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

Drive up voting is popular with Victoria-Swan Lake voters at the Craigflower elementary polling station. (Don Descoteau/News Staff)
Drive up voting popular at Craigflower polling station in Victoria-Swan Lake

Nearly 13,000 mail-in ballots were requested in the Victoria-Swan Lake riding

Oak Bay High voting station was slow and steady for the provincial election day, Oct. 24, 2020. (Travis Paterson/News Staff)
Early voting reduces election day turnout in Oak Bay-Gordon Head

An estimated 15,918 mail-in ballots requested in Oak Bay-Gordon Head

This was the line-up outside Sidney’s Mary Winspear Centre at around 2:30 p.m. Saturday. The short-up line speaks to the high number of votes, which have already been cast against the backdrop of COVID-19 by mail or in advanced voting. Voters, however, unanimously praised the safety measures in place, as well the convenience of the polling stations. (Wolf Depner/News Staff)
‘Slow’ turnout at polls across Saanich North and the Islands

Peter Mason, district electoral officer, expects about 10,000 ballots to be cast

Polls close at 8 p.m. in the Esquimalt-Metchosin riding. (Katherine Engqvist/News Staff)
VIDEO: Esquimalt-Metchosin candidates reflect on campaign as polls close

An estimated 12,000 mail-in ballots were requested in the Esquimalt-Metchosin riding

Barb Wright and Cynthia Vance at the District Electoral Office for the Langford-Juan de Fuca (Kendra Crighton/News Staff)
Polls now closed in Langford-Juan de Fuca

An estimated 12,120 mail-in ballots were requested in the Langford-Juan de Fuca riding

B.C. provincial health officer Dr. Bonnie Henry gives a daily briefing on COVID-19 cases at an almost empty B.C. Legislature press theatre in Victoria, B.C., on March 25, 2020. (Don Craig/B.C. government)
B.C. sees 223 new COVID-19 cases, now 2,009 active

Two new care home outbreaks in Surrey, Burnaby

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

Green party Leader Sonia Furstenau arrives to announce her party’s election platform in New Westminster, B.C., on October 14, 2020. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Jonathan Hayward
B.C. Green party says it’s raised nearly $835,000 in 38 days

NDP Leader John Horgan is holding his final virtual campaign event

U.S. border officers at the Peace Arch crossing arrested two men on California warrants this week. (File photo)
Ottawa predicts system delays, backlogs unless court extends life of refugee pact

Canada and the United States recognize each other as safe places to seek protection

BC Liberal leader Andrew Wilkinson,  BC NDP leader John Horgan and BC Green leader Sonia Furstenau. (File)
B.C. VOTES 2020: Climate change and sustainability promises from the parties

Snap election has led to a short campaign; here’s the lowdown on the platforms

Most Read