OTTAWA—Hundreds of Canadian-Armenians from across the country took part in a demonstration on Friday, March 23 at the Embassy of Azerbaijan in Ottawa, organized by the Armenian Youth Federation of Canada.
The demonstrators voiced their concern about Azerbaijan’s ongoing aggression, intimidation and hostility towards Armenians. They chanted slogans targeting Azerbaijan’s continued 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 Armenians have the right to live freely without Azerbaijani constraint and hostility.
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, ever-increasing military budget and threats to end the cease-fire with the Nagorno-Karabakh Republic that continue until today. Moreover, the planned destruction of Armenian Khachkars (cross-stones) in the Nakhichevan region (Julfa), 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.
Unfortunately, the Embassy of Azerbaijan refused to accept a letter addressed to Ambassador Farid Shafiyev, written by the Armenian Youth Federation of Canada. This lack of dialogue further proves the Republic of Azerbaijan’s ongoing unwillingness to establish peace and stability in the region.
The Armenian-Canadian community proved today, once again, that they believe that the Nagorno-Karabakh Republic’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 to condemn Azerbaijan for their continued display of religious intolerance, aggression, and constant attempts to destabilize the Caucasus.
Founded in 1934, the Armenian Youth Federation of Canada is the largest and most influential Armenian-Canadian youth organization in Canada, working to advance social, political, educational, and cultural awareness among Armenian-Canadian youth.
Text of letter addressed to Ambassador Farid Shafiyev:
March 23, 2012
Ambassador Farid Shafiyev
904–275 Slater Street
Ottawa, ON K1P 5H9
We are sending you this open letter in response to the Republic of Azerbaijan’s continued policy of cultural, political and physical hostility against the Armenians of the Caucasus. Armenian-Canadians have gathered at your doorstep today to commemorate the anti-Armenian pogroms of the 1980s and 1990s; to bring attention to the destruction of the Armenian cemetery at Julfa; and to protest the Azerbaijan government’s continued anti-Armenian statements and war threats against the Republic of Nagorno-Karabakh, a state whose existence you refuse to recognize.
The government of Azerbaijan has denied the people of Nagorno-Karabakh their right to self-determination for too long. Azerbaijan disregarded the referendum that solidified Nagorno-Karabakh’s decision for independence and instead, launched a war against its people. Today, the livelihood of the people of Karabakh is threatened and by imposing a blockade, hinders the economic and social development of the country.
The culture of ethnocentric hate in Azerbaijan today can be traced back to the years leading up to the country’s independence from the Soviet Union twenty-one years ago. We remember the brutal and reprehensible massacre of Armenians at the hand of violent mobs that the government at the time refused to prevent or punish. The pogrom of Sumgait in 1988 set off similar acts of mob violence in other cities such as Baku and Marghar, where civilians were dragged from their homes and raped, burned alive or beheaded with blunt objects. All this was done in an act of rage, which was fuelled by government propaganda in response to the people of Karabakh’s democratic call for independence.
The complete destruction of the medieval Armenian cemetery at Julfa clearly demonstrated Azerbaijan’s disposition to suppression of ethnocultural diversity through violent and destructive campaigns. When it fell under the control of Azerbaijan in the 1920s, this cemetery was home to 6,000 uniquely carved Armenian tombstones. Instead of protecting the sacred site, Azerbaijan demonstrated complete disregard for international law and tenets of its own constitution by proceeding to remove all traces of this historical Armenian settlement. The cemetery – located in a region already depopulated of its Armenian citizens – posed no threat and was of no strategic significance to Azerbaijan. The desecration of the churches, monastic sites and thousands of tombstones there can only be seen as a clear policy of ethnocide on the part of the Azerbaijani government. This sacred ground is now being used as a military training facility.
At the same time, your government continues to feign to the international community innocence, victim-hood and a commitment to peace. The government signals its readiness to end the conflict and blames the Armenian side for not being able to come to a resolution. We ask: how is Azerbaijan committed to peace when its military budget is increased from $300 million to over $4 billion in the last 6 years? How is it committed to peace when the country continually makes threats of invading all of Armenia and destroying its people?
We register our indignation at the fact that just last month, the President of Azerbaijan, Ilham Aliyev, stated “…our main enemies are Armenians of the world…” It is simply ridiculous that a head of state can generalize an entire nation in this manner. This can only be labelled as racist and truly troublesome. These are unfortunately all too common within your government and must cease if indeed you are committed to a peaceful resolution to the war.
The Armenian-Canadian community believes that Nagorno-Karabakh’s independence must be universally recognized and that a return to Azerbaijani rule will jeopardize the lives of its citizens. Through our protest and this letter, we condemn the government of Azerbaijan for its continued display of military aggression, religious intolerance and dictatorial rule in the South Caucasus. A nation’s right to dictate its own future is firmly enshrined in international law, and we will continue to guarantee that this right is safeguarded for the people of Nagorno-Karabakh.
The Armenian Youth Federation of Canada