BOSTON, Mass.—Mayor Marty Walsh has issued a statement of apology to the Armenian community of Boston and rescinded a recent proclamation declaring February 26 Khojaly Commemoration Day. “Unfortunately on our part, this was done without our typical review process, which includes conferring with all those potentially impacted,” the apology letter reads. “Following conversations with leaders of the Armenian-American community, we realize that this proclamation has been hurtful to many of you.”
For the past week, members of Boston’s Armenian community and abroad have been contacting the mayor’s office, urging him to reverse the proclamation following a call to action from the Armenian National Committee of America Eastern Region (ANCA-ER).
“The ANC-of Eastern Massachusetts would like to thank the mayor for acting on this quickly. It was very clear that it wasn’t professionally vetted,” said chairman Aram Kaligian in an interview with the Armenian Weekly. “The mayor has been a friend to the community,” he continued.
Indeed, Mayor Walsh, who is preparing for his transition to become the US Secretary of Labor, has participated in several Armenian Genocide commemorations both at the Massachusetts State House and Armenian Heritage Park, where he proclaimed that Armenians have made Boston a “stronger city.”
“Our goal when issuing a proclamation is to honor and celebrate the contributions of Bostonians from all walks of life, and not to engage in international matters that can cause pain or divisiveness,” the letter reads.
This is not the first time that a municipal or state government has declared February 26 Khojaly Commemoration Day. Nearly identical proclamations were announced by the mayor of Portland, Maine and the governor of Minnesota. Each of these declarations followed appeals by local Azerbaijani community organizations, including the Azerbaijani Society of Maine and the Azerbaijani Association in Minnesota. According to various Azerbaijani news sites, the Boston proclamation was adopted on the initiative of the New-England based Azerbaijan Center. All three cite Human Rights Watch in marking the 29th anniversary of the “largest massacre of the 1990s, the Khojaly Massacre.” The ANC of Eastern Massachusetts underscores, however, that the proclamations are rife with distortions and exaggerations and erase the role of Azeri troops in the fighting around Khojaly.
“This is clearly part of a Turkish-Azeri propaganda effort to reduce the significance of the Armenian Genocide and crimes against humanity that the Turkish government has committed in the past,” Kaligian said. “It’s also a way of reducing the culpability of the present Turkish and Azeri governments in their war crimes against Armenians.”
Middlesex Sheriff Peter Koutoujian, who has known Mayor Walsh since 1996 during their time together in the state legislature, commends local activists for mobilizing and asking the mayor to reconsider the February 26 statement. “This is a proud day for our community in Greater Boston. This is a proud day to be Armenian,” said Sheriff Koutoujian in an interview with the Weekly. “We were recognized, and we were respected. This is a good day for our community to show that people believe in us.”