PORTLAND, Maine — Mayor Kathleen M. Snyder on April 1 rescinded and apologized for the mayoral proclamation of “Khojaly Remembrance Day,” which had been adopted in February.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.”