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Canadian human right’s museum commemorates centennial of the Armenian Genocide

Horizon Weekly – A delegation comprising members of the Armenian National Committee of Canada, the ARF Bureau representative Hagop Der Khatchadourian, Fr. Keghart Kosbakian, pastor of the St. Nshan Armenian Apostolic church of Cambridge, and members of the Vancouver Armenian community were joined by members and representatives of the local Winnipeg Armenian community at an event organized by the Canadian Human Right’s Museum dedicated to the Centennial of the Armenian Genocide. To commemorate the anniversary, the museum had organized a special evening, which took place on Wednesday, November 25, with renowned Canadian-Armenian director Atom Egoyan and actress Arsinée Khandjian.

The museum is the realization of the dream of Canadian philanthropist Dr. Israel Asper, who aspired to create a place where Canadians could learn and promote human rights issues. The Armenian National Committee of Canada, the largest and most influential Canadian-Armenian grassroots organization, had been collaborating with the museum since the project was first initiated. The event marking the centennial of the Armenian Genocide was an initiative from the Museum to commemorate the memory of one of the first human right’s largest calamities of the 20th century, which acted as precedence to later genocides and atrocities around the world.

The event began with a guided tour of the museum, which encompasses 10 galleries that contain both parts of Canadian and International history presented through a high-tech, multi-media based interactive portal. During the guided tour, a large portion was spent accentuating the Breaking the Silence gallery, which focuses on the importance to break the silence about world human rights violations and atrocities and explores the role of denial and secrecy in the promotion and continuation of genocides. It includes a focused examination of the Ukrainian Holodomor, the Armenian Genocide, the Holocaust, the Rwandan Genocide and the Srebrenica Genocide in Bosnia. In the gallery, there was a greater emphasis placed on the importance of education of the Armenian Genocide, as mentioned by the museum tour guide.

Before the beginning of the official event, Svetlana Gharagyozyan of the Manitoba Opera gave a live musical performance for those present in the Bonnie and John Buhler hall.

John Young, director of the Museum gave the opening remarks and hosted the evening.

Armenian National Committee of Canada representative Shahen Mirakian spoke on behalf of the organization thanking guests for attending the event and emphasized the importance of the ANCC grassroots movement in making a change in the world by collaboration with different communities to fight against all forms of human rights violations. He also thanked Dr. Asper for this visionary undertaking, as well as the Museum and fellow Canadians for standing up and raising awareness for human rights issues.

Mr. Haig Vanlian took the podium on behalf of the Winnipeg Armenian community, thanking Canada for being an exemplary country and a beacon of compassion and humanitarian work. In his speech, he remembered the Georgetown Boys, Canada’s first act of humanitarian aid on an international scale, which brought orphaned Armenian boys and girls to a farm in Georgetown, and who later became model citizens that contributed to the Canadian society. He emphasized that the Armenian Genocide is still denied to this day by the Turkish Government, however with such endeavors as the Canadian Human Rights Museum in Manitoba, the demand for recognition and reparation is foreseeable. He stated that: “As we listen to the news these days, the Syrian refugee stories, the Syrian Armenian minority refugee stories, we remember the victims of the past…ethnicity and religion are being used as basis of percussion. Preventing genocide is the personal responsibility of every individual around the world.”

Fr. Keghart Kosbakian spoke on behalf of the Armenian Apostolic Church. He shared a short anecdote about knowing and coming to terms with the truth and reality of the Armenian Genocide of 1915 and the impact it still has on people today. He said that our efforts and mandate should be concentrated on educating on the matter and as such, the Museum offers the Canadian perspective by remembering the past and transmitting the education to the present. On behalf of the Prelate Bishop Meghrig Parikian, he thanked the Museum for their commitment.

In a short speech, Museum director John Young affirmed: “we want to educate our visitors to examine facts”. He went on to say that in the section in the Museum dedicated to the Armenian Genocide has photos shot by German soldier Armin T. Wagner, who went against direct orders and took pictures of the atrocities he witnessed. Examples of such facts are found through the Armenian Genocide section. The Breaking the Silence exhibit is followed by Actions Count gallery, which promotes visitors to think about concrete actions to counter understand and prevent genocide. It exemplifies Raphael Lemkin who coined the term genocide, based on the atrocities committed against the Armenian people, as well as his own family during the Second World War. It also shows the Canadian government’s first international humanitarian act of bringing in orphaned Armenian young boys and girls, which later came to be known as the Georgetown Boys. Mr. Young also stated that a short film is in the works, set to release in Spring 2016 about the Armenian Genocide, which will be screened in the Breaking the Silence gallery for visitors to see.

Atom Egoyan took the podium and opened a conversation about the Armenian Genocide. In his speech he thanked the Museum for taking on this massive order of representing human right’s issues. While speaking about his 2002 critically acclaimed filmArarat, which won Best Canadian film at the Genie Awards, he said his role was not to prepare a documentary about the Armenian Genocide. His intent was to get the viewer think and draw different lessons tied in the memory of genocide. By using scenes from the film within the film, he did a parallel between two scenes to demonstrate the very-present stereotype found in the descendants of genocide survivors. He pointed out the importance of narratives, and the important role education plays in transmitting knowledge from generation to generation. In the film, the role of the actors portraying Turkish generals represents the view of modern day Turkey, one of complete denial and lies. He ended his speech stating that without compassion we cannot have hope for reconciliation, and as long as denial is present, there is no place for compassion.

Arsinée Khandjian then continued in the conversation. She thanked the Museum, and stated how happy she was for finally having the opportunity to visit the Museum, with the different galleries. She noted that Canada has welcomed people form all over the world and this Museum pays homage to that. She pointed out that this year marked the centennial of the Armenian Genocide, which arose a sense of urgency in many to actively commemorate and remember. She stated that Armenians are always reminded through memory, stories, testimonies, academic literature, different proofs of the reality of the genocide, and cannot abandon their cause. This is not only a history proper to Armenians, but it belongs to the pages of world history and as such, the international community has its role to play and bares universal responsibility in the fight against denial. She mentioned that Hrant Dink stood up for the recognition in a country where at the time, there was little support within the Turkish community to openly speak about this topic. Now, one hundred years later, citizens in Turkey are standing up on the right side of history, and standing up for Hrant Dink and the proper recognition. She mentioned the twelve first occurrences of how denial takes over and shadows reality and stated that Armenians, Turks and the international community together have to stand up and combat this silence and denial, not only to honor the past, but also to create a better now. If not, she stated humankind simply ceases to be kind.

The event ended with a Question period from attendees address to both Atom Egoyan and Arsinée Khandjian, which inquired about any repercussions felt during and after the release of the filmArarat, as well as the importance story telling plays in the continuation of remembrance. Both Arom and Arsinée took the time to answe all questions with great pleasure.

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