PORTLAND, ME – Portland Mayor Kate Snyder has rescinded her previously issued “Khojaly Remembrance Day” proclamation of February 17, 2021. Leading up to the mayor’s announcement last week, Maine Armenian community organizations and members expressed their disapproval of the biased, factually inaccurate and hurtful proclamation and urged the mayor to rescind it.
“After significant reflection regarding the pre-written proclamation request entitled ‘Khajoly Remembrance Day’, and its subsequent issuance, I have decided to rescind the Mayoral Proclamation,” noted Mayor Snyder in a written statement. “I once again apologize for the pain and harm that the issuance of this proclamation has caused, and I remain dedicated to process changes for all proclamation requests which, among other things, includes review for historical accuracy, and unintended consequences,” she added.
For a number of years, Azerbaijan and its proxies have been pushing governments, organizations, media and academia to characterize the events near Khojaly during the First Nagorno Karabakh War as genocide. However, the veracity of Azerbaijan’s dubious claims of what occurred amid the fog of war have been challenged by eyewitness accounts, in media reports and by human rights organizations. Propaganda initiatives such as this proclamation are part of a state-sponsored, worldwide disinformation campaign by Azerbaijan and Turkey to deflect from their own ongoing efforts aimed to rid the region of all traces of Armenian existence. Despite overwhelming evidence that these regimes have victimized Armenians, Azerbaijan and Turkey vilify Armenians in the court of public opinion to distract from their own longstanding policies of discrimination, persecution and genocide.
“Mayor Snyder very quickly recognized that this was a mistake and ultimately understood that it required correcting,” said Gerard Kiladjian, president of the Armenian Cultural Association of Maine. “We are thankful to her for putting Portland on the right side of history,” he added.
The proclamation made many one-sided claims denigrating Armenia and Armenians in reference to the first war over Nagorno Karabakh (Artsakh), while ignoring not only the long and complicated history of the conflict but also naming Armenians as perpetrators of genocide against Azerbaijanis. Proclamations like this are part of a concerted effort to whitewash Azerbaijan’s and Turkey’s persecution of Armenians throughout the last 130 years, beginning with the Hamidian Massacres of 1894-96, followed by the Armenian Genocide of 1915-1923, Azerbaijan’s state-sponsored pogroms in 1988 that led to the First Nagorno Karabakh War, and through Azerbaijan’s most recent attack on Artsakh starting on September 27, 2020. In light of the recent Artsakh War during which Azerbaijan and Turkey committed a number of war crimes to kill thousands of Armenians and expel tens of thousands more from their homes and historic homeland, this proclamation added insult to injury to Armenians everywhere, particularly those who were forced to flee their homes in Sumgait and Baku, Azerbaijan starting over 30 years ago and most recently in Artsakh to save their lives.
“The Armenian refugees from Azerbaijan and from Artsakh are not new to the anti-Armenian rhetoric and vicious lies of the authoritarian regime of Azerbaijan,” noted author, human rights advocate and Westbrook Maine City Councilor Anna Astvatsaturian Turcotte. “We are glad the Armenian community of Maine came together and pushed back on these lies,” she stated.
This year, similar proclamations surfaced in a handful of places in the United States, including the City of Boston and the State of Minnesota. The claims presented in these proclamations are not only rife with distortions and exaggerations, they are also extremely dangerous. Anti-Armenian propaganda in Azerbaijan is well-documented and can be traced to acts of anti-Armenian hatred and aggression abroad such as the gruesome murder of Armenian Army Lieutenant Gurgen Margaryan by Azerbaijani Army Officer Ramil Safarov during a NATO-sponsored training seminar in Budapest in 2004. Most recently, this brand of exported racism was responsible for the destruction of Armenian community centers in San Francisco, California and the mobs of Turks and Azerbaijanis “hunting” Armenians in the streets of European cities last fall.
After hearing from the Armenian community, Minnesota Governor Tim Walz reissued his proclamation, striking all references to Khojaly earlier this year. Similarly, Boston Mayor Marty Walsh rescinded the city’s proclamation in March, pointing to the absence of the “typical review process.” Mayor Walsh, now US Secretary of Labor, apologized to the Armenian American community and cited the community “for respectfully bringing this issue to [his] attention.”
Shortly after learning of the proclamation, Maine’s Armenian community organizations and members mobilized to set the record straight. Individuals emailed and called the mayor to express their disappointment in Mayor Snyder’s decision to issue such a proclamation and to urge her to rescind it. A working group of members of the Armenian Cultural Association of Maine, Armenian National Committee of Maine, and Society for Orphaned Armenian Relief was established to develop and execute a grassroots campaign to have the proclamation struck from the public record. Members of the group communicated and met with the mayor as well as the media on behalf of the community. The Portland Press Herald, the largest daily newspaper in the state, published three articles on this issue, along with a number of opinion pieces from individuals.
“As soon as we learned of this proclamation, we spread the word throughout our community and beyond and asked folks to urge the mayor to rescind the proclamation,” said Dr. Gary Zartarian, co-chair of the Armenian National Committee of Maine. “People really stepped up and provided the mayor – who was cynically manipulated by a treacherous individual advancing an Azerbaijani misinformation campaign – a sound rationale for rescinding the proclamation with clarity and volume, and Mayor Snyder fittingly responded on April 1st,” concluded Zartarian.