Anti-racism talk inspires teenagers;
Event exposes youth to lessons from history
The Record (Kitchener, Ontario, Canada)
March 22, 2005
BY LIZ MONTEIRO, RECORD STAFF
KITCHENER — A talk yesterday about the massacre of Armenians 90 years
ago and then a graphic video of corpses have left a group of Kitchener
teenagers wondering about hate. “It’s disgusting,” said 13-year-old
Tash Nourafkan, a Grade 7 student at Sunnyside Public School. “I feel
like, why? We have to try to make a difference, to help people. “Racism
happens and it’s everywhere around us.” Nourafkan and his family came
to Canada from Iran seven years ago. He was among 200 students who
attended a day-long program yesterday at Kitchener City Hall to mark
the United Nation’s international day for the elimination of racial
discrimination. The event coincided with a new poll indicating that
four million Canadians believe they have been victims of racism.
About 17 per cent of those surveyed in the poll believe racism has
increased in the last five years, and 13 per cent believe it has
decreased. The poll also indicated that 1.7 million Canadians would
not welcome someone of another race as a next-door neighbour.
“Working towards harmony is a work in progress and needs to continue,”
said Gehan Sabry, who organized the Kitchener anti-racism event,
which was co-sponsored by the magazine Cross Cultures and the City
of Kitchener. “We are all of different cultures but we accept each
other,” said Govana Zdralic, who was dressed in traditional Serbian
dress. “We are friends and hopefully we are setting an example.”
Nourafkan and some of his classmates watched a video about the causes
of the Armenian genocide and wondered how people could hate each other.
Aris Babikian, Ontario vice- president of the Armenian National
Committee of Canada based in Toronto, spoke to the students about
Armenia, a former Soviet republic.
Babikian was introduced by Supt. Matt Torigian of Waterloo regional
police, a fellow Armenian. Torigian, whose parents were born in
Ontario, recalls listening to stories from his grandparents, who
escaped then-occupied Armenia.
Babikian went back further, to the Ottoman Empire, and described
how the genocide of 1.5 million people began in 1915 when Armenians
lived under Turkish rule. The Turkish government still denies its
involvement in the massacre, Babikian said. It’s only in recent
years that countries around the world have acknowledged the Armenian
genocide, he said. The Canadian Parliament recognized the genocide
last year. The mass killings were not a religious genocide but a
racist policy by the Turkish government, Babikian said.
He encouraged the students to know their neighbours and classmates.
“You will be the future generation,” he said. “Learn tolerance and
understand the differences of your neighbours. We need to respect our
differences and defend our neighbours when it is time.” For Babikian,
knowing your neighbour has special significance. A Turkish neighbour
saved his grandfather and his great grandmother from being killed
after 42 members of their family were murdered.
Photo Caption: Photo: MATHEW MCCARTHY, RECORD STAFF / Aris Babikian
of the Armenian National Committee of Canada, speaks in Kitchener
yesterday on the international day for the elimination of racial