Canada

Turkey condemns Canada's Armenian genocide vote

Turkey's foreign minister condemns Canada's decision Wednesday to recognize the death of 1.5 milllion Armenians in 1915 as genocide

Turkey condemned as "narrow-minded" the decision by Canada's House of Commons to recognize as genocide the mass killing of Armenians during the First World War.

"Some narrow-minded Canadian politicians were not able to understand that such decisions based on ... prejudiced information, will awaken feelings of hatred among people of different [ethnic] roots and disturb social harmony," a statement from Turkey's foreign ministry said.

Canada became one of only a few nations to recognize the deaths of 1.5 million Armenians in 1915 as genocide when the House of Commons late on Wednesday reversed Ottawa's stated policy on the issue by passing a private member's bill.

Canada's official position to date has been that the deaths constituted a "tragedy" rather than the purposeful extermination of minority Armenians by the then Ottoman Empire during the First World War.

But in a free vote, Parliament voted 153 to 68 to adopt the Bloc Québécois motion which stated: "[T]his House acknowledges the Armenian genocide of 1915 and condemns this act as a crime against humanity."

Foreign Minister Bill Graham defended the government's position saying: "What we seek to do in our foreign policy is to encourage the forward dimension," said Graham. "We'd like our Armenian friends and our Turkish friends to work together to put these issues in the past."

In 1915, during the First World War, Turkish troops put down an Armenian uprising. Armenians say about 1.5 million people were killed by the Ottoman Turks during an eight-year campaign.

Turkey has always fought attempts by Armenians and international human rights organizations to have the events declared a genocide. Previously, Ankara has warned countries contemplating similar action that there would be negative consequences. In some cases business contracts have been held up or denied.

In 2001 France backed the Armenian case. Ankara responded by freezing official visits to France and temporarily blocking French companies from competing for defence contracts.

The U.S. dropped a similar resolution a year earlier after the White House warned it could hurt U.S. security interests.

The United Nations recognizes the events as genocide.

Liberal backbenchers, including former Chrétien cabinet member Herb Dhaliwal supported the motion, while Cabinet members, including Prime Minister Paul Martin, were largely absent from the charged debate.

The opposition, including Conservative Leader Stephen Harper, largely voted in favour and accused Martin of hypocrisy for promoting free votes but not showing up for one himself.

Armenian-Canadians greeted the vote with elation, but Turkish-Canadian observers reacted angrily.

Armenian-Canadian filmmaker Atom Egoyan, whose film Ararat was about the subject, said: "What is amazing is that it's law, and it's something that we can tell for generations to come."

But Kevsai Taymaz of the Federation of Turkish-Canadian Associations insisted: "It was a terrible time and both sides lost lives, it wasn't a genocide."

Liberal MP Hedy Fry, who supported the motion, said it was important to note the atrocities took place under the Ottoman empire, long ago replaced by a modern Turkish state.

"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," Fry told The Canadian Press.

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