Officials and community mark Armenian Genocide Remembrance Day

U.S. announces recognition of historic tragedy on 106th anniversary of its start

U.S. president Joe Biden’s historic declaration last Saturday that the Ottoman Empire’s systematic killing and deportation of 1.5 million Armenians in the early 20th century was a genocide came just a few hours before Montreal-area Armenians gathered at the Armenian monument on the edge of Autoroute 440 in Laval to mark Armenian Genocide Remembrance Day.

Official U.S. position

The mid-afternoon event drew not only people of all ages from the Armenian community, but also many elected officials from the federal, provincial and municipal governments.

Biden’s declaration, which now reflects the official U.S. government position, came after five successive U.S. presidents danced for decades around the Armenian issue, while specifically avoiding use of the word “genocide.”

Most observers have seen this long-standing non-commitment as the result of the U.S. government’s not wanting to alienate its long-time ally, Turkey, which succeeded the Ottoman Empire after World War I.

A strategic decision

Since the end of World War II, the Americans have maintained a U.S. Air Force presence of 5,000 personnel at Incirlik Air Base in Turkey (which has been a NATO ally since 1952), and the U.S. continues to value the base for its strategic placement between the Middle East and Europe.

Officials with the Armenian National Committee of Canada as well as from the Laval-area Armenian community are seen here with Laval-Les Îles MP Fayçal El-Khoury and Vimy MP Annie Koutrakis (second and third from left) during the Armenian Genocide Remembrance Day ceremony last Saturday in Laval. (Photo: Martin C. Barry, Newsfirst Multimedia)

According to the U.S.-based Armenian National Institute, at least 30 countries have now recognized the Armenian genocide. However, the United Nations has yet to do so. The UN’s position is that it does not comment on events which took place before its founding in 1945.

Laval’s support for Armenians

Laval, which is home to a sizeable community of Armenians, has been at the forefront in taking positions with regards to Armenia’s past and more recent history. The Armenian genocide monument was erected on a small parcel of land donated by the City of Laval.

As well, in 2004, former Laval-Centre MP Madeleine Dalphond-Guiral successfully guided the adoption of a motion in the House of Commons overwhelmingly acknowledging the 1915 Armenian genocide while condemning it as a massive crime.

And last year, when a jurisdictional dispute between Azerbaijan and Artsakh escalated into warfare, Laval became the first Canadian city to pass a resolution expressing recognition for the independence of the predominantly Armenian-populated Artsakh, which is supported by the Republic of Armenia.

Overdue acknowledgment

In an interview with the Laval News, Maher Karakashian, chairman of the Armenian National Committee of Canada, noted that last year the U.S. Senate and the House of Representatives recognized the Armenian genocide. It remained only for the country’s president to follow. No American president had referred to the Armenian genocide since Ronald Reagan during the 1980s.

‘Both morally and politically, this puts pressure on Turkey’

“We’ll see in the future if it will have repercussions with the superpowers of the world,” Karakashian said. “Both morally and politically, this puts pressure on Turkey. Because Turkey being a member or NATO, and NATO being led by the United States, there will be pressure. Although I see today that Ankara again officially objected or refused this recognition.”

Support from local MPs

Laval-Les Îles MP Fayçal El-Khoury, who attended the ceremony with fellow-MP Annie Koutrakis, said the U.S. government’s statement was important not only for Armenians, but for justice as a whole.

“I and my colleague, Annie, will always stand up for the Armenian cause, just as we do for the Greek cause because they are so similar,” he said, alluding to the oppression the two peoples suffered under Ottoman rule.

“I would like to congratulate the entire Armenian community worldwide for the announcement and position taken by President Biden – I believe that it was a long time coming,” said Koutrakis.

“As my colleague Fayçal mentioned, being of Hellenic origin, this is a cause that is especially close to my heart. “For, as you may know, as Greeks, we also have struggled to get the Pontic genocide, or even the greater Greek genocide, recognized worldwide, and we will continue towards that,” she added. “We share a history with our Armenian brothers and sisters. The Armenian community is very close and in my heart.”

President Joe Biden’s Statement on Armenian Remembrance Day, APRIL 24, 2021

Each year on this day, we remember the lives of all those who died in the Ottoman-era Armenian genocide and recommit ourselves to preventing such an atrocity from ever again occurring. Beginning on April 24, 1915, with the arrest of Armenian intellectuals and community leaders in Constantinople by Ottoman authorities, one and a half million Armenians were deported, massacred, or marched to their deaths in a campaign of extermination. We honor the victims of the Meds Yeghern so that the horrors of what happened are never lost to history. And we remember so that we remain ever-vigilant against the corrosive influence of hate in all its forms.

Of those who survived, most were forced to find new homes and new lives around the world, including in the United States. With strength and resilience, the Armenian people survived and rebuilt their community. Over the decades Armenian immigrants have enriched the United States in countless ways, but they have never forgotten the tragic history that brought so many of their ancestors to our shores. We honor their story. We see that pain. We affirm the history. We do this not to cast blame but to ensure that what happened is never repeated.

Today, as we mourn what was lost, let us also turn our eyes to the future— toward the world that we wish to build for our children. A world unstained by the daily evils of bigotry and intolerance, where human rights are respected, and where all people are able to pursue their lives in dignity and security. Let us renew our shared resolve to prevent future atrocities from occurring anywhere in the world. And let us pursue healing and reconciliation for all the people of the world.

The American people honor all those Armenians who perished in the genocide that began 106 years ago today.