"The women and men whom we honor in the Garden of the Righteous, a place for memory and participation, were in love with democracy and justice. They walked through the streets of the world like everyone of us, they have loved, suffered, lived their experiences just like us. And at a certain point they were faced with a fateful choice: for or against freedom, for or against dignity and civil testimony. And they made the bravest choice, the choice to take the right side, at all costs". These are the words uttered by Milan’s Mayor Giuliano Pisapia to open the ceremony of planting trees in honor of the Righteous at the Garden on Monte Stella Hill in Milan. To pay tribute to the six new Righteous there were over 900 students and numerous citizens.
“The focus of this EU Day of the Righteous – said Gabriele Nissim in the ceremony’s opening remarks – is the resistance of the Arab world against any kind of fundamentalism and fanaticism. There are people who struggle for dignity, and we must look at the present situation and discover these figures who do not bow themselves to violence”.
This glance at the present though does not mean that we should forget what happened in the past. So Pietro Kuciukian, Honorary consul of Armenia and co-founder of Gariwo, remembered the figure of Mehmet Gelal Bey, the “vali” (mayor) of Aleppo who opposed the deportation and extermination of the Armenians during the genocide whose centenary recurs this year.
The very lands in which Gelal Bey operated in 1915 are now the seat to new terrible violence that broke out soon after the Arab Springs and are now perpetrated by the Isis fanatics. The message sent by the mother of Ghayath Mattar, the Syrian youth who offered roses and water to the soldier, and was arrested and killed in 2011, was thus read on stage. “Every mother in this whole wide world has a single heart, tear and tremble.. Worrying about her kids but also having hope and faith in them. A mother has the same smile watching her kids coming in. Same pride if they sacrificed their lives or got detained for a noble cause they believe in. Stand with the mothers of martyrs and prisoners to accomplish their will.”.
This letter was delivered to Gariwo by Rana Zaitouneh, sister of Razan’s, the Syrian advocate for human rights who was kidnapped in 2013. Rana’s words move the pupils and the guests: “Razan has been missing for over a year now, and yet, she continues to make an impact, inspiring others to stand against their oppressors in the quest for freedom. Razan became a lawyer to defend the ideals she valued most – justice, peace, and truth. Her allegiance is to freedom – freedom from oppression and freedom from fear. And now her own freedom has been taken. Her voice has been silenced.
Razan defended the value of every life. She was determined that no one should be forgotten. I am resolved that she will not be forgotten. With my family, her fellow Syrian activists, and Gariwo, I continue to call for Razan’s immediate and safe release.”.
This was followed by the moving testimony by Alganesh Fessaha, who thanked Milan, “this town that has adopted me”, for dedicating her a tree at the Garden of the Righteous. “This tree is dedicated to the people drown in the Mediterranean, the thousands victims who lie unburied in the Sahara and Sinai deserts, starved to death during devastating journeys before even reaching to the Mediterranean. It is planted in their name”. And precisely to the people fleeing Syria, Africa, the Middle East and other ravaged territories are dedicated the word of Marshall Roberto Mangione, who represented the men and women of the Coast Ward, who risked their lives to rescue the migrants in the sea. Mangione says that his boat saved over 9,000 people in a year, and said he is proud of being Italian, remembering the commitment of our country to rescuing those who flee starvation and violence. “We have do do everything in our power, because human life is the most precious good to safeguard”.
European Day of the Righteous was also the occasion to pay tribute to Rocco Chinnici, promoter of the “anti-Mafia pools” that would be created in the following years, who was murdered by the mafia gangs with a car bomb on 29 July 1983. He was remembered by his children Caterina and Giovanni, today respectively European deputy and lawyer in Palermo, remembering their father’s commitment to making young people aware of the Mafia and active against it, and describing this new tree that was planted in honor of this judge “as a sign of hope, whereas the little tree that stood before our house in Palermo was uprooted in the explosion that killed our father”.
Milan therefore is reconfirmed as moral capital of the remembrance of the Righteous, also thanks to the tribute to the city on 6 march, when a ballet of Teatro alla Scala, Cello Suites, was dedicated to the European Day of the Righteous.