Yellowknife's Armenian community gathers to raise awareness over conflict

The Armenian community in Yellowknife gathered on Saturday in front of the N.W.T. legislature to raise awareness about what is happening in their home country right now.

'We just want the war to end,' says community member as dozens gathered Saturday

Nona St. Cyr was the organizer of Saturday's event outside the N.W.T. legislative assembly building in Yellowknife. (Danielle d'Entremont/CBC)

When Emil Balasanyan talks to his family in Armenia, he says he can hear the "looming tension" in their voices.

He and dozens of others from Yellowknife's Armenian community gathered on Saturday, in front of the territory's legislative building, to shed light on what is going on in their home country.

"In Armenia, it's a tragic sight that is personally affecting all of us here … and everyone back home," said Balasanyan.

Members of the Armenian community in Yellowknife held flags and signs at Saturday's event. (Danielle d'Entremont/CBC)

Decades-long conflict

For decades, Armenia and Azerbaijan have been in conflict over Nagorno-Karabakh — a region that is in Azerbaijan but has been under control of ethnic Armenian forces backed by Armenia since 1994.

On Sept. 27, the latest outburst of fighting began between Azerbaijani and Armenian forces and left hundreds of people dead. It is the worst outbreak of hostilities in the separatist region in more than a quarter-century.

"We're seeing our infrastructures and civilian populated areas being bombed and demolished," said Balasanyan.

The leaders of both Armenia and Azerbaijan have declared martial law and put their nations on a full military mobilization, and Balasanyan said he is seeing loved ones leave their families to serve on the front lines of the conflict.

Emil Balasanyan says the Canadian media coverage of what is happening in Armenia hasn't been sufficient. (Danielle d'Entremont/CBC)

'Raising our voice'

Nona St. Cyr, who organized Saturday's event, has parents and family in Armenia, but she married a man from Inuvik, N.W.T., and lives in Yellowknife.

She said even though the Yellowknife Armenian community is quite small — about a dozen families — it's important that they show solidarity.

"We just want all over the world for all Armenians to get together and raise our voice … big communities, small communities, to tell everyone what's going on back home."

Ruzanna Smbatyan said the gathering was also an opportunity to raise awareness for people in the territory who might not be aware of what is happening in that part of the world. 

"Even though we are far from our families, I think it's important that we at least speak about it … it's also important we make sure our non-Armenian friends understand the situation," she said.

Ruzanna Smbatyan says the Armenian community in Yellowknife has been using social media platforms to raise awareness of the conflict. She is encouraging people to donate to those affected. (Danielle d'Entremont/CBC)

'We just don't want another genocide'

The same day that Armenians gathered in Yellowknife, a Russia-brokered ceasefire was supposed to begin in Nagorno-Karabakh at noon local time. 

The two sides blamed each other for breaking the truce with new attacks, and Azerbaijan's top diplomat said the truce never entered force.

Turkey is backing its longtime ally, Azerbaijan, and that is bringing back painful memories for Armenians. 

In 1915, an estimated 1.5 million people died in massacres, deportations, and forced marches. The event is widely viewed by historians as genocide, and was recognized as such by the Canadian parliament, but Turkey denies it.

"We just don't want another genocide to happen," said Smbatyan.

Many at the event held Armenian flags and wore the country's colours. From left to right: Emil Balasanyan, Andrey Balasanyan and Zakar Hovhannisyan. (Danielle d'Entremont/CBC)

Canada told Turkey earlier this month to stay out of the conflict.

"We want peace," said Andrey Balasanyan, who was at the Yellowknife event with his brother Emil and other family members.

He said he hopes that others can speak out about the conflict, too, because members of the Armenian community "want justice."

"We do not want war, we don't want anybody to get hurt. We just want the war to end." 

Dozens gathered in front of the territory's legislature building on Saturday. (Danielle d'Entremont/CBC)