Talar Chichmanian is pictured at her home in Montreal on Thursday, October 8, 2020. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Paul Chiasson

Armenian diaspora in Canada says Ottawa must act to prevent a second genocide

Armenian officials say Turkey is sending arms and Syrian mercenaries to help Azerbaijan

The ongoing conflict between Armenia and Azerbaijan is physically and emotionally distant to most Canadians, but for Montrealer Talar Chichmanian, the war is the second time since the 1990s her family has taken up arms.

Her husband left Montreal to join the Armenian forces, who have been battling the Azerbaijani army since Sept. 27 in a war that has left hundreds dead. This is his second war for the same piece of land in the South Caucasus. The previous conflict, which ended in 1994, killed his father, brother and uncle.

Members of the Armenian diaspora are known for being fiercely loyal to their home country, and they remain haunted by the 1915 genocide committed against their people by the Ottoman Empire, or modern-day Turkey.

They fear the current conflict, which they say is fuelled in part by Turkey, will lead to another genocide and are they calling on Canada to take a stronger position supporting the Armenian people.

“Normally, I’m proud to call myself a Canadian, but this past week has been a horrible disappointment,” Chichmanian said in a recent interview from Montreal. “I don’t want tears on Remembrance Day; I need action today.”

Her two children, who are 12 and nine years old, are “terrified,” she said. “There’s only so much that I can share with them. Their lives are already disrupted by the COVID-19 pandemic. I don’t want to stress them out even more.”

Armenian officials say Turkey is sending arms and Syrian mercenaries to help Azerbaijan. Chichmanian said she’d like to see Canada push for Turkey’s removal from NATO.

On Oct. 5, Foreign Affairs Minister Francois-Philippe Champagne said Canada had suspended exports of a drone-targeting sensor, made in Ontario, to Turkey, as it investigates allegations that drones equipped with the sensor have been use by Azeri forces in the ongoing conflict.

Champagne said he spoke Friday to his Turkish counterpart, Mevlut Cavusoglu. “My key message was stay out of the conflict,” Champagne told reporters.

Nearly half of the almost 64,000 people who identified themselves as Armenian in the 2016 Canadian census live in the Montreal area. While Armenians have integrated into Canadian society, Montrealer Taline Zourikian said the community remains tight-knit.

“We don’t assimilate,” said Zourikian, a psychiatrist who helped organize a protest in Montreal on Thursday. The roughly 50 people who gathered called on the Canadian media to pay more attention to the conflict.

“We’re decedents of the survivors of the Armenian Genocide,” she said, referring to the slaughter of 1.5 million Armenians in 1915. Canada officially recognized and condemned the genocide in 2004.

The region at war, called Nagorno-Karabakh, is majority Armenian and has been controlled by the Armenian-backed Republic of Artsakh since 1994. But Artsakh’s government is not recognized internationally and the territory is located within Azerbaijan.

Kyle Matthews, the executive director of the Montreal Institute for Genocide and Human Rights Studies at Concordia University, compares Turkey’s support for Azerbaijan to Germany attacking Israel.

Turkey committed genocide against a minority and is now attacking that minority’s homeland, he said. The Turkish government, Matthews added, has never recognized the Armenian genocide and has jailed people for bringing it up.

“The final stage of genocide is denial,” Matthews said in a recent interview. “By being this aggressive, there’s fear that Turkey has ulterior motives in this conflict.

“There’s now documented evidence that Turkey has been ferrying religious, extremist fighters from Syria into Azerbaijan to fight Armenian forces,” said Matthews, who spent two years in the South Caucasus with the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees.

The arrival of those fighters is a concern for Lara Aharonian, an Armenian Montrealer who founded the Women’s Resource Center, an NGO that operates in Armenia and in Shusha, a city in Nagorno-Karabakh.

“It’s a direct threat to women living in border areas and conflict zones,” she said in a phone interview from the Armenian capital Yerevan.

Aharonian and her husband, Raffi Niziblian, have been volunteering in Armenia and Nagorno-Karabakh since 1999. Her organization helps women overcome trauma from the previous conflict.

She said she’s worried about what will happen to the estimated 75,000 people who have been displaced by the current fighting amid of the COVID-19 pandemic.

“There is a generation who has experienced displacement for the second time in their lives,” Aharonian said.

Armenia and Azerbaijan agreed to a Russia-brokered ceasefire in Nagorno-Karabakh starting Saturday, but immediately accused each other of derailing the deal.

Minutes after the truce took force, the Armenian military accused Azerbaijan of shelling the area near the town of Kapan in southeastern Armenia, killing one civilian. Azerbaijan’s Defense Ministry rejected the Armenian accusations as a “provocation.”

Armenian Canadians say the Canadian government needs to do more before it’s too late.

Sevag Belian, the executive director of the Armenian National Committee of Canada, said in a phone interview Canada needs to condemn Turkey and Azerbaijan.

“Because if we don’t hold the aggressors accountable, they will continue committing their crimes with impunity.” he said.

ALSO READ: Canadians urged to keep COVID-era Thanksgiving gatherings small, virtual

— With files from The Associated Press and from Mike Blanchfied with The Canadian Press

———

This story was produced with the financial assistance of the Facebook and Canadian Press News Fellowship.

