Mayor Kathleen Snyder of Portland, Maine

Portland Mayor Rescinds ‘Khojaly Remembrance Day’ Proclamation, Offers Apology

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PORTLAND, Maine — Mayor Kathleen M. Snyder on April 1 rescinded and apologized for the mayoral proclamation of “Khojaly Remembrance Day,” which had been adopted in February. The proclamation upset Armenians in particular because it characterized the deaths at Khojaly as genocide, declaring that “the perpetrators of this genocide are still at large and have not been brought to justice yet.”

Snyder had previously apologized for the proclamation but had declined to rescind it, instead promising that all future mayoral proclamations would receive closer review. For the Armenians, she offered to recognize the Armenian Genocide on April 24.

Gerald Kiladjian, president and cofounder in 2003 of the Armenian Cultural Association of Maine (ACA) said that the local Armenians found out after the fact about the proclamation, which had been prepared by the small Azerbaijani community and approved by the mayor. It was the first time that something like this was done by the Azerbaijanis, he said, and it was especially hurtful after the Artsakh war a few months ago. He said that the Azerbaijanis “really underestimated our community, how committed we are to our cause, and that we are not willing to accept any false representations or inaccuracies on the public record here in the state of Maine.”

Portland, according to ACA board member Paul Proudian, is among the oldest Armenian communities in the US, dating back to 1895. Today there are probably 50 or 60 Armenian families in Portland itself, he estimated, with a total of several thousand people living in different parts of the state with at least one Armenian grandparent or strong Armenian presence in their immediate ancestry. An Armenian Genocide memorial was erected in Portland in 2003.

Kiladjian said that ACA is non-partisan, with its primary mission being to promote and preserve Armenian culture and bring together the Maine Armenians.

As soon as the Armenian community became aware of the proclamation, Proudian said, they pushed back strongly. Many local Armenians contacted the mayor to try to find out what happened and they had an initial meeting with her to discuss it. Kiladjian said, “We as a group wanted to give the mayor room for her to be able to make the right decision and rescind it. Initially she indicated that she was not willing to rescind but the Armenian community in Maine, though a small one, really banded together.”

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They sent emails and made multiple phone calls. They held strategy meetings amongst themselves to decide how to best explain the issue and resolve it. They made it clear to the mayor that the Armenian community was very disappointed. Armenians have been present in Portland for over 100 years, Kiladjian said they explained to her, and had made numerous contributions to the city. They highlighted all the benefits of the community and its history.

They told the mayor what a misrepresentation of history the proclamation was. Proudian said, “They are taking one incident in the first Artsakh war and they have spun it completely out of context. They are using it to completely delegitimize the Armenian Genocide, to try to make it sound as though the Armenian Genocide is no different than this so-called Khojaly genocide.”

Kiladjian said, “We were able to make the point to the mayor, through the emails and everything else we had done, that her decision not to rescind was not the right one. It was not in the best interests of the city and the community to have information that is inaccurate on the record and in her name.”

The mayor was made aware that the Armenians would continue to actively pursue this issue, Proudian said, but they also sent her a letter to explain the situation in terms that she would understand. Proudian exclaimed, “I think that was the key to it. One of the things we have tried to do over the years is to explain things to non-Armenians in a way that they would understand. The situation in Artsakh is very complicated and is very obscure to a lot of Americans.”

The Azerbaijanis’ own actions may have clinched the Armenians’ case. Proudian said, “They immediately posted the Azerbaijani proclamation news on their own government media websites. They were exploiting this proclamation. They immediately posted that city of Portland approved this proclamation and mentioned Mayor Snyder by name and spoke very approvingly that this was a good thing and a great victory.”

In the Armenians’ letter to Mayor Snyder they simply pointed out this political exploitation and provided the links to the Azerbaijani government websites. Proudian said, “It is my feeling that this really struck home with her. It opened her eyes to the real purpose of this proclamation. It was just a question of communicating with her just how betrayed the community felt by the city of Portland issuing this thing and letting the mayor know that she was actually being used as pawn by the Azerbaijanis.”

Kiladjian concluded, “It wasn’t one thing or two things. It was a number of things that we did. We put it together, the mayor saw the light, saw all of the reasoning and agreed with it. She then decided to change her mind and rescind.”

“Every Armenian in America is probably aware that some effort like this is going on somewhere right in our own backyards,” Proudian said, citing similar proclamations in Boston, Minnesota, California and Florida. “We all know that this is an extension of the Artsakh War. It is no accident that this is happening now,” he continued. “The Azerbaijanis are very aggressive and chose to exploit this moment of what they perceive as Armenian weakness when we have suffered this defeat in Artsakh and we are not feeling very great. We can’t let it go by without pushing back strongly. That is our obligation as Armenians in America. That is what we need to do. We always need to push back.”

Proudian said he remains proud of his local community for this small victory, while always remembering the true heroes who died in Artsakh recently on the battlefield.

Kiladjian observed another positive outcome from the recent confrontation: “The silver lining is that this allowed us to get the Armenian community together, including a few of us who have not connected that much, though we may have known about each other. When this thing happened, everybody came out and we all bonded together.”

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