WINNIPEG, Canada (Horizon)—Shahen Mirakian, member of the Armenian National Committee of Canada (ANCC), was one of the Armenians present at the formal opening ceremonies of the Canadian Museum for Human Rights (CMHR) in Winnipeg, Manitoba. In addition to Mirakian, Ambassador Armen Yeganian also attended the CMHR’s opening.
The ANCC has been closely collaborating with the CMHR for over 10 years to ensure that the Armenian Genocide is properly represented in the museum alongside the other four genocides officially recognized by the Canadian government (the Holocaust, the Holodomor, Rwanda, and Srebrenica).
Canadian-Armenian weekly newspaper Horizon sat down with Mirakian and asked him about his impressions of the CMHR and its Armenian content.
HORIZON: Please tell us what you felt like as you saw the CMHR upon your arrival in Winnipeg.
SHAHEN MIRAKIAN: Well, honestly, it was an architectural jewel. To imagine that there would be a permanent exhibit on the Armenian Genocide in such a unique architectural marvel was truly moving. The grandeur of the place attests to how important it is to remember these instances of horror and insanity that humanity has gone through in the past century.
H.Z.: How did it feel being one of the first Armenians to see the Armenian Genocide artifacts there?
S.M.: Let’s just say that I was impressed with the museum’s unique approach. What I was expecting and what was before me were two completely different things.
H.Z.: What do you mean exactly?
S.M.: The museum has a very modern approach to its displays. Rather than present enormous amounts of information or have exhibits based around a particular artifact or document as you would see in a traditional museum, the CMHR’s exhibits are designed to start a discussion and to convey an impression. The Armenian Genocide display, like the display of the other genocides, is presented from a Canadian perspective. The gallery where the most information about the Armenian Genocide is contained is called “Breaking the Silence” and discusses the work involved in overcoming Turkey’s denial in order for Canada to recognize the Armenian Genocide. The traditional Armenian Genocide display is accompanied by information in digital form both on an interactive table and through computer terminals.
H.Z.: What are the more traditional – as you call them – items that are displayed there?
S.M.: Well as I mentioned earlier, there are pictures, including a large one of a famished woman and children — of the sort that we have come to associate so closely with the Armenian Genocide. There are also five smaller pictures, one of Canadian nurse Sara Corning who worked in Armenia to save orphans, one of Atom Egoyan promoting his film “Ararat,” one of a Montreal demonstration for Genocide recognition from La Presse, another from an Ottawa demonstration from 2004 from Horizon’s archives and yet another depicting the unveiling of the Georgetown Boys farm plaque. There are also supposed to be two physical artifacts exhibited — these were not yet present when I attended — a replica of Armin Wenger’s camera, and a copy of his book of photographs of the Armenian Genocide.
There is also going to be a film produced by the CMHR for the 100th anniversary of the Armenian Genocide which will be shown in a theatre in the Breaking the Silence gallery. We will be working together with the museum over the next year to assist with the preparation of this film.
H.Z.: What about the presence of the Armenian Genocide in other galleries?
S.M.: There is a separate gallery on the Holocaust and in that gallery there is a feature on Raphael Lemkin and the definition of genocide. In that particular exhibit, the Armenian Genocide is used to discuss aspects of genocide, particularly on Armenian women — how women were kidnapped and forced to take on a Muslim identity. There are pictures of Armenian women marked with tattoos according to Turkish tradition.
There is also a gallery which was not open when I attended which is intended for younger children which will feature a story about the Georgetown Boys. I look forward to seeing exactly what is in this gallery next time I visit.
H.Z.: So your overall impressions are positive?
S.M.: I believe this museum is a testament to the fact that the Armenian Genocide has now become common knowledge for any Canadian. We have reached the public through non Armenian institutions and the museum will stand for many years and educate many generations of Canadians. We would like to see a more prominent role for the Armenian Genocide as a prototype for all the genocides which followed and as an example of the consequences when justice is not served for a genocide. We will work with the CMHR to make sure this happens.