Genocide Commemoration Disturbed by Protesters

Aram Adjemian, Ottawa, The Gazette, 6 May 2014

April 24 is a sacred day for Armenians. On that Sunday night in 1915, 250 Armenian intellectuals from Istanbul were rounded up and deported, most were killed. Thousands of Armenian community leaders, businessmen and intellectuals from elsewhere within the Ottoman Empire suffered the same fate in the following few weeks; the genocide and forced deportation of nearly all Ottoman Armenians soon followed.

Demonstrators Observing the 99th Anniversary of the 1915 Armenian Massacre
Thursday, April 24, 2014 in Ottawa. Photograph by: Adrian Wyld , The Canadian Press

Aram Adjemian, Ottawa, The Gazette, 6 May 2014

April 24 is a sacred day for Armenians. On that Sunday night in 1915, 250 Armenian intellectuals from Istanbul were rounded up and deported, most were killed. Thousands of Armenian community leaders, businessmen and intellectuals from elsewhere within the Ottoman Empire suffered the same fate in the following few weeks; the genocide and forced deportation of nearly all Ottoman Armenians soon followed.

Demonstrators Observing the 99th Anniversary of the 1915 Armenian Massacre
Thursday, April 24, 2014 in Ottawa. Photograph by: Adrian Wyld , The Canadian Press

As has been done for nearly 50 years, the Armenian community commemorated the Armenian genocide on April 24 by rallying on Parliament Hill, and then marching, symbolic of the deportations, to the Turkish Embassy. However, this year we were shocked that a counter-demonstration was allowed to take place, at both locations, with numbers substantial enough that the Ottawa police (of which there were many) had separated and fenced off both groups. I was horrified that deniers of the genocide were given permission to demonstrate on the same day and at the same time, with the obvious objective of hijacking our genocide commemoration.

The protesters on the Turkish side were fresh faced and young, and seemingly angry. I was especially disturbed when a young Armenian musician playing a mournful tune on stage was being drowned out by the blasting of very loud dance or metal-type music, seemingly to drown out our sound, to shut us up. But I was also shocked that this group was granted the right to be there in the first place. Can anyone imagine a rally on Parliament Hill commemorating the Holocaust, the Rwandan or Cambodian genocide, and separating the grounds in half to accommodate apologists for the genocide perpetrators? Can anyone imagine that on Remembrance Day, a group of protesters be given a permit to shout down or disturb the ceremony at the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier? I found it morally reprehensible that this group was allowed to disturb such a painful and solemn commemoration.

Frustrated, I decided that I needed to do something. I have been part of a wonderful Turkish, Kurdish and Armenian dialogue group since 2007 called Voices in Dialogue, and wrote them an open letter, parts of which are reproduced here. I am convinced that any acknowledgment of the genocide will come through Armenian-Turkish cooperation and through gradual dissent on this and other issues related to democracy in Turkey. In the last decade or so, the Armenian genocide has been publicly spoken about in Turkey, often angrily but other times in the hopes of understanding the past we all share but which Turks are only recently coming to grips with. Acknowledgment would be a testament to those many Armenian grandmothers that some Turkish people are discovering they have always had, now voicing their experiences, sometimes on their deathbeds. On this year before the symbolic centenary of the genocide, I remain hopeful.

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