Commons vote recognizes Armenian genocide “crime against humanity”

The Canadian Press, 2004

Commons vote recognizes Armenian genocide as “crime against humanity”

OTTAWA (CP) – 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 Quebecois 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 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 acknowledgement.

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

© The Canadian Press, 2004