The truth about the Armenian genocide

The truth about the Armenian genocide

National Post
Friday, April 23, 2004

Wednesday’s parliamentary resolution recognizing the Turkish slaughter
of Armenians during the First World War as a genocide and a crime
against humanity may seem obscure to many Canadians. But in Turkey, the
issue is extraordinarily sensitive. Most non-Turkish historians agree
that Turks killed up to 1.5 million Armenians in 1915 , in some cases
burning them alive in churches or forcing them into the wilderness,
where they died of starvation and exposure. The Turkish government,
however, claims the real number of deaths was just 300,000, and that
even these fatalities arose not from genocide but from Turkish
“self-defence” against Armenians allied with Russia. Though widely
debunked, this national myth is precious to the Turks, which explains
why Ankara went ballistic yesterday, accusing Canadian legislators of
being “narrow-minded” and sowing “hatred.”

Paul Martin knew this was coming. In 2000, when the U.S. Congress
considered a similar resolution, Ankara threatened to cut America’s
access to its Turkish military bases. Prior to the vote, Mr. Martin had
his Foreign Affairs Minister, Bill Graham, twist arms in an effort to
defeat the motion. But to his credit, the Prime Minister ultimately
refused to declare this a whipped vote — despite the fact there are a
number of Canadian companies with business interests in Turkey,
including Bombardier, which has a $335-million contract with Ankara’s
public transportation system. Ignoring realpolitik, many Liberals voted
their conscience, and the motion passed by a 153 to 68 margin.

All of this leaves us conflicted. On one hand, the MPs who voted for
Wednesday’s motion are certainly on the right side of history — and
there was something gratifying about seeing them buck their party bosses
to speak up for the truth. On the other hand, Parliament’s job is to
make laws — not to decide issues best left to historians and

This is not to say that governments should never take a position on
historical events. In Germany, it is illegal to deny the existence of
the Holocaust, a law arguably justified by the singularly evil crimes of
the Nazis. And in other Western nations, governments have properly
recognized the campaigns of slaughter their forebears inflicted on
aboriginals. But these are exceptional instances. Our worry is that,
with the passage of Wednesday’s resolution, we will now witness a parade
of aggrieved ethnic groups coming before Parliament, each seeking
recognition of its own historical tragedy. Recall that millions of
Ukrainians were starved by Stalin in the 1930s. Half-a-million Rwandan
Tutsis were killed at the hands of Hutus in 1994. In 1948, Hindus and
Muslims killed one another by the truckload in South Asia. Is our
Parliament to serve as history’s scorekeeper, duly tallying all of these
massacres and the hundreds more like them?

As for the Turkish government, we would urge that it stop insisting on a
blinkered view of history. Even within the Turkish community itself, a
small group of scholars has emerged in recent years to challenge the
official line. Ankara should pay them heed. Though it is not our
Parliament’s job to point it out, Turkey’s refusal to recognize the 1915
Armenian massacre is a stain on the country’s international reputation.

C National Post 2004