On the occasion of Japan Fortnight in Occitania, a peace ceremony was held on November 15 in the garden of Montpellier town hall (Jardin d’Arménie). This memorial ceremony took place on the spot where a Gingko tree has been planted, obtained by growing seeds from a tree that survived the Hiroshima bombing. Quite a symbol.
Also in attendance were Mr. Akihiro Takazawa, Deputy Consul General of Japan in Marseille, and representatives of AFCDRP, the French branch of Mayors for Peace, a network created by the cities of Hiroshima and Nagasaki and bringing together over 8,300 local authorities worldwide working for peace.
Our association was represented by Jean-Jacques SIRY, Co-President, Michel Facon, member of the « Artists for Peace » network, and Marie-France SIRY, Assistant Secretary. Didier Perthuison, another member of the Artists for Peace network, was also present, and had brought another version of the painting he had donated to the Mayors for Peace Foundation.
Michel Soriano, Mayor of Lasseran and Vice-President of the AFCDRP, took the floor first to read us the message sent by Mr. MATSUI Kazumi, Mayor of Hiroshima and President of Mayors for Peace, especially for this event.
In his message, he recalled that seventy-eight years ago, a single atomic bomb instantly reduced the city of Hiroshima to a scorched plain, taking countless precious lives. The lives of those who managed to survive are still altered by the damaging effects of radiation on their minds and bodies.
Then, referring to the ongoing conflict in Ukraine, he sadly noted that the idea of a reinforced nuclear deterrent is gaining ground, which runs counter to the wish for peace tirelessly repeated by the cities of Hiroshima and Nagasaki, and also recalled the message of the Hibakusha: « No one else should ever suffer as we have suffered. »
And in conclusion, on behalf of Mayors for peace, he appealed: « I ask you to join us in solidarity as we strive to eliminate nuclear weapons and achieve lasting world peace. »
Maria Alice Pelé, vice-president of the Conseil Régional Occitanie in charge of urban policy, took the floor. She began by excusing the President of the Regional Council, Madame Carole Delga, who was unable to attend this evening.
She then recalled that, when she proposed that the Regional Council join the AFCDRP, she wished to reaffirm the values of peace and democracy carried by the Occitanie Region, as « we share the objective of linking the culture of peace to local policies, particularly in the fields of education, respect for human rights, equality between women and men, and international solidarity through, among other things, the promotion of peace and international security ».
Madame Pelé recalled that the Occitanie region shared « the Japanese people’s attachment to peace, and it was a strong symbolic act to join forces with communities such as the City of Hiroshima. Today, in a dramatic international context, we must relentlessly reaffirm the values of peace and humanism promoted by our institutions. »
In conclusion, she echoed the words of Wangari Muta Maathai, the Kenyan politician who won the Nobel Peace Prize in 2004.
« We’re planting the seeds of peace, now and for the future. »
These words full of hope take on their full meaning today, in this Armenian park where a Ginkgo biloba grows, a symbolic tree belonging to one of the 3 species of trees that survived the Hiroshima atomic bomb
Then, Michaël Delafosse, Mayor of Montpellier, reaffirmed loud and clear that « Today, the tragedy of war has returned to the European continent. Montpellier is committed to peace. We have received and honored in 2021 Dr. Mukwege, Nobel Peace Prize 2018. »
Pointing out that the city of Montpelier has welcomed Ukrainian refugees, and that the Biennale des arts de la scène en Méditerranée is currently exhibiting Palestinian and Israeli artists, he rightly noted that « Cities too can and must work for peace, it’s not just a matter for our heads of state. Peace is built, peace is defended, peace is promoted. Peace is difficult but possible: we have the Franco-German example to remind us of this. Tonight, in this garden of Armenia, we are not forgetting Nagorno-Karabakh, a conflict overshadowed by the war in Ukraine and Gaza. We are also thinking of the Hamas hostages and the victims of its terrorist attacks, but also of the Palestinian civilians, hard hit by Israel’s military response… It is our duty to mobilize energies in favor of peace. It’s essential, because there can be no freedom without peace. »
Concluding the official speeches, Mr. Akihiro Takazawa, Deputy Consul General of Japan in Marseille, recalled that « Today, conflicts are becoming more numerous and more violent throughout the world. It is important to remember where previous conflicts have led us… »
« In Ukraine, as in Palestine, some of the warring parties possess nuclear weapons. The fear of nuclear escalation is returning. The desire for peace is difficult to achieve, and we must do more than just proclaim it. We need empathy and memory to defend peace. »
Jean-Jacques SIRY then took the floor to present our association’s action for this evening, the raising of « Sentinels of Peace ».
Our association’s approach, originally initiated by Land Art artist Alain Mila, is based, but not exclusively, on the raising of « sentinels », a symbolic gesture of peace. This gesture has its roots in the Land Art approach, art being a universal mediation, and falls within the notion of « performance art ». In our approach, the performance is constructed by realizing an idea (that of Peace) through a gesture (that of placing stones instead of throwing them).
In the context of this memorial ceremony, the pile of stones made available to the public can be seen as the ruins resulting from the destruction of all wars, and in particular the two atomic bombings. By « erecting » « Sentinels of Peace », using the stones from this heap of « ruins », people engage in a symbolic reconstruction of destroyed buildings, but above all inscribe this act in an approach and a commitment to peace.
But it was also, and above all, the loss of too many precious lives, particularly civilians. The process of « raising » sentinels or « relieving » them – for a Sentinel of Peace is fragile over time – can be seen symbolically as a desire to honor the memory of the victims of all wars, and in particular of the bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki, but also, around this very special tree, to ensure the succession of the Hibakusha, those direct witnesses of the only atomic bombings in human history.
To conclude his speech, Jean-Jacques SIRY read the end of a poem written by a 10-year-old Hibakusha at the time of the bombing, then invited participants to raise Sentinels of Peace.
A group of gypsy musicians, Los Kemados Gipsy, accompanied tis moment of the ceremony with a rendition of John Lennon’s « Imagine ». It’s worth remembering that the gypsy community paid a very heavy price throughout Europe during the Second World War (The forgotten genocide of the gypsies [in french])