Local author details Canada’s response to the Armenian genocide

By Bhavana Gopinath – 

The trauma of genocide threads through Aram Adjemian’s life: he grew up in the shadow of the Armenian genocide, he pursued the topic academically, he met his wife at a genocide conference, and it is the subject of his first book, The Call from Armenia: Canada’s Response to the Armenian Genocide. It documents Canadians’ interest in the Armenian people through missionary involvement, the consequent fundraising for Armenian relief, governmental action, and Armenian immigration and support in Canada.

Aram has been studying genocide for several years. Back in 2002, he attended the first seminar on Genocide and Human Rights hosted by the Zoryan Institute. In 2003, he started his master’s in history at Concordia University, where renowned genocide scholar, Frank Chalk, became his thesis advisor. His 2007 thesis was entitled Canada’s Moral Mandate for Armenia: Sparking Humanitarian and Political Interest, 1880 to 1923.

Photo of McKellar Park author, Aram Adjemian, by Shant Manoukian.
Photo of McKellar Park author, Aram Adjemian, by Shant Manoukian.

The 100th anniversary of the Armenian genocide was commemorated on April 24, 2015. As part of several cultural and educational initiatives to mark the event, the Armenian National Committee of Canada (ANCC) commissioned Aram to write about Canada and Armenia. He took this opportunity to expand upon his thesis research. The resultant The Call from Armenia contains original research and information in the form of hundreds of archival photographs, parliamentary and governmental documentation, and illustrations.

Aram has presented his book across Canada and in Ottawa to parliamentarians and the Armenian community.  On May 27, Aram made a presentation at a reception organized by the Embassy of the Republic of Armenia to Canada. H.E. Mr. Armen Yeganian, Ambassador Extraordinary and Plenipotentiary of the Republic of Armenia to Canada presided, and presented Aram with a certificate for service to the nation.

Canada’s response to the crisis in Armenia was one of the defining events of Canadian history in the aftermath of World War I. It was a young country’s demonstration of its responsibility, influence, and humanitarian outlook.  Aram points out that this is a typical Canadian reaction — Canada continues to provide aid to many displaced peoples even to the present day.

Aram is originally from Montreal. During his childhood, his Armenian grandparents and parents rarely talked about the genocide; while he was aware that his grandparents had been affected and traumatized, he doesn’t recall his grandmother talking much about it. However, he grew up immersed in Armenian culture, and sensed the lingering trauma of the genocide that his Armenian friends and relatives endured even after decades.

“It is a hard thing to live with,” says Aram. He came to understand that the emotional scars from genocide can be trans-generational.

In 2007, the year Aram completed his thesis, the journalist Hrant Dink was assassinated. Hrant was the chief editor of a bilingual (Armenian and Turkish) Istanbul-based newspaper and a proponent of stronger ties between Turks and Armenians. That incident, Aram says, was a “rude awakening,” with the realization that the issues he addressed in academia still prevailed in real life. In the aftermath of that assassination, Aram has been involved with Armenian and Turkish dialogue groups that formed with the aim of fostering greater understanding. Aram hopes that conversations between ordinary Turks and Armenians will help bring about some degree of amity between the two nations.

Aram met his wife Hoori Hamboyan, a lawyer with the Department of Justice, at Zoryan Institute’s Genocide conference. He describes Hoori as a “very compassionate” person who has always been interested in social justice and helping the vulnerable. Their backgrounds make them both deeply mindful about how genocide-related trauma can transmit through generations so they try to provide a balanced perspective when educating their three children about their heritage.

Talking about the genocide and understanding the other person’s perspective is a necessary step to healing, and for the trauma of genocide to taper off for future generations. While more study is needed, he hopes that his book can provide some information and understanding to that end.

The ANCC is providing copies of the book to those who are interested. It will also soon be available at Octopus Books, and Ottawa Public Library will add it to its catalogue shortly.

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