2015 marked the 100th commemoration of the Armenian Genocide committed by the Turks at the beginning of the 20th century. Mheir Karakachian is Chairman of The Armenian Genocide Centennial Committee of Canada (AGCCC) who for many years has been a volunteer advocate for this cause.

The AGCCC represents all Canadian-Armenian institutions for Centennial commemorations/events and was founded in September 2012. Their mission is to commemorate the 100th anniversary throughout Canada. They were divided into political, educational, religious, media, youth, cultural and fundraising categories. The Committee implemented 40 plus projects throughout Laval/Montreal to honor the 1.5 million victims massacred during the Armenian Genocide. Another 60 projects were completed in other provinces. The AGCCC joined forces with representatives of diverse cultures; the Rwandan, Cambodian, Jewish, Pontian Greek, Assyrian and Ukrainian communities who also experienced genocides to raise awareness about genocides, human rights and justice.

Mheir Karakachian is also responsible for the Armenian Program taught at Sourp Hagop School in Montreal where he teaches Armenian history/culture to secondary school students.

Mheir explained the AGCCC project, “100 objects for the Centennial” whereby Armenian families presented cherished items passed to them by their survivor parents. Students of Sourp Hagop participated in this project, too. One great-granddaughter presented a silver belt her grandmother wore underneath her clothes for years. She smuggled it out of their burning town in 1915 to use as a last resort ransom. The belt represented hope and survival. Photos and diaries of survivors were presented by grandchildren/great-grandchildren.

On April 12, 2015, Pope Francis described the mass killing of Armenians as genocide, a politically explosive pronouncement that could have damaged the diplomatic relations of the Vatican with Turkey. The Pontiff said it was his duty to honour the memories of those massacred, adding that "concealing or denying evil is like allowing a wound to keep bleeding without bandaging it." 1.5 million Armenians were killed senselessly during the fall of the Ottoman Empire. Turkey still refuses to accept that genocide occurred.

Genocide survivors in the Montreal region include Knar Bohjelian-Yemenidjian, 106; Armenouhie Tenkerian-Piliguian, 102; and Keghetzik Hagopian-Zourikian 104

The intense period of the Armenian genocide occurred between 1915 and 1917. Within the Ottoman Empire, the Armenian population in the six Armenian provinces (Eastern Turkey) was 2,000,000 in 1915. Armenia was divided between the Russian, Ottoman and Persian empires. Western Armenia was part of the Ottoman Empire and included up to 2.5 million Armenians.

One of the main reasons for the genocide is that for centuries after the Ottoman Turk invasion, Armenians were treated as third class citizens and sometimes as sub-humans. In the six Armenian provinces, they were treated as serfs or slaves and were called gyavours, a derogatory, remark that means “infidels” and (still used in Turkey). In the late 19th century, Armenians demanded to be treated equally. Basic reforms were known as the Armenian Question. Sultan Abdul Hamid, monarch of the Ottoman Empire, responded to these demands by unleashing the 1895-96 massacres of Armenians. 300,000 innocent lives were lost. The Western powers dubbed Abdul Hamid as the Red Sultan, but did not do much to resolve the Armenian Question. The Turks took the opportunity during the First World War to eradicate the Armenian Question. 100,000 Armenian soldiers were drafted into the Ottoman army in 1914 once Turkey declared war on Russia.

During the first phase of this massacre, Armenian soldiers in the Ottoman army were disarmed and reformed to dig trenches, provide hard labor, and thus, were not trusted to own a gun. Exhausted soldiers were killed and their bodies left in trenches they had built. After depriving Armenians of self-defence, the second blow left Armenians leaderless. On April 24th, 1915, 600 plus Armenian leaders were sent to exile and imprisoned. They wanted to eradicate leaders; therefore, they were killed by assigned bandits with daggers while being transported. The third phase was forced deportation of women, children and elderly who believed they were being taken to a safer destination, but in reality they were taken to the Ottoman province of Aleppo. On their way through the Syrian deserts, people in these “death caravans” died of starvation, sickness, exhaustion or at the hands of Turkish gendarmes who accompanied them. Women and girls were raped or abducted. Children were sold to Turks or Kurdish tribesmen to be forcibly Islamised or Turkified.

The Turkish government released murderers from jail to create death squads called Teshkilati mahsousa who were responsible for attacking and slaughtering caravans of people who crossed the desert. After death marches, only 5% reached Aleppo. They survived because of Celal Bey, Governor of Aleppo, who resisted carrying out orders of the Turkish government to annihilate them.

Between 1915 and 1918, 300,000 surviving refugees who crossed to the Russian side of Armenia, gathered around the cathedral of Ejmiadzin, the holiest site for Armenians. In their makeshift tents, many died from typhus, malaria or starvation. In 1918, there were few Armenians left in Western Armenia. Those saved by fate adopted Turkish names and denied their true identity. A final wave of atrocities hit the Armenians in 1922. Massacres befell the city of Smyrna (Izmir,Turkey) and Pontian Greek regions. Smyrna, inhabited by Greeks and Armenians paid the price of the Greek-Turkish war and was burned down. A Canadian nurse and heroine, Sarah Corning saved the lives of 5000 Armenian orphans from the fires of Smyrna.

Fifty years post-war, Armenians rarely spoke about the genocide. It was as if a ‘dark cloud’ hung in every Armenian household. Each year on April 24, the Medz Yeghern (the Great Murder) was commemorated in churches. In 1965, the second generation of Armenians revolted against this silent mourning and asked questions about their lost homeland and the horrendous fate that befell their grandparents. They sought justice to ensure the Armenian Genocide would be recognized worldwide.

During the 50 years after the 1965 awakening, Armenians demanded justice and countered the utter denial that Turkish governments put forth to cast doubt about the Armenian Genocide. Efforts resulted in securing recognition of the Armenian Genocide by 28 countries, including Canada. They also cracked the wall of censorship within Turkey and made members of the Turkish civil society and others raise questions, ask for forgiveness and call it genocide.

In 2015, the international community was aware of the truth, despite continuous fabrications by Turkish officials. From the 2004 recognition by the Canadian Parliament to the 2007 declaration of International Association of Genocide Scholars and unequivocal recent message of Pope Francis, annihilation of Armenians in 1915, once called the “the Forgotten Genocide”, is an established fact that demands just restitution and closure.

2015 was an important turning point in Armenian history. The torch has been passed to the new generation who are living proof of the rebirth of Armenians and are the response to a failed annihilation attempt. They must keep their Armenian heritage, identity/culture alive and raise Genocide awareness to avoid repeating history. They are convinced that silence and indifference may have lethal consequences: an unpunished crime that spawned new genocides from the Holocaust to Cambodia, Rwanda and Sudan.

The 100-year anniversary is not an end but a beginning, allowing Armenians to celebrate their continuing life as a surviving nation and to demonstrate their resilience. Truth has finally prevailed.

More info:
Facebook: Armenian Genocide Centennial Committee of Canada

Photos by Mike Tashjian - commemoration of the Centennial of the Armenian Genocide 2015(1)
@2004 Armenian National Committee of America