Ontario and Member of Parliament for Cambridge.

Arevig Afarian Master of Ceremony for the reception welcomed The Honorable Speaker of the House of Commons, Her Excellency, Honorable Ministers, Members of the Kings Privy Council for Canada, His Eminence, Distinguished Senators, and Member of the House of Commons, Representatives of the Armenian National Committee of Canada, and all Armenian sister organizations.

Ms. Afarian, opened her speech as how closely tied all Armenians are to the genocide that happened over a century ago and how it still plays out to this day with her own personal tie to losing a close friend to the on-going atrocities that have taken place in the 21rst century. A member of her family was one of the intellectuals that was taken away on the faithful night of April 24, 1915, never to be seen again, “His wife and their five children found themselves in the notorious death march through the dessert of Der Zor. She was able to reach the safety to Lebanon with three surviving children.”

Ms. Afarian story does not end there, as she continues to say that 100 years later her friend’s fate that she met while volunteering in Shushi, Artsakh would also end in the front lines in September 2023, when Azerbaijan illegally attacked Artsakh, Nagorno Karabakh, yet again.

“History is repeating itself before our very own eyes.” We said never again, but it happened again.” Ms. Afarian boldly states.

“Being able to pay tribute to my fallen friend here, on Parliament Hill, means the world to me but the reality is that his name was simply added to the millions of Armenians killed for who they are since the start of the 20th century.” Ms. Afarian states.

“The need for remembrance, as crucial and imperative as it is, action must be taken to combat the raging denials.” Ms. Afarian states, “We need to come together and prevent the loss of more human lives. We need to put a stop to the destruction of more cultural heritage.”

She then invites the room for a moment of silence before calling up the first speaker of the evening. Mr. Shahen Mirakian, President of the Armenian National Committe of Canada. Mr. Mirakian opens his speech by saying that April was declared in 2015 by Parliament as “Genocide Condemnation and Prevention Month” which he says should be 365 days (about 12 months) a year. As “remembrance is a step it’s the first step in remembering things,” preventing future genocides. In remembering things, he continues to say, “only serves to increase trauma and pain and if you only remember and not move to the next step, you haven’t really done much.” Mr. Mirakian continues to say, “that we have to be talking about genocide prevention and have the rare opportunity to prevent genocide by standing here.” “We even have a rarer opportunity to reverse genocide.” “That would be the first,” he continues to say. He concentrates on the fact that genocides can be prevented. “It’s not an impossible task. It may seem that way, that events are greater than us and that there was only one person. That we can’t do anything and that there’s nothing that can be done.” And to this point he brings attention to a single man by the name of Armin Wegner who was WW1 veteran a German soldier and a photographer who had truly little agency but as single individual without any power he tried to prevent not one genocide but two the latter being the Holocaust. He was punished severely for bringing attention to the Armenian genocide by German officials. He may have not stopped either Holocaust, but he did do one thing and that was to capture in picture the Armenian genocide, which Mr. Mirakian continues to say, “till this day the most poignant photographs of the Armenian genocide come from Mr. Wegner’s camera.” “A replica which is in the Canadian Museum of Human Rights in Winnipeg, Manitoba. In turn the single man with his camera had some power. This could be said for the elected individuals in the room as well as non-elected people. Living in a democracy we all may have power and agency. “We could each be advocates in preventing genocide prevention each day.”

Ms. Afarian then called to stage Speaker of the House of Commons, the Honorable Greg Fergus, Member of Parliament Hill for Hull-Aylmer.

Mr. Fergus also remembered the Armenian genocide and the dark chapter in history. “Remembrance alone is not enough but we must also honour the memories of the victims by standing in solidarity with all those that face persecution and violence because of their ethnicity and beliefs.”

Her Excellency, Anahit Harutyunyan, Ambassador Extraordinary and Plenipotentiary of the Republic of Armenia to Canada brought to light the ongoing and repeated attacks on Artsakh.

Her Excellency brought attention and referenced how the genocide of 1915 and the ethnic cleansing of Armenians in Artsakh by the Azerbaijani government is a repeat of history and how the perpetrators have gotten away with it yet again. “It was not a spontaneous act of violence but a meticulously orchestrated campaign of alienation- it was a genocide in the years in the making fueled by a toxic combination of ethnic hatred, intimidation, harassment, deportation and extermination,” states her Excellency. “Not only Artsakh Armenians are threatened but all Armenians in the South Caucuses are existentially threatened by the Azerbaijani and Turkish Alliances,” she continues to say. “Moreover, today’s threats follow the same path of genocide which is not only denied by the perpetrators but openly celebrated.” She too echoed Mr. Mirakians sentiments of that, “we as members to the international community might not feel guilty nor responsible for what was done109 years ago, but we must feel responsible for what each of us can do now.” “The pursuit of justice shouldn’t just not be pursued as noble ideal but an essential foundation for peace, dignity, and stability.” She concludes to say, “In the world where peace is just not merely the absence of conflict but the presence of justice and dignity for all.”

The heartfelt speech from Her Excellency was followed by Melanie Joly Minister of Foreign Affairs and Member of Parliament for Ahuntsic Cartierville Ms. Joly referred to the fact before being elected as an MP that she always stood with the Armenian people in her riding of Ahuntsic Cartierville and having marched alongside with them in remembering the Armenian Genocide. She stated that the Canadian government as a country stood firm to have the Candain flag in Yerevan forever with the opening of the Canadian embassy to the dislike of Russia, “they were critical of what we had done,” Ms. Joly states. She continues to state, that the government went one step closer and went to the border of Artsakh to see firsthand as to what was happening in the region at the time of its conflict and have been briefed by the Armenian Defense Forces. “We were seeing altogether what the European Union monitoring mission was doing. To protect Armenia’s territorial integrity.” she states. She emphasis that Canada was also there to be the first non-EU county participating in the EU monitoring mission. She continues to explain that Canada was there to help the refugees by funding with the support of the Red Cross. “The work will continue,” she firmly states. She has been at every single diplomatic table with her counterparts at the OAC and the EU. She concludes by saying, “To bring back security, peace to the region but also that we always had in mind the territorial integrity of Armenia.”

The reception saw a host of government officials taking the podium and condemning the Artsakh conflict and remembering the 1915 Armenian Genocide. The stage welcomed Melissa Lastman, Deputy Leader of the Conservative Party of Canada, and member of Parliament for Thornhill,

Caroline Desbiens, Vice President of the Canada-Armenia Parliamentary Friendship Group and Member of Parliament for Beauport – Côte de Beaupré – Îles d’Orléans – Charlevoix.

Followed by Alexandre Boulerice leader of the New Democratic Party of Canada and Member of Parliament for Rosemont-La Petite Partie.

The reception concluded by the last speaker of the evening with the Leader of Green Party of Canada and member of Parliament for Saanich- Gulf Islands, Elizabeth May who noted that the next climate conference is going to be held in Baku, Azerbaijan, as that’s where Vladimir Putin insisted that it should be, she states. Hopes the Canadian government by not hurting the multilateral system which is so essential could do something about this and say something. She concludes her affection and admiration for the Armenian people.

As the evening ended his Eminence Archbishop Papken Tcharian ended the evening with a few words and the acts of genocide are still being carried some 100 years later.

He concluded with prayer for peace for all including the international community.


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