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Canadian-Armenians protesting against the Turkish government's restrictions of human rights

TORONTO – A group of 8 Canadian-Armenians ended a 72 hour hunger strike in front of the Turkish Consulate of Toronto today, organized by the Armenian Youth Federation of Canada. In light of the upcoming general elections in Turkey, the demonstrators protested the ongoing human rights abuses carried out by the Government of Turkey, including the denial of the Armenian Genocide, the stifling of freedom of speech and press, the ongoing occupation of Cyprus, and the oppression of its minorities.

The hunger strike culminated with an official demonstration, held Monday, June 13, 2011 at 2:00pm in front of the Turkish Consulate of Toronto. The demonstrators sent a strong message to the newly elected officials in Turkey that Canadians and the international community at large will not remain silent bystanders as the Turkish government deprives its citizens of their basic human rights and continues its denial campaign against the memory of the Armenian Genocide.

Unfortunately, the peaceful protest was met with a counter-protest by a group of Turks, who aimed to disrupt the demonstration and silence its message. Disrespecting the Canadian flag by holding it upside-down, they resorted to racist slurs, calling Armenians “terrorists”, and “baby killers”. They held signs that read “proud nation, proud history” sending an ominous message that they felt no remorse for the massacres of the Ottoman government, or sympathy towards its victims. Although deeply troubled, the Armenian demonstrators avoided any confrontation, as that seemed to be the goal of the instigators.

Turkish counter-protesters disrespecting the Canadian flag

A day earlier, the participants of the hunger strike held a candlelight vigil in memory of the one and a half million martyrs of the Armenian Genocide as well as hundreds of thousands of Christian Assyrians and Pontian Greeks. It is troubling that even during their prayers, led by Very Reverend Father Meghrig Parikian of St. Mary’s Armenian Apostolic Church of Toronto, a smaller group of men and women holding Turkish flags continued to hurl insults aimed at those collected.

Ninety six years have passed since the Armenian Genocide, the first genocide of the 20th century. The genocide has been recognized by countless historians including the International Association of Genocide Scholars, and numerous countries including Canada, yet it is constantly denied by the successive governments of Turkey.

A movement to recognize the Armenian Genocide has started in the Turkish Republic, led by outspoken scholars and authors such as Orhan Pamuk, Hall Berktak and Ragip Zarakolu. Unfortunately, Article 301 of the Turkish Penal Code allows the government to lay charges against these journalists and authors, threatening them with jail terms. Nevertheless, this April, for the second year in a row, major cities in Turkey witnessed public events commemorating the Armenian Genocide.

Mark Piliguian, one of the participants of the hunger strike, expressed, “We understand that many of those trying to disrupt our message today grew up in Turkey where they could not learn about the dark chapters of Ottoman history. But we hope that now that they live in Canada, they take the initiative to pull off the blindfold that their government tries to maintain.”

The protesters sending their message to the newly re- elected Turkish government

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It is now 10:00pm on Saturday night, as we enter the 28th hour of the hunger strike. The group of Turks across the street have long left, but a small group walking by the protest has been the highlight of the last 20 minutes. The group of young men included a Turkish youth who was curious to hear about the Armenian Genocide, as he insisted that the Turks had never committed such an act. A very interesting conversation ensued…He stood amazed as we educated him about the history of the Ottoman Empire. Our group seemed to know more about his people’s history than he did. The young man, who had recently moved to Canada from Turkey left with a completely different view of history, than the one he had come to know growing up in Turkey. Unger Harout Manougian, chair of the Armenian Youth Federation of Canada even graciously gave him his personal copy of “A Shameful Act” by Turkish scholar Taner Akcam, so that the young man could hear a Turkish scholar’s perspective of the Armenian Genocide.

We are certain that as more and more Turks come to know and understand the true history of the Armenian Genocide, the walls of injustice will come down from within Turkey.

Press Release

Posted: June 11, 2011 in Uncategorized

Toronto – A group of 8 Canadian-Armenians will be holding a 72 hour hunger strike at the Simcoe Wave Deck (Queens Quay W & Lower Simcoe St) in downtown Toronto starting Friday, June 10 at 6:00pm and ending Monday, June 13, 2011. The hunger strike will culminate with an official demonstration, which will be held Monday, June 13, 2011 at 2:00pm in front of the Turkish Consulate in Toronto at (Queens Quay and Lower Spadina – 10 Lower Spadina Avenue). Over 200 Canadians will be participating in the official demonstration.

In light of the upcoming general elections in Turkey, the demonstrators will be protesting the ongoing human rights abuses carried out by the Government of Turkey, including: the denial of the Armenian Genocide; the stifling of freedom of speech, and press; oppression of Kurdish and Christian minorities who are treated as second class citizens and whose political parties are banned, leaders imprisoned and Patriarchate’s shut down.

The demonstrators will send a strong message to the newly elected officials in Turkey that Canadians and the international community at large will not stand as silent bystanders as the Turkish government deprives its citizens of their basic human rights and denies the Armenian Genocide.

Ninety six years have passed since the Armenian Genocide, the first of genocide of the 20th century. The genocide has been recognized by countless scholars including the International Association of Genocide Scholars, and numerous countries including Canada, yet it is constantly denied by the successive governments of Turkey.

Nevertheless a movement to recognize the Armenian Genocide has started in the Turkish Republic. Led by outspoken scholars and authors such as Orhan Pamuk, Hall Berktak and Ragip Zarakolu, .This April, for the second year in a row, major cities in Turkey witnessed public events commemorating the Armenian Genocide.

The brave scholars, intellectuals and journalists organizing and writing about these events are often charged with violating Article 301 of the Turkish Penal Code for speaking freely about the genocide or criticizing the government and its institutions. Consequently, Turkey has more journalists in jail than any other country in the world. Hrant Dink was put on trial under this article for freely expressing his views about the rights of the Armenian minority living in Turkey. He was later assassinated on January 19, 2007, in broad day light in the streets of Istanbul. This led to large scale demonstrations in Turkey protesting the state sponsored killing of the Turkish-Armenian journalist.

Canadian-Armenians gathered in front of the Turkish Consulate will mourn the 1.5 million Armenians exterminated during the Genocide, celebrate their rebirth, and renew their commitment to stand for truth and justice. The solidarity and support of Canadians to commemorate the 96th anniversary of the events of 1915 is not only for the victims of the Armenian Genocide but to all victim nations of genocides, war crimes and human rights abuses around the world.

At the same time protestors will urge the Canadian Government to take action with regard to Turkey’s dismal human rights record, as part of Canada’s foreign policy agenda. As a model democracy, a leader in peace-building, partnership, reconciliation and fair and honest dialogue, Canada must recognize the role it can play in helping Turkey become a legitimate democracy. Our government must urge the Turkish government to cease its oppression of minorities by extending support to Christian Patriarchates and repealing Article 301 of its Penal Code.

In the words of philosopher George E. Moore, “After all, there is but one race, humanity.”