In an unprecedented show of force, Armenians from all across Canada poured into the capital on Friday
Gathered in front of Parliament, nearly 5,000 demonstrators were joined in solidarity by current and former MPs. Their objective? Compel the government to condemn Turkey and Azerbaijan as the aggressors in the Karabakh conflict, permanently halt the export of weapons to those countries, and recognize the Republic of Artsakh as an independent state.
Hrag Koubelian, president of the Concordia Armenian Students’ Union and a participant in Friday’s demonstrations, believes this is a fitting opportunity for Canada to show what it’s made of.
“Given Canada’s great record in defending human rights, we hope that it officially condemns Azeri and Turkish aggression against Artsakh and Armenia. We hope to see recognition of the Armenian people’s will to peacefully live on their lands.”
However, with clashes intensifying and casualties mounting by the day, some, like Tamar Panossian, are worried that the government may be dragging its feet.
Panossian says, “Time is already being wasted because we have so many soldiers already dying, already so many people who have been displaced, and they’re taking a lot of time to take action.
Such concerns have been growing among the Canadian-Armenian community ever since open war broke out on Sept. 27 between Armenian and Azeri forces over Nagorno-Karabakh, also known as Artsakh.
While sporadic fighting has occurred along the line of contact (LOC) in the past, the latest round has been the deadliest to date. Recent estimates place the number of casualties in the thousands.
The Armenian community is particularly worried that active Turkish interventionism has made Azerbaijan more belligerent. In response, Sevag Belian, executive director of the Armenian National Committee of Canada, says the government needs to take some strong measures.
“Canada cannot afford doing business with a genocidal state such as Turkey that has absolutely no intention to adhere to international law. Let it be clear: this is a red line for our community,” says Belian.
Some current and former MPs are trying to bring this issue to the attention of the government. Alexandre Boulerice, New Democratic Party MP for Rosemont – La Petite-Patrie, and a long-time supporter of Armenian causes, says this is a matter of human rights and national self-determination.
“You can count on us and the NDP to continue putting pressure on the Liberal government to do more.” He agrees the suspension of weapons exports to Turkey must be made permanent.
The Conservatives, for their part, are stressing the importance of an open and transparent investigation into weapons exports, as well as the right to self-determination.
Harold Albrecht, former Conservative MP for Kitchener—Conestoga, who also attended the demonstration, believes Canada ultimately must stand up for Armenians. He said, “I’m hoping I can influence my colleagues [in the Conservative Party] to put pressure on the government.”
Some of that pressure is even coming from within the Liberal party itself. In a statement that was read out on Friday, Fayçal El-Khoury, Liberal MP for Laval—Les Îles, expressed his full support for the demonstrators.
“We will never stop until we reach the recognition of the free and independent Republic of Artsakh. I have been with you, I am with you, and always will be with you,” he said.
Earlier this month, Foreign Affairs Minister François-Philippe Champagne told his Turkish counterpart that “external parties should stay out [of the conflict].” Additionally, Global Affairs Canada temporarily suspended some weapons export permits to Turkey, pending an investigation into their use in Nagorno-Karabakh.
Mher Karakashian, chairman of the Armenian National Committee of Canada, says Armenians are definitely encouraged by these steps. However, he awaits what the government will do next. “We will have to see what happens in the coming days. Our hope is that Canada takes up a leadership role, together with its allies, mobilizing the international community to bring a peaceful resolution to this crisis.”
Photographs by Shoghig Tehinian