Reflections on a Genocide Commemoration

Queen's Park, Toronto
By Armen Hagopian, Toronto, 9 May 2011Queen's Park, Toronto

Some months ago Keghart.com ran an editorial about the paucity of politically savvy people at a major Toronto Armenian organization who could advance the community’s interests in the political arena. What I have written below can be considered a modest sequel to that editorial.

By Armen Hagopian, Toronto, 9 May 2011Queen's Park, Toronto

Some months ago Keghart.com ran an editorial about the paucity of politically savvy people at a major Toronto Armenian organization who could advance the community’s interests in the political arena. What I have written below can be considered a modest sequel to that editorial.

On April 23 the Armenian community of Toronto gathered at the Armenian Youth Centre to commemorate the anniversary of the Genocide of Armenians. The gathering was organized by the joint commemoration committee representing various local organizations.

Two federal and one provincial ministers, in addition to a number of federal, provincial, and municipal representatives, attended the event.

Compared to previous years, this year’s attendance was poor, reflecting negatively on the occasion and raising questions about the priorities of our community in addition to the communications-promotional acumen of event organizers. If we cannot show our commitment and seriousness to the memory of our martyrs on the one issue which unites us around the globe, how can we expect "odars" to take us seriously and to support us?

The meager attendance was not the only setback of the event. The catastrophe started when the organizers invited Martha Hall Findlay, a Liberal Member of Parliament (she lost her seat at the federal elections ten days later) to address the gathering. Inexplicably, her remarks focused on her mother’s illness and death, which, of course, had no connection to the commemoration. However, the insulting part of her speech was her refusal to use the word "genocide" to describe what happened to Armenians in 1915. She coyly referred to the Genocide as “man’s inhumanity to man.” That and 50 cents will not get you a cup of coffee.

Ms. Findlay’s denialist stand on the Genocide of Armenians was not a new or surprising development. On many occasions she has expressed identical views to leading members of a usually activist and influential Toronto Armenian organization. Thus it is ironic that these same Armenian leaders, who profess to be politically astute, would commit such a blunder and invite a politician whose stand on the Genocide is no secret. It was sheer torture to listen to Ms. Findlay’s regrettable remarks. Her Liberal caucus member, an exasperated John Cannis, couldn’t take her demeaning remarks and left the gathering in protest.

If Mr. Cannis’ disgust was not sufficiently clear message to the event organizers, the next two speakers–provincial representatives Conservative Peter Shurman and New Democratic Party’s (NDP) Michael Prue–gave the organizers timely instruction in politicking and lobbying 101. Mr. Shurman cited his colleague, Frank Klees’, motion to declare April 24 as “Armenian Genocide Memorial Day” in Ontario.

Mr. Shurman said that the motion has been on the Ontario legislature’s agenda for a long time, waiting for the consent of the Liberal Party and the cooperation of interested parties. He added that his party is committed to the motion and would stand by it. Mr. Prue stated that the NDP has already co-sponsored Mr. Klees’ motion. He pointed out that Liberal MPP Tony Ruprecht, (a pro-Turkish Toronto politician) is working hand-in-glove with the Turkish consul general in Toronto to defeat the motion. He further said that the consul general is putting pressure on him to withdraw his co-sponsorship of the motion. Thanks to Mr. Ruprecht’s efforts, the Turkish consul general is a regular visitor at Queen’s Park where he hosts receptions for politicians to spread his government’s twisted version of history.

Another mind-boggling aspect of this year’s amateurish commemoration was the invitation to MP Yasmin Ratansi, a federal politician with a long history of anti-Armenian activities–from Genocide negation to support of Azerbaijan on the Nagorno-Karabagh conflict. To add insult to injury, Ms. Ratansi, who has organized familiarization trips to Azerbaijan for federal politicians, was invited to be interviewed on the "Nor Hai Horizon" TV program. What did the people, who extended invitation to the politician, hope she would say on TV? Incidentally, ten days later, Ms. Ratansi lost the election to a newcomer.

A most disconcerting aspect of Mr. Shurman’s and Mr. Prue’s statements was that certain members of a Toronto Armenian organization are fully aware of the initiatives and activities being developed in and around Queens Park vis-à-vis the Armenian Genocide and yet they did nothing to counteract these hostile moves, to defend the memory of our martyrs and to uphold the historic truth. It is a disgrace that honorable MPPs, who recognize the Genocide, are left to defend on their own their moral convictions against vicious assaults by the well-oiled denialist machine. What reasonable Armenian would expect these courageous politicians would continue to fight for us when we have abandoned them in such a cavalier manner?

A small group of wannabe lobbyists in the above-mentioned Armenian organization is doing a big disservice to the Armenian Cause and to their organization’s history–an organization with a long history in the struggle to defend the interests of the Armenian community in Canada.

