Thursday, April 23, 2009

Turkey recalls ambassador to Canada over stance on Armenian genocide

The Turkish government has temporarily recalled its ambassador to Canada to protest the attendance and comments of Canadian government and opposition members at a event on the evening of April 21 organized by the Congress of Canadian Armenians commemorating Canada's recognition of the Ottoman Empire's mass killings of Armenians as a genocide in 2004.

In his message to those that attended the event at the Parliament Buildings, Prime Minister Stephen Harper said: "I am honoured to have this opportunity to extend my warmest greetings to all those attending the Congress of Canadian Armenians event to mark the 5th anniversary of the adoption of the resolution by the House of Commons to recognize the Armenian Genocide. Your recognition of the members of the House of Commons who supported this resolution is a truly gracious gesture. I would like to commend the Congress of Canadian Armenians for organizing this event and for your ongoing efforts to foster fellowship in the community."

Jason Kenney, Minister of Citizenship, Immigration and Multiculturalism, said in his address: "The government of Canada has endorsed and accepted the recognition of the historical reality of the genocide through Prime Minister Stephen Harper's courageous statement three years ago. That continues to be the position of Canada. Thank you for being faithful to your roots, to your ancestors, to your ancient faith. Thank you for bringing and enriching Canada with the democratic values that your community embodies and respects so profoundly. Thank you for enriching our country in so many ways, and let us tonight celebrate and let us this week, as well, mourn and always, always, teach the future generations about the lessons of 1915 so that they are never repeated."

Michael Ignatieff, Leader of the Liberal Party of Canada and Leader of the Official Opposition added: "Today we join in the grief of the Armenian community, we recognize the sorrow that you still carry with you, and we come together as Canadians no matter our convictions or beliefs to say: 'never again'. This room is the refutation, once and for all, of Hitler's infamous remark, 'who remembers the Armenians?' Your presence, your survival, triumph, strength, the Republic of Armenia are a definitive refutation of the vicious nihilism of that now departed dictator. Five years ago our Parliament recognized the Great Calamity as a genocide. We commit ourselves to reconciliation, however difficult, and we commit ourselves to a life of peace in Canada."

As noted in an earlier post, each year on April 24, Armenians around the world set aside a day called Genocide Remembrance Day (Medz Yeghern) to specifically remember an event that much of the world would rather forget – the deliberate and systematic slaughter and forced deportation of hundreds of thousands of Armenian Christians by the Ottoman Empire (present day Turkey) from 1918 to 1923. Many estimate that at least half of the Armenian population (numbered at 2 million in 1915) was killed. As is often the case where ethnic and religious identity are virtually inseparable, it is difficult to determine the extent to which religious intolerance played a part in the atrocities that took place. However, many Armenians were reportedly spared if they converted to Islam.

In 2002, the Canadian Senate adopted a motion acknowledging this period as “the first genocide of the twentieth century.” Two years later, the House of Commons adopted a motion (Bill M-380) that “acknowledges the Armenian genocide of 1915 and condemns this act as a crime against humanity.”

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