Genocide Should Be A Distinct Theme Within The Future Canadian Museum For Human Rights

Armenian National Committee of Canada

OTTAWA—On the occasion of the 96th anniversary of the Armenian Genocide of 1915 commemorated during the month of April, the Armenian National Committee of Canada would like to share with the Canadian public its position regarding the direction in which Canada’s future Museum for Human Rights is heading.

From the early days of the Museum’s inception, the ANCC has participated in garnering support for and shaping of what was – and is still hoped to be – a promising Canadian endeavour to build an innovative museum for the promotion of human rights and the prevention of human rights violations.  In recent months, however, plans made public in regard to the museum’s approach to the mass atrocities pavilion, has caused unwelcome tension and division amongst Canadians.

In a museum intended to promote universal human rights, the approach taken should be exactly that: a universal approach. Neither the Armenian Genocide nor other known genocides of the past century should be marginalized. Genocide is considered as one of the worst forms of gross and systematic violation of human rights. It would only make sense that Genocide be represented as a distinct theme within the Museum, where the handful of examples of genocides that have taken place in the 20th and 21st centuries would be presented through a comparative approach and with the view of showing common elements amongst them, such as the way the victim groups are dehumanized, the causes and the ways genocide is implemented, the trauma arising from genocide, the possibility of reconciliation between perpetrator and victim groups, revisionism and the ways genocide is denied, and so on.

Lumping the handful of instances of genocides of the 20th & 21st centuries together with the potentially endless examples of mass violations of human rights or war-time atrocities of varying type and scale will not enable an understanding of the specificities of genocide. If the Canadian Museum for Human Rights aims to present to the general public the different genocides as part of the universal experience, the most suitable way to do this is the thematic and comparative one.

The ANCC to date has opted for dialogue, preferring to continue, together with fellow Canadian citizens, its participation in public consultations and other forms of idea exchanges with the Museum. ANCC has privileged dialogue over confrontation, hoping to steer clear of turning issues of history, human rights and public education into competition amongst victims of genocide and other mass atrocities.

To date, there have been many concerns expressed publicly, either by the general public, stakeholder communities, or independent scholars and experts. It is expected that the opinion of these Canadians, including those whose collective experiences are at the root of such a museum and whose taxpayers’ contributions will help build and run the museum for years to come, will not fall on deaf ears.

“As advocates of human rights, we must state our position, which I trust will be seen in a constructive light by the Museum”, said Dr Girair Basmadjian, President of the ANCC. “Unless the leadership of the Museum and the newly elected Government of Canada, show a more genuine responsiveness to the constructive proposals voiced by citizens and communities across the country, I fear that a noble idea such as that of a museum for human rights will ironically become a source of tension, polarization and even division”, he added. “This, in fact, is the complete opposite of the true purpose that the Museum is striving to achieve.”

The ANCC is committed to pursuing the path of dialogue with the Museum, so long as it feels that the dialogue is a true and meaningful one. For any dialogue to be meaningful, however, there must be readiness not only to hear legitimate concerns, but also readiness to actually reconsider plans. To prevent the Museum from becoming a divisive element amongst Canadians, the suggestion of change, or reconsideration of approaches in regard to how best to present the universal experience of genocide, as has been made public by advocates and experts, including by professors Roger Smith and Michael Marrus, need serious consideration.

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