Money before morality

South China Morning Post
May 5, 2004

Money before morality

The dead, wrote German novelist W.G. Sebald, are forever returning to
us. Unhappily, some governments continue to deny them, in the name of
trade, realpolitik or revisionism. Even as the Dalai Lama was leaving
millions of Canadians light-headed last month with his mantra of
gentleness and compassion, the federal government shrugged off a
genocide. It came after Canada’s parliament voted to recognise the
slaughter of 1.5 million Armenians by Ottoman Turks 89 years ago. One
US president called it “the great crime of the first world war”. But
Canada’s minister of foreign affairs repudiated the vote, effectively
apologising to Turkey, a trading partner. So much for compassion and

“Turkey is an incredibly important country,” wrote columnist Jeffrey
Simpson in the Globe and Mail, the country’s national newspaper.
Parliamentarians, he said, have no business meddling in foreign
policy, especially when it concerns a “disputed” atrocity nearly a
century ago. “Canada should mind its own business,” the headline

“Business” is what this is all about. Canadian companies are trying
hard to sell subway cars and engineering services to Turkey. Hundreds
of millions of dollars are at stake, and a Canadian cabinet minister
warned that the genocide vote could have “negative consequences” on

It is not the first time Canada has put money ahead of morality. A
Canadian oil company operated for three years in Sudan with Ottawa’s
approbation, pumping out profits for a Muslim government that was
bombing civilians in Africa’s longest civil war. And with the Dalai
Lama here seeking support for his people’s struggle against Beijing
rule, Ottawa gave Tibet only the barest official nod. China, of
course, is Canada’s second-largest trading partner. Enough said.

Half a dozen other countries have already recognised the 1915
genocide. They, like the Canadian parliamentarians, felt it was
important to do so because Turkey continues to deny that a genocide
even happened. This denial is offensive to Armenians, and to anyone
who believes that history matters. We deny it at our peril. Hitler
told his generals: “Kill without mercy. Who today remembers the
extermination of the Armenians?”

So why is it important that civilised nations condemn genocides past
and present? “It’s easy for the international community to say,
‘never again’,” says Robert Adamson, of the Global Justice Programme
at the University of British Columbia. “But there has to be some
recognition of what went wrong and who was responsible. People have
to be brought to account for these injustices.” The moral is: if you
ignore yesterday’s barbarity, you risk ignoring what is happening