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

Jennifer Bate, executive director of Parksville’s McMillan Arts Centre, visits the PQB News/VI Free Daily studio. (Peter McCully photo)
PQBeat: A chat with Jennifer Bate of Parksville’s McMillan Arts Centre

Podcast: Discussion includes COVID-19 issues, singing in a rock band and more

(File photo)
Crime report: PQB thieves pilfer licence plates, televisions

Oceanside RCMP received a total of 308 complaints in one-week period

VIU Mariners coach Larry Stefanek. (Black Press File Photo)
Parksville soccer coach Stefanek earns special national certification

VIU Mariners head coach one of 30 in Canada to complete program

Working smoothly together on May 11, 2020, health minister Adrian Dix, B.C. Liberal health critic Norm Letnick, provincial health officer Dr. Bonnie Henry and sign language interpreter Nigel Howard. (B.C. government video)
COVID-19 co-operation a casualty of B.C.’s pandemic election

NDP’s Horgan weaponizes senior care, B.C. Liberal Wilkinson calls for ‘wartime economy’

Bernard Trest and his son Max, 10, are concerned about B.C.’s plan for students in the classroom. He was one of two fathers who filed a court application in August to prevent schools from reopening if stricter COVID-19 protections weren’t in place. That application was dismissed last week. (Contributed photo)
B.C. dad pledges to appeal quashed call for mandatory masks, distancing in schools

Bernard Trest and Gary Shuster challenged health, education ministries’ return-to-school plan

RCMP crest. (Black Press Media files)
RCMP cleared in fatal shooting of armed Lytton man in distress, police watchdog finds

IIO spoke to seven civillian witnesses and 11 police officers in coming to its decision

A 34-year-old man was treated for a gunshot wound in Williams Lake Monday, Oct 19, 2020. (Angie Mindus photo - Williams Lake Tribune)
Williams Lake man treated for gunshot wound after accidental shooting: RCMP

Police are reminding residents to ensure firearms are not loaded when handling them

A injection kit is seen inside the newly opened Fraser Health supervised consumption site is pictured in Surrey, B.C., Tuesday, June 6, 2017. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Jonathan Hayward
B.C. records 127 fatal overdoses in September, roughly 4 each day

Vancouver, Surrey and Victoria continued to see the highest numbers of overdoses

Investigators work at the Sagmoen farm in Silver Creek. - Image credit: Observer file photo.
Sex workers allegedly called to farm of Okanagan man convicted of assault, RCMP investigating

Curtis Sagmoen, convicted in relation to assault of sex trade workers, is prohibited from soliciting escorts

(Black Press Media files)
Early voters more likely to favour NDP, but overall B.C. election is tightening: poll

According to Elections BC, 383,477 people cast a ballot during advanced voting days

(Pixabay)
Wave of racist emails ‘unleashed’ on B.C. researchers investigating racism in health care

The team has received close to 600 calls and emails since the investigation started in July

With local MLA Adam Olsen looking on, BC Greens leader Sonia Furstenau said a Green government would convert BC Ferries into a Crown corporation Wolf Depner/News Staff)
Green leader Sonia Furstenau promises to convert BC Ferries back into Crown corporation

Promise comes Monday afternoon with five days left in campaign

Most Read