Olive branch in a foreign land; Turkish-Armenian relations examined

Ottawa Citizen, Canada
September 21, 2012 Friday
Final Edition

Olive branch in a foreign land; Turkish-Armenian relations examined in
tribute to slain Altikat

by Kelly Egan, Ottawa Citizen

It was a glorious day to mark a murder.

Skies were sunny, the breeze was light, the tents were festive and
white, the sod so freshly laid. Then, with the pressing of manly
fingers and the pounding of a fist or two, the last square of wood was
secured and this most curious monument officially complete.

Making formal the city’s worst kept secret, Foreign Affairs Minister
John Baird and his Turkish counterpart, Ahmet Davutoglu, unveiled a
massive memorial to fallen diplomats just off the Sir John A.
Macdonald Parkway on Thursday afternoon.

The spot, at Island Park Drive, is only steps from where Turkish
military attaché, Col. Atilla Altikat, was gunned down on his way to
work as he stopped at a traffic light on the morning of Aug. 27, 1982.
It was the worst attack on a diplomat on Canadian soil and, to this
day, the assassination has gone unsolved.

The 30-minute event was attended by Altikat’s wife and two children
(then four and 17) as well as members of the family of Glyn Berry, a
Canadian diplomat killed by a roadside bomb while serving in
Afghanistan in 2006.

Both Baird and Davutoglu noted the eerie timing of the unveiling,
coming only days after an American ambassador, Christopher Stevens,
was among several killed in an attack on the embassy in Libya.

“The attack at Benghazi,” Baird told a crowd of 100 or so, “is another
tragic reminder that the dangers of serving in volatile regions of the
world are all too real.”

The minister recalled how his father drove him by this spot many times
on the way to a summer job, jarring the memory of the slaying, and how
his grandfather fought fascism and communism during the Second World
War.

“The great struggle of our generation is international terrorism, and
that all began for Canada right here, over 30 years ago.”

An Armenian extremist group claimed responsibility for the shooting –
part of a global campaign that year – but no one was ever arrested.

There was much speculation before the unveiling about whether the
wording on the plaque would only aggravate tensions between the
Canadian communities of Turks and Armenians.

But the short description did not mention Armenia, only Altikat and
other fallen diplomats around the world. The two politicians made only
passing references.

“While the Turkish diplomats have been targets of extremist Armenian
groups in the past, we know very well that terrorism is a broad
international threat that cannot be associated with any ethnic,
religious or political groups,” said Da-vutoglu.

“The right to life and security are sacred.”

He addressed Altikat’s family in Turkish, to a round of applause,
ending his re-marks by speaking to Col.

Altikat directly.

“You should know that your sacrifice is not in vain. You will remain
in the collective memory of our great nations, as fresh as the first
day you were fallen.”

It was, in the end, a brief, respectful affair, despite the honking
geese flying over-head and the honking of horns from disrupted
com-muter traffic.

A smattering of public figures were in attendance, including MPs Paul
Dewar and Royal Galipeau, NCC chair-man Russell Mills and Chief of the
Defence Staff Gen.

Walt Natynczyk.

Many local members of the Canadian-Turkish com-munity were there,
including Ozay Mehmet, from the Council of Turkish Canadians, which
has pushed for the memorial for about a decade.

There has been a suggestion that Canada agreed to put up the monument
to rebalance relations with Turkey after Parliament formally
recognized (in 2004 and 2006) the Armenian genocide of 1915, a
historic sore point between the two groups for a century.

“Some can argue in those terms,” said Mehmet. “I don’t. A human life
cannot be rebalanced.”

He lamented the Canadian government’s decision to “side” with the
Armenians, as it ignores the suffering of Turks in the breakup of the
Ottoman Empire.

“History belongs to historians, not parliamentarians. We reject that
kind of approach.”

He believes, in any case, that old-world disputes need to be left
behind and that together – peace-loving Turks and Armenians – need to
move forward as Canadians first.

“This monument to me is an olive branch,” he said, calling it an
opportunity for further reconciliation between the two groups.

The monument is a half globe, mostly composed of specially-treated
hardwood. It has about 1,100 pieces, each one representing a fall-en
diplomat around the world.

A gift from Turkey, it was built there, disassembled and shipped here
in crates. According to designers, the open face of the globe
represents the “gateway to eternity,” while the plated faces of each
piece are the “gateway of time.” A single prism is a tribute to
Altikat.

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