By Marianne Firth
ST. CATHARINES, Canada (St. Catharines Standard) — One by one, carnations were carefully placed at its base.
The act was a showing of respect and moment of reflection for the some 200 people who attended the unveiling of the Armenian Genocide Memorial in St. Catharines Saturday.
The monument, which stands in front of the Armenian Community Centre on Martindale Road, recognizes the massacre of 1.5 million Armenians a century ago by Ottoman Turkish soldiers. The 1915 event is considered by many to be the first genocide of the 20th century.
The new outdoor space bears special meaning and resonates with each member of the Armenian community, said Sevag Belian, a member of the center’s executive.
“(It) reminds us of our people’s resilience and perseverance, despite the hardships they faced,” he told the large crowd that gathered for a ceremony on the center’s front lawn.
The memorial, created by Hamilton-based Jean Antikian, includes the names of the six provinces of Armenia, where most of the victims originated from, a flame to symbolize the eternal memory of those lost, and is topped by a phoenix, symbolizing the commitment of the Armenian people to rise from the ashes and live again.
Also unveiled was a cross stone, meant to symbolize the connection of the Armenian people to the Christian faith.
St. Catharines Mayor Walter Sendzik, one of several local dignitaries who spoke during the ceremony, called the memorial a reminder to all Canadians to remain ever vigilant against atrocities that occur around the world.
“The monument will always be a beacon and a reminder that we need to stand together and never forget.”
While many nations, including Canada, have recognized that the events from 1915 to 1923 amounted to a genocide, not all have followed suit.
Belian said the country can begin to make things right, through recognition and reparations.
The Armenian community, he added, will continue to work to end Turkey’s denial.
“Until Turkey recognizes these dark pages of history and begins the substantive process of atonement, it has not earned a place at the table of civilized nations.”
The memorial also acts as a reminder of how the Armenian community and its history has been embraced in Canada, Belian said.
He called it “morally satisfying” to be able to dedicate the monument to the genocide’s victims. Some of the first Armenian families to settle in St. Catharines, which has one of the oldest Armenian communities in Canada, were direct descendants of genocide victims, he said.
Lucy Okajian and her three children were among the hundreds who attended the ceremony.
She feels it’s important that the next generation be informed about their heritage, she said.
“I grew up Armenian and I want my kids to know their culture, their history,” she said, adding they each attend the local Armenian school.
“I’m proud to be Armenian,” 10-year-old daughter Ariana chimed in, bringing a smile to her mother’s face.