Jacob Serebrin, The Canadian Press


Like us on Facebook and follow us on Twitter.

Want to support local journalism during the pandemic? Make a donation here.

Canada

Get local stories you won't find anywhere else right to your inbox.
Sign up here

Just Posted

Helping others, especially those struggling with mental health issues, keeps MOD Pizza owner Jim Hayden cooking. (RIck Stiebel/News Staff)
A 1900s writing box found in Greater Victoria contained ink, photos and a letter addressed to Clara McCaubry dated October 14, 1898. (Photo courtesy Suzanne Hervieux)
Mysterious 1900s writing box finds a home among Saanich Archives

Wooden chest owned by early Saanich resident Clara Isabelle McCaubry

(Black Press Media file photo)
Spooky online class cooks up funds for Greater Victoria Imagination Library

United Way Greater Victoria offers how-to for witch cookies, tasty coffin as fundraiser

Premier-elect John Horgan, during a visit in Sidney, broadly promised improvements to transit among other issues in the riding of Saanich North and the Islands, even after voters re-elected BC Green Adam Olsen as Member of the Legislative Assembly. (Black Press Media file photo)
Premier-elect John Horgan promises to work with all MLAs

Horgan says his government will pay attention to Saanich North and the Islands

Provincial Green Party leader Sonia Furstenau speaks at Provincial Green Party headquarters at the Delta Victoria Ocean Pointe in Victoria. (Arnold Lim / Black Press)
VIDEO: Furstenau leads BC Greens to win first riding outside of Vancouver Island

Sonia Furstenau became leader of BC Greens one week before snap election was called

NDP Leader John Horgan celebrates his election win in the British Columbia provincial election in downtown Vancouver, B.C., Saturday, Oct. 24, 2020. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Jonathan Hayward
Horgan celebrates projected majority NDP government, but no deadline for $1,000 deposit

Premier-elect says majority government will allow him to tackle issues across all of B.C.

FILE – Prime Minister Justin Trudeau greets Premier John Horgan during a press conference at the BC Transit corporate office following an announcement about new investments to improve transit for citizens in the province while in Victoria on Thursday, July 18, 2019. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Chad Hipolito
Trudeau congratulates Horgan on NDP’s election victory in British Columbia

Final count won’t be available for three weeks due to the record number of 525,000 ballots cast by mail

Comedic actor Seth Rogen, right, and business partner Evan Goldberg pose in this undated handout photo. When actor Seth Rogen was growing up and smoking cannabis in Vancouver, he recalls there was a constant cloud of shame around the substance that still lingers. Rogen is determined to change that. (Maarten de Boer ohoto)
Seth Rogen talks about fighting cannabis stigma, why pot should be as accepted as beer

‘I smoke weed all day and every day and have for 20 years’

NDP Leader John Horgan elbow bumps NDP candidate Coquitlam-Burke Mountain candidate Fin Donnelly following a seniors round table in Coquitlam, B.C., Tuesday, October 20, 2020. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Jonathan Hayward
Horgan, NDP head for majority in B.C. election results

Record number of mail-in ballots may shift results

The Canadian border is pictured at the Peace Arch Canada/USA border crossing in Surrey, B.C. Friday, March 20, 2020. More than 4.6 million people have arrived in Canada since the border closed last March and fewer than one-quarter of them were ordered to quarantine while the rest were deemed “essential” and exempted from quarantining. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Jonathan Hayward
Majority of international travellers since March deemed ‘essential’, avoid quarantine

As of Oct. 20, 3.5 million travellers had been deemed essential, and another 1.1 million were considered non-essential

Canada’s Chief Public Health Officer Theresa Tam responds to a question during a news conference Friday October 23, 2020 in Ottawa. Canada’s top physician says she fears the number of COVID-19 hospitalizations and deaths may increase in the coming weeks as the second wave continues to drive the death toll toward 10,000. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Adrian Wyld
Canada’s top doctor warns severe illness likely to rise, trailing spike in COVID-19 cases

Average daily deaths from virus reached 23 over the past seven days, up from six deaths six weeks ago

100 Mile Conservation officer Joel Kline gingerly holds an injured but very much alive bald eagle after extracting him from a motorist’s minivan. (Photo submitted)
B.C. driver thought he retrieved a dead bald eagle – until it came to life in his backseat

The driver believed the bird to be dead and not unconscious as it turned out to be

White Rock RCMP Staff Sgt. Kale Pauls has released a report on mental health and policing in the city. (File photos)
White Rock’s top cop wants to bill local health authority for lengthy mental-health calls

‘Suggestion’ included in nine-page review calling for ‘robust’ support for healthcare-led response

A Le Chateau retail store is shown in Montreal on Wednesday July 13, 2016. Le Chateau Inc. says it is seeking court protection from creditors under the Companies’ Creditors Arrangement Act to allow it to liquidate its assets and wind down its operations.THE CANADIAN PRESS/Ryan Remiorz
Clothing retailer Le Chateau plans to close its doors, files for CCAA protection

Le Chateau said it intends to remain fully operational as it liquidates its 123 stores

Most Read