BOSTON (defence.az, Azernews.az, Twitter, Press Herald) – Mayor Marty Walsh of Boston proclaimed February 26, 2021 to be Khojaly Commemoration Day. The proclamation quotes Human Rights Watch as stating this was the largest massacre of the 1990s and that it was committed by Armenian armed forces with the support of a Soviet Russian rifle regiment.
According to Azerbaijani sources, the proclamation was adopted on the initiative of Roza Shahzade, director of the New England-based Azerbaijan Center. In addition, Azerbaijanis held a demonstration at Harvard Square in Cambridge, according to the Azerbaijani State Committee for Work with Diaspora, to commemorate the 29th anniversary of the Khojaly killings organized with the support of the same Azerbaijan Center. Some of the posters displayed used the word genocide to describe the Khojaly event, in contradiction with the accepted definition of this term.
Armenians in turn contacted the mayor’s office in large numbers to protest the proclamation, as confirmed by a telephone respondent at the mayor’s office.
In response to a question from the Mirror-Spectator about why and how the mayoral proclamation was issued, on March 2 Nick Martin, Chief Communications Officer of the Office of Mayor Walsh, stated: “We receive a high volume of requests for mayoral proclamations throughout the year, and our systems for processing them are currently in flux as part of the mayoral transition. This situation is a reminder that, no matter the challenges, it’s important and necessary to scrutinize all of those requests, especially ones having to do with international conflict, more closely before issuing a proclamation. We regret upsetting anyone with this proclamation, and we sincerely apologize to the Armenian community. Mayor Walsh is proud to stand in support of Armenians in Boston.”
A similar proclamation issued in Portland, Maine, was backed by the Azerbaijan Society of Maine, but it called the event a genocide, not massacre. Audrey Altstadt, a history professor at the University of Massachusetts Amherst, who has written books about Azerbaijan, noted that the event did not fit the internationally accepted definition of genocide.
Approximately 50-60 Azerbaijanis live in Portland, along with an estimated 100-200 Armenians. Alstadt said that a campaign backed by the Azerbaijani embassy in Washington to promote Khojaly Remembrance Day began around ten years ago, and added: “It’s interesting to me that you would have a small community of 50 to 60 Azerbaijanis and it would cross their minds to approach the mayor for something like this. That used to not be the case.”