By Armen Carapetian, Charlene Theriault, Gary Zartarian and Marty Zartarian
Every year in late February, some Azerbaijani American community leaders ask public officials to sign “Khojaly Remembrance Day” proclamations. They are generally inaccurate and victimize those who have suffered persecution and genocide by Turkey and Azerbaijan for 130 years.
During the week of February 22, the Armenian American community in Maine would normally pause and remember the victims of the Sumgait pogroms and of subsequent massacres in Kirovabad, Maragha and Baku. This year, we were faced with a difficult, complicated and unexpected challenge.
The mayor of Portland agreed to a request made by the president of the Azerbaijani Society of Maine to issue a “Remember Khojaly Day” proclamation. In addition, the Maine Holocaust and Human Rights Center (HHRC) agreed to cosponsor a webinar with the Azerbaijani Society of Maine and the Azerbaijani Embassy about the “Khojaly Massacre.” The proclamation and webinar requests have misrepresented the “Khojaly Massacre” and wrongly accused Armenians of genocide, reigniting intergenerational trauma for so many descendants of Armenian Genocide victims and survivors.
As Americans of Armenian descent, we to one degree or another are in a perpetual state of latent sorrow. This can be explained by the Kubler Ross model of the five stages of grief: denial, anger, bargaining, depression and acceptance. This is not a perfect linear construct, and one can move between stages. Turkey and Azerbaijan refuse to recognize the Armenian Genocide of 1.5 million souls and continue an ongoing extermination and disinformation campaign targeting the descendants of genocide. This prevents acceptance of past events so that new insults such as this proclamation elicit intense pain and anger. Accordingly, our Armenian American community rose up in true grassroots fashion to inform the Portland Mayor Kate Snyder why this proclamation was hurtful in light of our past.
Mayor Snyder was empathetic and apologized for the hurt she had unintentionally caused. She has generously offered to facilitate an appropriate April 24 remembrance. We also reached out to the acting director of HHRC. It is unfortunate that he could not comprehend the emotions we were feeling. It was also stunning that a human rights center would collaborate with the Azerbaijani Embassy, which represents the Azerbaijani government. How could a human rights center aid and abet an unrepentant and genocidal government? Our community will press this issue with the board of directors in the near future.
The fact is that public officials are largely unaware of our tragic history, the inaccuracy of the proclamations and why they inflict more pain. The trusting nature and humanitarian instincts of our fellow Americans are being manipulated to advance a misinformation campaign orchestrated by the Azerbaijani government and their proxies.
Everyone should be sympathetic with the loss of innocent Azerbaijani life in an active war zone. However, the misinformation campaign about Khojaly creates a false equivalency with the Armenian Genocide where 1.5 million Armenian, Greek, Assyrian, Chaldean, Syriac, Aramaen and Maronite Christians were systematically murdered in brutal and barbaric fashion. Proclamations which call Khojaly a genocide also trivialize the Holocaust and genocides in Cambodia, Rwanda, Darfur and Myanmar.
Portland, Maine was the adopted home for a large group of Armenian immigrants who escaped the Hamidian Massacres of 1894-1896. Another group arrived during the Genocide. Maine is a wonderful place to live and work and has attracted Americans of Armenian descent from many other states, especially Massachusetts. We have an independent streak and are one of nine states that has recognized the Republic of Artsakh.
Rather than request Khojaly proclamations, Azerbaijani community leaders in the United States should publicly and unequivocally reaffirm US House Resolution 296 and Senate Resolution 150, which officially commemorate the Armenian Genocide and reject efforts to deny it. This would help promote reconciliation. Failure to do so further exposes the hypocrisy of Khojaly proclamations.
Mainers who love our country, treasure our Armenian heritage and stand in solidarity with the people of Armenia and Artsakh