TORONTO – A group of eight Canadian-Armenians ended a 72 hour hunger strike in front of the Turkish Consulate of Toronto today, organized by the Armenian Youth Federation of Canada. In light of the upcoming general elections in Turkey, the demonstrators protested the ongoing human rights abuses carried out by the Government of Turkey, including the denial of the Armenian Genocide, the stifling of freedom of speech and press, the ongoing occupation of Cyprus, and the oppression of its minorities.
The hunger strike culminated with an official demonstration, held Monday, June 13 at 2 p.m. in front of the Turkish Consulate of Toronto. The demonstrators sent a strong message to the newly elected officials in Turkey that Canadians and the international community at large will not remain silent bystanders as the Turkish government deprives its citizens of their basic human rights and continues its denial campaign against the memory of the Armenian Genocide.
Unfortunately, the peaceful protest was met with a counter-protest by a group of Turks, who aimed to disrupt the demonstration and silence its message. Disrespecting the Canadian flag by holding it upside-down, they resorted to racist slurs, calling Armenians “terrorists”, and “baby killers”. They held signs that read “proud nation, proud history” sending an ominous message that they felt no remorse for the massacres of the Ottoman government, or sympathy towards its victims. Although deeply troubled, the Armenian demonstrators avoided any confrontation, as that seemed to be the goal of the instigators.
A day earlier, the participants of the hunger strike held a candlelight vigil in memory of the one and a half million martyrs of the Armenian Genocide as well as hundreds of thousands of Christian Assyrians and Pontian Greeks. It is troubling that even during their prayers, led by Very Reverend Father Meghrig Parikian of St. Mary’s Armenian Apostolic Church of Toronto, a smaller group of men and women holding Turkish flags continued to hurl insults aimed at those collected.
A movement to recognize the Armenian Genocide has started in the Turkish Republic, led by outspoken scholars and authors such as Orhan Pamuk, Hall Berktak and Ragip Zarakolu. Unfortunately, Article 301 of the Turkish Penal Code allows the government to lay charges against these journalists and authors, threatening them with jail terms. Nevertheless, this April, for the second year in a row, major cities in Turkey witnessed public events commemorating the Armenian Genocide.
Mark Piliguian, one of the participants of the hunger strike, expressed, “We understand that many of those trying to disrupt our message today grew up in Turkey where they could not learn about the dark chapters of Ottoman history. But we hope that now that they live in Canada, they take the initiative to pull off the blindfold that their government tries to maintain.”