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What is the significance of Armenian Genocide Memorial Day?

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April 24th is recognized annually by about 24 countries as 'Armenian Genocide Memorial Day', 'Armenian Genocide Commemoration Day', or 'Genocide Remembrance Day', to commemorate an estimated 1.5 million Armenian civilians in the Ottoman Empire killed by torture, massacre or starvation during the First World War. The genocide was the culmination of centuries of discord between Christian and Muslim peoples dating back to the Middle Ages. The Turkish government still insists that the deaths were the result of hardships and violence of the war and not killed under the direction from the Ottoman government while forcibly removing a large section of the Armenian population from Turkish Armenia and Anatolia to Syria and Lebanon. Pope Francis referred to these events as "the first genocide of the 20th century."

The date commemorates 24 April 1915, the day Ottoman authorities rounded up and arrested some 250 Armenian intellectuals, followed by the arrest of a further 2,000. Canada is among those countries that officially declared that the events of 1915-1918 were a genocide. The Canadian federal government recognized the Armenian genocide as early as 2002 as the result of a resolution from the Senate of Canada. On 25 March 2015, Private Members' Motion M-587 was introduced in the Canadian Parliament to re-affirm its support for the Armenian genocide recognition resolution adopted on 21 April 2004 and call upon the government to honour the victims of all genocides by recognizing the month of April as Genocide Remembrance, Condemnation and Prevention Month; and to acknowledge that Armenian Genocide Memorial Day is to be commemorated annually on 24 April. The Canadian Parliament unanimously adopted the motion on 24 April 2015 – the centennial anniversary of the Armenian Genocide. As far as the United States is concerned, it took a different approach. While their House of Representatives and Senate had voted in December 2019 in favour to formally recognize the massacres as genocide, the Trump administration had said it did not consider the mass killings of Armenians from 1915-1923 to be a genocide, rejecting the U.S. Congress resolution. On the April 2019 anniversary of the killings, President Donald Trump – as part of his statement commemorating ‘Armenian Remembrance Day’ – called the massacre of Armenians by the Ottoman Empire “one of the worst mass atrocities of the 20th century” and said "We pledge to learn from past tragedies so as to not to repeat them. We welcome the efforts of Armenians and Turks to acknowledge and reckon with their painful history."

It is generally accepted that the 'Huşartsan Memorial' erected in 1919 on the premises of the former Pangaltı Armenian Cemetery in Istanbul, Ottoman Empire, was the first memorial dedicated to the victims of the Armenian Genocide. Although this marble monument was dismantled in 1922 during the occupation of Istanbul and was subsequently lost under unknown circumstances, there have been many other memorials erected since then. There are about 200 memorials in 32 countries known to exist, including one in Phoenix, Arizona. This memorial was sponsored by the Armenian community of Arizona, which included survivors who eventually settled in Arizona. According to the Armenian National Institute in Washington, D.C., the "Armenian Martyrs Memorial" was unveiled on 24 April 1944. In 1978, the memorial was placed in the newly established Wesley Bolin Memorial Plaza located in front of the State Capitol. As shown in the photograph, the monument is constructed of tufa stone, a rock native to Armenia and Arizona, and is "dedicated to the 1,500,000 Armenian victims of the genocide in Turkey from 1915-1921, and to people of all nations who have fallen to crimes against humanity". At the front of the monument, it includes an inscription written by Gregory of Narek (c. 9501 - 1003 A.D.) – an Armenian monk and considered 'Armenia's first great poet': "Let lamentation cease, weeping be stilled; To mourning make an end; Let darkness turn to light".

On this day, 24 April 2022, we commemorate the 107th anniversary of the Armenian Genocide and recognize it as Armenian Genocide Memorial Day.

André M. Levesque

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