Parliament Hill was overflowing with members of the Armenian community in Ottawa on Tuesday, marking the 103rd anniversary of the Armenian Genocide. The demonstrators commemorated the estimated 1.5 million Armenians who were killed in April 1915 before marching on the Turkish embassy to seek recognition from the Turkish government.Jimmy and Phil Philipossian, father and son, stood quietly on the edge of the hill. Jimmy Philipossian, 75, said his parents were living in Adana during the Turkish takeover of the former Armenian city. When the genocide began, they escaped.
“A very close person (to them) said,” You better go fast because they are going to kill you both, “said Philipossian. “So my parents, they moved very fast at that moment to survive.”
Now, more than a century after the genocide, Philipossian said it’s important to remember. Father and son said it was a “big relief” to see the large number of people at Tuesday’s meeting.
“There was a lot of land that was lost with lives … you can not forget such a past,” he said.
But Armenians were not alone on the Hill or in front of the embassy. They were greeted by a Turkish counter-demonstration of one-third the size of the Armenian participation. They say that the killings that took place from 1915 took place in the context of the civil war and did not deserve the label of “genocide”.
For Turkish community member Kevser Taymez, the historical context is complicated, with suffering on both sides, she said. “What Armenians and Turks in Canada should do is remember our losses together,” she said. “I am here to protest that Armenians are raising their children to hate the Turks.”
Terminology is an important issue for both communities. Sevag Belian, executive director of the Armenian National Committee, prefers to use the term “gathering” to describe the annual event on the Hill.
“We do not like to call it a protest,” he said. “Canada recognized the Armenian genocide at the parliamentary level in 2002 with the resolution of the Senate, in 2004 with the House of Commons resolution, and in 2006 the government recognized the genocide.
According to Belian, the real protest only began when protesters started down Wellington Street towards the Turkish embassy.
Armenian and Turkish groups were kept apart all afternoon by police barriers. They marched three kilometers to the embassy in separate intervals. Nearly 700 members of the Armenian community were surrounded by some 300 Turkish members of MacDonald Gardens, across from the embassy.