Canada: Armenia genocide did happen: MPs

Apr. 22, 2004. 01:00 AM

Armenia genocide did happen: MPs

Toronto Star

OTTAWA-Parliament rejected a plea by Foreign Affairs Minister Bill
Graham, and voted to acknowledge the Armenian genocide of 1915 and
condemn it as a crime against humanity.

Dozens of Liberal MPs yesterday broke with the government and
supported the motion, which passed 153 to 68 despite a personal
request by Graham to the Liberal caucus to consider the consequences
of the vote.

“Fantastic!” said Liberal MP Sarkis Assadourian (Brampton Centre), who
co-sponsored the motion with Bloc MP Madeleine Dalphond-Guiral (Laval
Centre), Conservative MP Jason Kenney (Calgary Southeast) and NDP MP
Alexa McDonough (Halifax).

Assadourian stressed the vote was not aimed at Turkey, which has
always rejected the label of genocide for the killings of Armenians in

“This is establishing a historical fact that happened in the Ottoman
Empire,” he said. “We have to work together and build
bridges. … After 89 years, justice has been done. It’s very, very
important that we acknowledge the past, that we condemn it so that we
don’t repeat it.”

Graham issued a statement saying the government was not bound by the
vote, and that its position had not changed.

“We certainly understand the will of the House, but the government’s
position remains that, in respect of Turkey and Armenia, we are
working with them for reconciliation … to try and ensure good
neighbourly relations,” he told reporters.

Liberal MP Stéphane Dion (Saint-Laurent-Cartierville) said very few
MPs did not think a genocide had taken place.

“Why are we afraid of calling a spade a spade?” he asked, arguing that
by issuing the statement, the government was undermining the
importance of Parliament.

“Canada’s position is very confused,” he said.

Aris Babikian of the Armenian National Committee of Canada said he was
elated by the vote, which Armenians in Canada had spent 25 years
waiting for.

“This victory is not only for the victims of the Armenian genocide and
the Armenian people, it is a victory for justice, truth,
reconciliation and healing,” he said. Canada joins a small number of
other countries, including France, Russia, Argentina, Greece and
Uruguay, in describing the events that occurred in Eastern Anatolia
under the Ottoman Empire in 1915-23 as genocide. Turkeyhas furiously
rejected the idea that the deaths and deportation of Armenians at that
time can be described as such.The result followed an appeal by Graham
to Liberal MPs to consider the consequences of the vote.

“I am deeply concerned that it could have far-reaching negative
consequences,” Graham said in a letter to Liberal MPs. “Sensitive
negotiations have begun between the governments of Armenia and Turkey
which will hopefully lead to the normalization of relations and the
opening of the border between the two countries.”

Canadian officials are concerned the vote might have an effect on
several major Canadian contracts in Turkey.

Bombardier has a $335 million contract for work on the Ankara metro,
and there is an additional contract being negotiated worth $1 billion
-with 70 per cent of the work being done in Canada. SNC-Lavalin is
also a contender for another project near Istanbul.

Turkish embassy counsellor Fazli Corman told Reuters that “relations
with Canada will suffer as the result of adopting such a motion.”

In the past, the Liberal government has insisted Liberal MPs vote
against similar motions. But the Martin government, while requiring
members of the cabinet to support the government’s position, allowed a
free vote on the motion.

Additional articles by Graham Fraser