It was the national organization of this local chapter which has worked, since 1980, to secure the recognition of the Armenian Genocide by the Senate, the House of Commons, and the Government of Canada. Furthermore, the same organization has worked diligently to secure Armenian Genocide education curriculum in British Columbia, Quebec and Toronto.

This tiny coterie of Armenian "lobbyists" are also doing disservice to the hundreds of their organization’s members and to volunteers who have devoted so much of their time and financial resources to uphold and to defend Armenian rights. This handful of people–supposedly responsible for representing Armenian interests in Ontario–persist to blemish the stellar record of their organization through their less than satisfactory efforts. What a shame.

 

10 comments
  1. Toronto Lobbyists

    It’s surprising that despite their well-publicized failings, (more than once in Keghart), people who have been appointed to manage our political lobbying, continue to hold on to their nationally vital positions… and apparently without criticism from their senior management, committees or bureaus. What does it take to persuade the higher-ups that an examination of the lobbyists’ efforts is necessary: To determine whether the accusations are justified or not.

    Mesrob

     

    1. Our Leaders and Lobbyists

      Mesrob, you are asking "What does it take to persuade the higher-ups that an examination of the lobbyists’ efforts is necessary?" Unfortunately, we don’t have qualified people to replace those who are unqualified. Those who are already have steady jobs, families to support and not a minute of spare time to help their community, which is understandable in this economic situation.

      However, Armenia should have a budget dedicated for lobbying, which would include hiring of qualified people in our community (with pay), similar to what Turkey and other countries are doing.

      Relying on our old-fashoned political parties will lead us to historical archives.

  2. Change the name of the centre

    After all said and done throughout many years, I am really surprised that some people in leadership positions don’t get it.

    Why invite Genocide deniers, give them a podium to such almost sacred events? Any person in public position who does not acknowledge is perpetuating the Genocide. This is not the first time under the roof of the Armenian Community Centre. Is somebody listening?

    May I suggest that you remove Armenian from the centre’s name? Change it  to something else.

    Shame on the organizers!

     

  3. Teaching deniers

    Looks like it is up to us to teach the deniers about the genocide, like teaching the non-believers about Christianity

    Perseverance!

     

  4. Biased and Divisive

    It is a shame Keghart posts articles and editorials of this sort. Biased, divisive and most importantly discrediting to Keghart.com.

    This form of uninformed criticism and biased mud-slinging should not be tolerated nor taken as the truth. I strongly recommend that readers visit organization webpages, read press releases to stay in tune with recent success and achievements since they will most definitely not find them here unfortunately. All you find here it seems is hearsay, third party gossip, which is turning this website into the equivalent to the National Enquirer of our community. This is embarrassing.

    How about we try and create and maintain webpages which will have a balanced and fair approach. There is always room for criticism but let us be constructive, fair and factual.

    For example, ANCT did not endorse Martha Hall Findlay or Yasmin Ratansi during elections, rather aggressively supported their opponents, I say aggressively because I, relatives and friends received phone calls calling to support their opponents CS Leung and Joe Daniel. Armenian votes made a difference in both cases especially Mr. Leung where he won by a small margin which equates to the population of Armenians in his riding.Readers would have known this if they were to simply visit the ANCT webpage and examine the list of endorsed candidates, Hagopian fails to mention this.

    If it wasn’t for ANCT efforts, who else would organize such active participation in elections? Just one way of being fair in reporting, Mr. Armen Hagopian is to do your homework before attempting to tarnish the reputation of an organizations that continues to defend our community’s interests.

    I hope readers do not practice blind faith toward articles appearing here and do their own homework until Keghart finds its way back to its core purpose of being fair and unbiased.

    1. Ostrich Mentality

      Baruyr’s letter reminds me of the ostrich mentality. If he and his friends think that by burying their heads they will weather the storm created by their destructive activities "on behalf of the community," they are mistaken. It is unfortunate that a handful of community activists, instead of discussing their shortcomings in a civilized manner, resort to name-calling and degenerate the discussion of a vital national issue.

      Instead of blaming Keghart and Mr. Hagopian of “biased and divisive” behaviour, Baruyr should have limited his comments to the issues at hand and not gotten involved in a smear letter to cover up the April 23 commemoration fiasco which shocked the community. Our community is too smart to be fooled by self-aggrandizing press releases.

      I found Mr. Hagopian’s article more than fair and factual, in contrast to Baruyr’s innuendos and uninformed opinions. Keghart and Mr. Hagopian were courteous and sounded concerned with the reputation of the organization which Baruyer is trying to defend. By not mentioning the name of the organization, Keghart and Mr. Hagopian demonstrated wise judgment and a constructive attitude. They did not lump the said organization’s long history of activism and commendable work with the egocentrism of the current few. The Armenian proverb,"Kogh yev sirde togh" [Thief’s heart races] best illustrates the behavior of this minority which "lobbies" for our community.

