Mayor Mary J. Walsh

Boston Mayor Walsh Rescinds Khojaly Commemoration Proclamation, Confirms Strong Relationship with Boston Armenian Americans

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BOSTON – Boston Mayor Marty J. Walsh announced in a letter addressed to the Greater Boston Armenian community dated March 3 that he was rescinding the proclamation issued by his office for Khojaly Commemoration Day at the end of February, and apologized for its promulgation.

Walsh explained why such a proclamation was issued, writing: “Unfortunately on our part, this was done without our typical review process, which includes conferring with all those potentially impacted.” Conversations with leaders of the Armenian-American community made it clear that the proclamation was particularly hurtful, he said, thanking them for respectfully bringing this issue to his attention.

In his letter, he expressed his gratitude for the relationship the City of Boston enjoyed with the Armenian people, mentioning the creation of Armenian Heritage Park and the 2015 commemoration of the centennial of the Armenian Genocide. He stated, “I continue to be proud to stand in support of Armenian-Americans in Boston and the surrounding area,” and thanked Armenians for their contribution to civic life.

Many Armenians contacted the mayor’s office after they became aware of the Khojaly proclamation, and very quickly the mayor’s chief communications officer issued an apology via the Mirror-Spectator on March 2.

Middlesex Sheriff Peter J. Koutoujian played a key role due to his longstanding friendship with the mayor. Koutoujian declared, “When I first saw the mayor’s proclamation, I reached out to him immediately, because I knew it did not sound like Marty. Why I say this is because I have known Marty since 1996 when we ran for office. We both started in the House of Representatives in the same year. Your class in a legislative body is something that really binds you and bonds you together, so much so that you maintain a very close and abiding friendship over these very many years. And the nice thing is that we both serve in public office so we see each other and share in that too.”

Not only has the mayor attended various Armenian Genocide commemoration events over the years, and signed onto Genocide recognition resolutions, but has spoken at Armenian Heritage Park engagements in Boston and even visited the Armenian Quarter in Jerusalem.

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Koutoujian recalled, “We traveled to Jerusalem together and I was going to visit the Armenian Quarter. He asked to join me. I know this is a very special memory for him because he speaks about it all the time.”

The sheriff stated that as soon as he contacted the mayor, the latter understood the situation and felt badly, so he asked Koutoujian to arrange a meeting with a group of Armenian community leaders. At that meeting, Koutoujian said, the mayor did not hesitate to acknowledge that this was something that should not have happened.

Walsh accepted responsibility there and in the letter. The context to be understood is that Walsh is in the process of transitioning to become the US Secretary of Labor, which creates a lot of turnover in his office.

Koutoujian said, “I appreciate his candor and his respect for our community. It is not easy, as there is a lot going on right now for him, but he took the time to do this. I am proud of my friend Marty Walsh and I am proud of our community, because it engaged with him in a respectful way, and he responded in the same manner.”

Co-chair of the Armenian Assembly of America Anthony J. Barsamian responded to the mayor’s action, stating, “We thank Mayor Walsh and very much appreciate the mayor’s candor and commitment to do the right thing. I would also like to thank fellow Bostonians Peter Koutoujian, Berj Najarian and Aram Kaligian for their important work on this matter.”

Koutoujian concluded, “This is important, and so I say this a lot: We can continue as a community to educate each other and remind each other about the Armenian Genocide and what is going on in Artsakh, but our great power is when we educate the non-Armenian community.” Outreach and phone calls are important, but the story of this proclamation shows how long-term relationships and friendships are crucial. It shows that standing up to propaganda is important, but also, as Koutoujian pointed out, “This is the benefit of having non-Armenians become part of our community, become part of our family, and understand what we go through. This is a proud day for our community. We saw an injustice, we acted and we were recognized, not just for our advocacy of the moment but for years of a positive relationship and educating people about what it is to be Armenian. This is a good day for us.”

Topics: Boston

A copy of the mayoral letter follows.

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