Parliament Hill was divided today when over 6,000 people came to recognize the 100-year anniversary of the Armenian genocide.
Within the barricades on the east side of the lawn, people were crammed into the space holding cardboard purple forget-me-not flowers and signs that read “Stop the denial,” others waved Armenian flags, and a row of Boy Scouts held 22 flags of the countries that have officially recognized the genocide. On the west side of the lawn, the Turkish community were fewer in numbers, and protesters stood close to the barricades, fervently waving Canadian and Turkish flags at the other side.
One of the organizers for the centennial march on Parliament Hill, Apraham Niziblian, said there were 102 buses from Montreal, Toronto and other areas filled with people who wanted to be a part of the memorial.
“We are here today to thank the Canadian parliament for speaking the truth about the genocide,” the 41-year-old Niziblian said. He has been coming to Ottawa on April 24 for as long as he can remember to make sure Parliamentarians recognize that 1.5-million Armenians were systematically killed by the Ottoman Turks in 1915.
In 2004, the Canadian government officially recognized the Armenian genocide, but Turkey continues to deny that the mass killings were a genocide.
“We need Turkey […] to call this an Armenian genocide so we can start the healing process and reconcile the two people,” Niziblian said.
The Armenian community was lively, but peaceful, with people chanting in multiple languages calling for recognition. The Armenian Ambassador to Canada gave a speech, followed by Defence Minister Jason Kenney who re-affirmed the Canadian government’s support.
“We are here today as proud Canadians because we believe in memory. Canada believes in memory. This is why we gather on this centenary of the first genocide of the 20th Century,” Kenney said. He also added in the afternoon a motion that MP Brad Butt put forward, will ask Parliament to recognize April as Genocide Remembrance, Condemnation and Prevention month.
While Kenney spoke, a small frail-looking woman bundled up in blankets, looked up at the podium from her wheelchair. She is 106-year-old Knar Bohjelian-Yeminidjian, one of the five remaining survivors of the Armenian genocide in Canada, according to Niziblian.
She came from Montreal to be a part of the centennial march in Ottawa, which started at Parliament and ended in front of the Turkish embassy. Bohjelian-Yeminidjian escaped the genocide by hiding in a barn during the massacres, and then her family took Turkish names to conceal their Armenian identity. They fled the country in 1928, and made their way to Egypt. In 1971, she moved to Montreal with her family.
Bohjelian-Yeminidjian’s 71-year-old son was with her. Joseph Yeminidjian said he hopes that within his mother’s lifetime the Turkish government will take responsibility for the genocide.
“The wounds are so raw, they’re still bleeding. When we see the people that did it will not come forward.” He want them to admit, “it wasn’t us, it was our grandfathers that did it, and we acknowledge that, and let us create an atmosphere of harmony between neighbours,” but “they keep denying.”
On the other side of the protest, Turkish-Canadian, Kevsar Taymaz, explained why she felt it was important to be on the Parliament Hill today in opposition to those who came to commemorate the memory of the genocide.
“During the events of 1915, and World War 1, a lot of Turkish people died too. As Canadians we’ve made peace with our past and immigrated to Canada and we want politicians, the media, and Armenian Canadians to recognize that we had losses too,” Taymaz said.
The European Parliament has asked Turkey to take responsibility for its actions, and recently Pope Francis called the mass killing of Armenians a genocide. For the centennial commemoration in Armenia, the Canadian government sent Immigration Minister Chris Alexander to demonstrate its support. Yet, even after 100-years the Armenian genocide remains a contentious issue.
Krikor Haratounian, a 17-year-old Boy Scout who came to Ottawa from Montreal for the march in memory of his ancestors, said he doesn’t know why Turkey won’t accept what happened in the past as being a genocide.
He said, “we can’t just forget it like that.”