MONTREAL–The Montreal City Council last Monday unanimously approved the agreement reached between the City’s Executive Committee and the Armenian Community Center of Montreal–regarding the building of a monument dedicated to the victims of all genocides and in memory of the 1.5 million victims of the Armenian Genocide of 1915.
The agreement calls for the Armenian community to dedicate the monument (up to $100,000)–while the city will provide the public space (at Marcelin Wilson Park) and carry the expense (estimated $115,000) of the foundation.
The construction of the monument was promised by the city’s previous administration during the last municipal elections in 1994. The new administration–headed by Mayor Pierre Bourque and including three councilors of Armenian origin–had also agreed with the proposal of the Armenian National Committee.
However–in late 1995–after being pressured by the Turkish government as well as Canadian federal officials–Mayor Bourque shelved the project. The mayor eventually decided to make good on his promise and last week it was announced that a final agreement has been reached between the Mayor and the Armenian National Committee of Canada.
In a last minute effort to block the project one more time–the Turkish government had put pressure on Quebec companies doing business with Turkey–who in turn wrote to the Myor demanding that the city not build the monument. Turkey pressured the Bourque administration threatening to cancel a visit to Montreal by that country’s environment minister and a business delegation.
According to the Montreal Gazette–five Quebec corporations eager to do business in Turkey are demanding that Bourque scrap plans to build the monument.
The companies fired off letters to Bourque last Monday warning that they could lose lucrative contracts if the city goes ahead with the monument.
But executive committee chairman Noushig Eloyan said the city has no intention of backing down.
Eloyan said she feels strongly about the monument and dismissed the pressure campaign. "That’s nothing new," Eloyan said in an interview. The companies lobbying against the government–reports the Gazette–are Pyrox Technologies Inc and Tecksol (both based in Sainte Foy)–Mabarex of St. Laurent–Napco Housing Inc. of Sainte-Brigide and Walsh Automation Inc. of Montreal.
"We firmly believe that if you go ahead with this project–it will jeopardize all our efforts at commercial cooperation with Turkey," Florian Bessette–vice-president of Napco Housing–said in her letter to Bourque.
Napco signed a multimillion-dollar agreement with the Istanbul chamber of commerce last week to build 10,000 prefabricated housing units in Turkey.
Gilbert Provost–vice-president of Walsh Automation–wrote to Bourque that his company is close to a $20 million deal to build a factory in Turkey.
"We would like the mayor to remain neutral on this matter," Provost said in an interview last week. "If the mayor were to put off his decision for a few months–it would do us a lot of good."
Local Armenia’s charge that federal cabinet minister Pierre Pettigrew also urged the mayor to put the monument on hold. Pettigrew has admitted telling Bourque about Ottawa’s position on the events of 1915 last year–but denies having pressured the mayor to do anything.
Ottawa apparently does not want to offend Turkey–a country with a growing market for Canadian goods and services. Canada exported $255 million worth of products to Turkey last year – almost double the amount of business since 1992.
Raffi Donabedian–chairman of the Armenian National Committee of Montreal–denounced the five companies for "putting money ahead of human rights."
Donabedian contended that the Turkish government is behind the letter-writing campaign: "Turkey is meddling in the affairs of another country by threatening to cut off contracts with Quebec companies," charged the Armenian community leader.
During a question period on Monday–the Mayor said the city has no intention of backing down.
According to the agreement–the monument will be selected by a competition to be announced soon–a scale model of the monument will be unveiled in April 1998. Cast in bronze–the monument should be in place before the end of 1998.
The focus of the controversy had been the inscription on the monument. Following several meetings between the Armenian National Committee of Montreal and Mayor Bourque–an agreement has been reached on the final text of the inscription–which will read: "On the 83rd anniversary of the 1915 Armenian Genocide–in which 1.5 million Armenia’s perished–we dedicate this monument to all the victims of genocides and encourage citizens to commit themselves to tolerance and social harmony."
The Armenian National Committee of Montreal has expressed its satisfaction regarding the City’s decision to go ahead with the plan. The ANC of Montreal has also thanked the Montreal City Executive Committee–led by Chairperson Noushig Eloyan–and all the members of the Montreal City Council–who have supported the monument project and who in April 1997 unanimously had adopted a resolution commemorating the Armenian Genocide.