OTTAWA—More than 300 Canadian-Armenians from across the country took part in a demonstration Tuesday in front of the Embassy of Azerbaijan in Ottawa, organized by the Armenian Youth Federation of Canada and the Armen Karo Student Association.
The protestors voiced their concern about Azerbaijan’s ongoing aggression, intimidation and hostility towards Armenians. During the demonstration, David Warner, former speaker of the Ontario Legislative Assembly, Jim Karygiannis, Member of Parliament for Scarborough Agincourt, and the Nicole Demers, Member of Parliament for Laval, each delivered their messages to the ambassador. They targeted Azerbaijan’s continuing aggression toward Armenia, the atrocities and pogroms of Sumgait and Baku, as well as the cultural genocide of Armenian heritage sites within Azerbaijan. They also highlighted the current situation in the Nagorno-Karabakh region, proclaiming that historically, Armenians have always prevailed, and that they should continue to live freely without Azerbaijani constraint and hostility.
“Azerbaijan, you cannot continue and try to kill off, bully, and subjugate the Armenian people and destroy historical monuments. Armenians will never die!,” said Warner, urging the Azerbaijani leadership to immediately stop the maltreatment of the Armenians. Throughout the demonstration, protestors relentlessly chanted for hours despite the blistering cold weather, carrying signs, asking the government of Azerbaijan to “admit their guilt ,” “stop the cultural genocide,” and to “end the war threats.”
The planned protest came just days before the 23rd anniversary of the deadly pogroms of Sumgait on Feb. 27, 1988, which marked the beginning of a systematic campaign by Azerbaijan’s OMON Special Forces to use massacres and violence to forcefully uproot Armenians from Azerbaijan and Nagorno-Karabakh. The Sumgait tragedy and its bloody repetitions in Azerbaijan, lasting through the years of 1988 to 1991, led to the disappearance of 450,000 inhabitants living in an established Armenian community in Azerbaijan.
The government of Azerbaijan has actively continued a policy of hostility against Armenians; from exile and pogroms in the late 1980s, to the constant war-mongering rhetoric threatening to end the cease-fire with the Nagorno-Karabakh Republic. More recently, the planned destruction of Armenian Khachkars (cross-stones) in the Nakhichevan region, which are now declared as items of world heritage by UNESCO, proves to the world that Azerbaijan has been taking active steps towards erasing the memory of Armenians from their country.
The events in Sumgait, which came as a direct response to Armenians’ expression of their right to self-determination in 1988, were followed by equally violent pogroms in the Azeri cities of Kirovabad, Baku and later in the Northern Shahoumian district of Nagorno-Karabakh. The violence against Armenians eventually escalated and Azerbaijan launched a military invasion into Nagorno-Karabakh, sparking a devastating war in the region that ended in 1994 with a ceasefire that left the Nagorno-Karabakh Republic free from Azeri rule.
More recently, on December 15, 2005, the government of Azerbaijan orchestrated the final demolition of the historic Armenian cemetery in Djulfa, an ancient Armenian city now located in Azerbaijan. Armenians from across the world recently marked the sixth anniversary of the final blow to the 10,000 intricately hand carved Khachkars which were erected between the 6th through the 17th centuries. By 1998, following systemic destruction of the khachkars by Azerbaijani authorities over decades, only 2,000 remained.
By December 15, 2005, the destruction was complete. Approximately 200 Azerbaijani soldiers amassed at the Nakhichevan-Iran border to desecrate the remaining grave markers at the Djulfa Armenian cemetery. The cemetery has since been replaced with an Azerbaijani military training base. Other Armenian sacred and historic sites in Azerbaijan have faced the same fate such as the Pombloz or Hovivi (Shepherd’s) Church built in the 16th century which was destroyed along with its cemetery in 2002.
The Canadian-Armenians community proved today, once again, that they believe that Nagorno-Karabakh’s independence must be universally recognized and that a return to Azerbaijani rule would jeopardize the lives of the Armenians living there and is therefore unacceptable. Furthermore, they urged governments around the world must condemn Azerbaijan for their continued display of religious intolerance, aggression, and constant destabilization of the Caucasus.