Statement by the International Institute for Genocide and Human Rights Issues (A Division of the Zoryan Institute) on the Canadian Museum for Human Rights

TORONTO — The International Institute for Genocide and Human Rights Studies (A Division of the Zoryan Institute) (“IIGHRS-Zoryan”) was invited to a public gathering in Winnipeg by the Canadian Museum for Human Rights (“CMHR”) in April 2003, after an initial meeting with Gail Asper in Toronto. As a Canadian institution, we lent our name publicly in support of the CMHR at an early stage.
Our early enthusiasm diminished over time, owing to the politics surrounding the museum. Owing to such politics, we still have no idea how the Armenian Genocide and other cases will be represented in the CMHR. The IIGHRS-Zoryan made a detailed presentation to CMHR officials in December 2009, as part of its public consultation, on how to represent genocide in general, and the Armenian Genocide in particular. When we found that the public consultations were not being taken into consideration by museum officials, and there was an outcry from various communities about what they felt was unfair treatment, we subsequently issued two public statements on this issue in February and August 2011, and wrote directly to Stuart Murray, the museum’s President and Chief Executive Officer. None of the points have been dealt with by the CMHR, nor has our letter been responded to.
The arguments can be read in detail on the IIGHRS-Zoryan website, at
http://www.genocidestudies.org/Announcements/How%20Genocide%20Should%20be%20Represented%20in%20the%20CMHR%20v20.pdf
and
http://www.genocidestudies.org/Announcements/Genocide%20Multiculturalism%20and%20the%20CMHR.pdf
The essence of the arguments is as follows.
The lack of responsiveness of the CMHR and the absence of information about how cases of the gross violation of human rights will be represented raise questions as to which cases will be included, how much space will be allotted to each case, what their content will be, if they will have a permanent or only temporary exhibit, and how these decisions are made. Moreover, there is a close relationship between the gross violation of human rights and genocide that is being neglected in the museum’s planning. Unless we study such cases comparatively, the lessons that can be learned are of limited value, particularly with a view to the prevention of such cases.
In trying to fend off criticism from various community groups over its handling of these issues, the CMHR posted a statement on its website, originally appearing as a letter in the Globe & Mail on March 23, 2011, that the museum is not about genocide and never was. The August 2011 IIGHRS-Zoryan editorial rebutted this with explicit statements to the contrary from the museum’s own publicity. The editorial also argued the benefits of studying the known cases of genocide on a comparative basis. Finally, the editorial pointed out that as a federal institution, the CMHR was legally required to adhere to the official Canadian policy of multiculturalism, which is to integrate all citizens into Canadian society and treat them fairly and equally.
We recently learned from Armenian community representatives that the museum will include the five genocides officially recognized by Canada’s Parliament, including the Armenian Genocide, but we still do not know how they will be represented or how the CMHR will deal with the fundamental questions raised in our two public statements. It seems that the CHMR is playing community politics by contacting different groups at different times, while ignoring the challenging questions raised by an institute whose mission is the study of these very issues. We raise these issues today to make the Armenian community aware of what has transpired over the past eight years. The IIGHRS-Zoryan calls upon the Armenian community of Canada to speak with one voice and to demand answers to these questions, for which we have been awaiting an answer for a long time.

3 comments
  1. Congratulations on taking a principled position and sticking to it. In the Ukrainian Canadian community we believe that all of this taxpayer funded national museum’s gallery spaces should be thematic, comparative, and inclusive. NO community’s suffering (including our own) should be elevated above all others with a privileged, permanent, and preferential space.

    You are quite right in stating that the spokespeople for the Canadian Museum for Human Rights seem intent on obfuscating their plans for the contents of this national museum rather than responding to widespread public concerns on this matter.

    The only remedy any of us have is to continue to lobby the federal government for (a) a review of the proposed contents of the CMHR, to ensure that ALL galleries are thematic, comparative, and inclusive and for (b) the replacement of the current CMHR board of trustees by a body that is more representative of Canada’s multicultural society. Please join us is doing so!

    Ukrainian Canadian Civil Liberties Association (www.uccla.ca)

  2. The Canadian Museum of Human Rights seems only to have been conceived as a Canadian Liberal Party showcase, trying to tie the Canadian Liberal Party as a champion above all other political parties of Human Rights. As such, the genocide of Armenians does not count up there with other more trendy left wing human rights.

  3. To make the campaign for the Canadian Museum for Human Rights more inclusive, a permanent exhibit for the 100 Million victims of Communism should be included. Just as the Canadian Jewish community rightfully expect a permanent fixture for the understanding of the Holocaust, millions of Canadians of Eastern/Central European and Asian heritage expect that the full exposition of the genocidal horrors of Communism also be a permanent part of the Canadian Museum for Human Rights.

    Geza Matrai

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