OTTAWA–Jason Kenney, Canada’s Secretary of State for Multiculturalism and Canadian Identity, received the Armenian National Committee of Canada’s "Man of the Year" award at a June 11 reception held by the Embassy of the Republic of Armenia and the ANCC to celebrate the 90th anniversary of the independence of the First Republic of Armenia. The ceremony was held at the National Press building.
Members of Parliament, the diplomatic corps, journalists, intellectuals, NGOs and prominent members of the Canadian-Armenian community attended the milestone celebration of one the most proud chapters of Armenian history.
After playing the national anthems of Canada and Armenia, master of ceremonies Tina Soulahian invited Dr. Girair Basmadjian, president of the ANCC, to deliver the opening remarks.
Dr. Basmadjian said that he considered the establishment of the first republic in 1918, after 600 years of occupation by the Ottoman Empire as “a resurrection of a nation that was condemned to annihilation three years before that date–a resurrection that proved to be the precursor for a rapid establishment of all the necessary institutions of a sovereign state.”
Commenting on the current state of Nagorno-Karabagh, Dr. Basmadjian drew a parallel between Nagorno-Karabagh and Kosovo. He said: “Because of the decisions taken by the free world regarding Kosovo, we dare think that international policy makers have realized the importance of the principle of self-determination over the territorial integrity of sovereign states.”
Arman Akopian, charge d’affaires of the Republic of Armenia in Canada, lamented the loss of the first republic which “ lasted only two-and-a-half years and was eventually destroyed by the invading Red Army.” Akopian said that he valued the achievemen’s of the First Republic which “managed to create a new spirit of freedom and liberty and eventually became a powerful and highly cherished symbol that remained an inexhaustible source of hope and aspiration for several generations in Armenia and in Diaspora. When in 1991 Armenia, for the second time during the 20th century, fully restored its independence, there was no debate about the state symbols, and the proud tricolour flag of the First Republic was once again raised over the Parliament, said Akopian.
Aris Babikian, the executive director of ANCC, said Hon. Kenney is “a man whose energy, commitment and principled stand on human rights has made him a legend in many segmen’s of our civil society. He is also a man who has changed the face of multiculturalism and has played a central role in shaping government of Canada’s policy vis-a-vis addressing the injustices which have befallen on our Native people’s and on many multicultural groups.”
Babikian said that cherished this year’s Man of the Year Award winner for his “strong faith and moral fortitude” which “not only shaped his future and his political career, but has also shaped and touched everyone’s life who has worked and associated with him. His humanitarianism, straight talk, sincerity are other remarkable aspects of the man.”
Dr. Basmadjian presented the award to Hon. Kenney. In his acceptance remarks, Hon. Kenney said he “was moved by this honour. One of the most important things to me in my political vocation is human rights. This is because I was influenced in this direction by the teachings of John Paul II with respect to the inalienable nature of human dignity … when one looks at the history of the Armenian people, one sees an amazing, ancient, centuries-old fight for human dignity for basic human rights against wave after wave of oppression.
“They struggled to survive against the currents of history. A struggle which began three millennia ago, but which found its true identity and rooting in the conversion of the Armenian nation as the first Christian people."
Casting a long glance at Armenian history, Hon. Kenney said: “We see in all of Armenian history, from that time in the Armenian kingdom to today in the modern Armenian republic and in the breadth and dynamism of the Armenian Diaspora across the world, an amazing story of the human’spirit. A story of struggle against adversity and emerging against the often unjust, cruel and violent currents of human history.
“Tonight we commemorate the 90th anniversary of the first modern Armenian republic;We know that that the republic itself was something of a miracle. 1918, just three years, just a flash of time after the great calamity, the genocide of 1915, a nation was born from its ashes, a state was born from destruction of the 1915 calamity.”
The 2008 Man of the Year award winner added: “The idea that the Armenian people did not give up after the indignity of what happened to them in 1915, after having been marched through the desert and rounded up and treated as animals, to have maintained their human dignity in the face of violence and oppression is a story which must be of an inspiration to anyone at any time.
“The Armenian community perhaps more than any other is a community that understands the importance of memory and we, the government of Canada, the people of Canada, as we saw today with the historic apology [to native Indian], understand the importance of memory and it is the importance of memory, which led to the Parliament and eventually, the government of Canada and Prime Minister Harper to acknowledge the historical reality of the Armenian Genocide.”
The honoree concluded his remarks by “thanking the Armenian National Committee of Canada, all of those who do such great work to promote Canada-Armenia relations today. I accept it [the award] on behalf of all of those colleagues who’ve worked so hard on these issues and we rededicate ourselves to that cause. We thank the Armenian community for its contribution to Canada and for being a voice for human dignity.”
The Man of the Year award miniature sculpture of famous Armenian composer and priest Gomidas is the work of Canadian-Armenian Artist Yevkine De Greef Ypremian.