Commemorating a Tragedy




Black July 25 Years Later

Tamil Canadians commemorated the 25th anniversary of Black July though a combination of art, music, drama and story-telling in a weekend of events organized by the Canadian Tamil Congress in partnership with various community organizations. “It is important to remember the tragedy of Black July, but also to recognize that this is an ongoing conflict,” said David Poopalapillai, the national spokesperson for the Canadian Tamil Congress.


(August 16, Toronto, Sri Lanka Guardian) The month of July was a painful reminder to Tamil Canadians of violence that took place 25 years ago in their homeland. Black July, as it has come to be known as, refers to the State-sponsored anti-Tamil violence that occurred between July 23rd and July 29th in Sri Lanka. Angry mobs of Sinhalese armed with voters lists and makeshift weapons brutally attacked Tamil homes and business in Colombo. Like wildfire, the violence quickly spread to other parts of the island. Black July has left a permanent scar on the hearts of Tamils across the globe. It was the events of Black July that sparked not only the start of the full-blown armed conflict, but also triggered the mass exodus of Tamil refugees out of Sri Lanka to seek asylum in Western countries, such as Canada.

Tamil Canadians commemorated the 25th anniversary of Black July though a combination of art, music, drama and story-telling in a weekend of events organized by the Canadian Tamil Congress in partnership with various community organizations. “It is important to remember the tragedy of Black July, but also to recognize that this is an ongoing conflict,” said David Poopalapillai, the national spokesperson for the Canadian Tamil Congress.

The mood for the weekend was set during a vigil that took place on Friday, July 25 at Albert Campbell Square in front of the Scarborough Civic Centre. The vigil provided members of the Tamil Canadian community an opportunity to collectively remember the deaths, displacement and destruction that occurred twenty-five years ago. Several hundreds gathered to listen to speeches by Tamil community members, survivors of Black July and representatives of non-Tamil community organizations such as Amnesty International (Toronto), the Canadian Federation of Students and the United Steel Workers Union.

On Saturday, July 26th two signature events took place at the Distillery Historic District, a premier venue in downtown Toronto. Over the course of the day, hundreds of patrons walked through an exhibition that vividly portrayed the historical timeline of the events that lead up to Black July. The collection incorporated the work of local artists, archival footage from the international press, haunting survivor stories and inspirational testimonials on the Tamil Canadian immigrant experience. The exhibit also featured a documentary outlining the events of Black July and included powerful narratives from survivors of Black July. A key attraction of the exhibit included the work of two young emerging artists, a photographer and a painter, who have chosen to express their thoughts on Black July through their art.

Also at the Distillery Historic District on Saturday afternoon was a play, “What if the Rain Fails,” written by R.Cheran and directed by Dushy Gnanapragasam. All three matinee shows were sold out performances. The play chronicled the life of a Tamil refugee from Sri Lanka who escaped the anti-Tamil violence in 1983 and sought refuge in Canada. Employing testimonies, poems and multimedia, the play vividly portrays the moral and material challenges that Tamil refugees encounter in the Diaspora. There was not a dry eye in the theater at the end of each show and the play received rave reviews from the audience. “It really brought back the tragic memories of this disastrous time of our Tamil people’s history,” said an individual who attended the play along with his children who were born in Canada.

An important part of this weekend's event was to create awareness about the tragedy of Black July, and the ensuing armed conflict that continues to rage in Sri Lanka for the past 25 years. This awareness must also be directed at the younger generation of Tamils, many of whom were born in Canada and have never been to their homeland. In order to engage young Tamil Canadians, “In Search of our Roots” a youth conference, was held on Sunday July 27th at the University of Toronto Scarborough Campus. Over 200 Tamil Canadian youth attended interactive workshops on a variety of themes such as: Tamil Canadian Identity, Tamil Language, Tamil Cinema, The Role of Tamil Women, Negative Portrayal of Tamil Canadian Youth, and Notable Leaders in the World Tamil community.

These events over the past weekend were highly successful and the organizers were amazed with the overwhelmingly positive response by not only the Tamil Canadian community, but the larger community as well. In addition to these events, Black July events took place in many Canadian cities, including Ottawa, Montreal, Vancouver and Edmonton. The Tamil Canadian community will continue to commemorate the arrival of Tamils to Canada by giving the gift of life back to Canadians. The Tamil Canadian community has pledged to collect 5000 units of blood throughout the year, and several Blood Donor Clinics will be held from coast to coast.
- Sri Lanka Guardian

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