POSTED AT 9:57 PM EDT Wednesday, Apr. 21, 2004
Liberal backbenchers break ranks over genocide motion
By ALEXANDER PANETTA
Ottawa – Canada became one of few countries to formally recognize the
genocide of Armenian Turks during the First World War in a strongly
worded motion adopted 153-68 in the House of Commons on Wednesday.
Government members were discouraged from voting for the motion, which is
sure to anger a Turkish government that has never recognized the
massacre of 1.5 million Armenians starting in 1915.
Following a charged debate at their weekly closed-door caucus meeting,
Liberal backbenchers voted massively in favour while the party’s cabinet
contingent rejected the Bloc Québécois motion.
Prime Minister Paul Martin was absent during the politically sensitive
vote but Foreign Affairs Minister Bill Graham defended the government’s
The Turkish government has warned that recognizing the genocide could
have economic consequences and Mr. Graham said he wanted to maintain
good relations with Turkey.
`Turkey is an important NATO ally in a region where it is a Muslim
country with a moderate government,’ he said.
`What we seek to do in our foreign policy is to encourage the forward
dimension, we’re forward-looking. We’d like our Armenian friends and our
Turkish friends to work together to put these issues in the past.’
The motion read: `That this House acknowledges the Armenian genocide of
1915 and condemns this act as a crime against humanity.’
The Turkish government rejects the charge of genocide as unfounded and
says that while 600,000 Armenians died, 2.5 million Muslims perished in
a period of civil unrest.
Unlike the Liberal government most opposition MPs – including
Conservative Leader Stephen Harper – voted in favour of the motion,
which places Canada in a category of only about two dozen countries to
have recognized the Armenian genocide.
The United Nations has also recognized the massacre, and Armenians have
been fighting for decades throughout the world for that sort of
One opposition critic labelled the Prime Minister `hypocritical’ for
promising more free votes and then forcing ministers to toe the line on
such a matter of deep personal conscience.
`It’s a terrible double standard for Paul Martin to force his ministers
to vote against it and not even show up himself,’ said Tory foreign
affairs critic Stockwell Day.
`That is a hypocritical double standard.’
Liberal Hedy Fry supported the motion but said it’s important to note
the atrocities were carried out under the Ottoman empire, which has
faded into history and was long ago replaced by a modern Turkish state.
`I think we need to recognize the past,’ she said.
`I think it doesn’t mean we’ve broken ties with the current regime in
Turkey. They are our colleagues, they are our NATO allies. They are a
moderate, Muslim government and I think we need to work with them.
Recognizing what happened in the Ottoman empire shouldn’t affect
Canada’s diplomatic relations with Turkey, she said.
Fry and many other former Liberal cabinet ministers who are now
backbenchers also voted in favour, including Martin Cauchon, Stephane
Dion, Maurizio Bevilacqua, Lyle Vanclief, Lawrence MacAulay, Herb
Dhaliwal and David Kilgour.
From: Emil Lazarian | Ararat NewsPress