      I am wondering which ill-advised leader in the said organization approved Baruyr’s letter. I am wondering why Baruyr did not address the serious issues raised by Mr. Shurman, regarding Frank Klees’ motion and Mr. Prue’s comments about Tony Ruprecht’s activities.

      In regard to Martha Hall Findlay’s election and the outlandish claim that “Armenian votes made a difference in both cases, especially Mr. Leung [Findlay’s opponent in the election] where he won by a small margin which equates to the population of Armenians in his riding,” I wonder if Baruyr is talking about the same riding or whether he is aware of the role Jewish and Chinese votes played in determining the outcome of that race. Before making such self-serving claims, he should have acquainted himself with the forces which made Mr. Leung’s  victory possible. The claims he makes that he and his friends “aggressively supported” Martha Hall Findlay’s opponent is nonsense. Baruyr and his friends had no hand in the defeat of Findlay. Furthermore, is Baruyr confident that it was his associates’ decision not to endorse Findlay or was it a last minute "divine" intervention by much wiser heads which made that decision?  It looks like Mr. Hagopian did much more than his homework in contrast to Baruyr.

      I am glad Keghart and Mr. Hagopian brought this timely article to our community’s attention and exposed the abuses of the few. After all, this group which has orchestrated a self-flattering campaign and is indulging in mud-slinging, does not dare face the truth that its leadership should be turfed out of any decision-making process. Furthermore, I am quite  confident that in the said Armenian organization there are many experienced, honorable and patriotic members who are witnesses to what is happening in their organization. I am sure these righteous people can talk with more authority about the activities of this band of "lobbyists," in addition to exposing their exploits which are much more than what is stated in public. It is time for the silent majority within the ranks of the organization to stand up and take back the organization from these destructive forces.

  5. The Real Issue

    The real issue here is where Armenian community funds are going and how seriously do we take the Genocide issue.

    How about committing funds to hire professionals to take care of the Genocide issue,  instead of building so many churches in the Diaspora to enrich the clergy, deepen the rifts in our communities and add more wall space for donors to marvel at their names? 

    As long as we treat the Genocide at the level of the annual bazaar, bingo night or summer picnic, these errors will continue and we will get nowhere.

  6. You Get What You Pay For

    You get what you pay for, indeed. We have relegated the Genocide issue to well intended, Hayrenaser Armenians for sure, but amateur lobbyists. We need to hire full- time professionals to do the work.
    The event here in Montreal was at the level of a junior high school student effort, or worse. Thankfully, at least, we did not have any Genocide-deniers on the podium, although the presenter said this was the 96th Genocide…
    Priorities!
    Priorities!
    Priorities!
  7. Wannabes

    The errors that our community activists, whom Armen Hagopian unfairly characterizes as “wannabe lobbyists”  made and will make could and can be corrected with a wider community involvement. 

    Hagopian laments the meager attendance, which, in my view implies lack of participants to organize to begin with. 

    Incidentally “wannabe” is a wrong characterization. Wannabe means “one who aspired to a role or a position.” I doubt that the community activists, who organized this and such events, aspire to be professional lobbyists.
     
    Since the Genocide, it is mostly community volunteers who have organized the commemoration of the Armenian Genocide and brought Diaspora from covert mourning in churches, schools and halls to the overt pursuit of justice. In my view, they did and continue to do a commendable job even with lapses here and there. 

  8. About Ten Days Ago

    About ten days ago I read an electronic news release in which our Toronto lobbyists took credit for the victory of 13 Greater Metro Toronto Area federal election candidates that they had endorsed. The public relations boast reminded me of the rooster which crows that the sun had risen upon its cacophonous bidding.

    In their immodest news release our lobbyists neglected to mention two crucial facts: Most of the wins were part of the Conservative victory, which swept the country, giving the party majority rule. The Armenian vote played insignificant role in the above victories. As well, most of the wins were in the traditionally Conservative ‘905’ areas, north of Toronto, where the outcome was predictable. Again, the Armenian vote was of no consequence. Anyone who follows federal politics in the Toronto area, knows these facts. That our lobbyists failed to mention the above would lead one to conclude they are are novices or overly eager to "modify" the facts to inflate their accomplishments.

    It’s also interesting that despite the public embarrassment MP Oliphant suffered after his ridiculous and humiliating advice to the Armenian community (Armenian should let go of the past, meaning the Genocide…], our lobbyists persisted in endorsing him in the elections. Luckily, Mr. Oliphant was defeated.

    It’s said that victory has many godfathers. Our lobbyists are not godfathers. I wish they were.

    The above events bring to mind the admonishment, "Why send boys to do a man’s job?"
     

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