Turkey denounces Armenian genocide vote in Commons

Turkey has reacted strongly to a vote in the House of Commons recognizing the death of 1.5 million Armenians as genocide.

The Turkish government called in the Canadian ambassador on Thursday to express disappointment over a House of Commons vote that recognizes the death of 1.5 million Armenians between 1915 and 1923 as a genocide.

Armenians blame the Ottoman Turks for the massacre of their people. Turkey denies the charges.

The Turkish government says by siding with the Armenians, Canadian MPs are rewriting history. A spokesman for the Turkish Embassy in Ottawa says relations between Canada and Turkey will be harmed by the vote.

For decades consecutive Canadian governments have dodged the sensitive issue by calling what happened in eastern Turkey a "tragedy," stopping well short of referring to the events as "genocide."

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 a brutal 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.

Prime Minister Paul Martin joined other members of his cabinet in insisting the motion is not binding on the government.

Martin came to office promising to allow more free votes on critical issues. It's part of his commitment to erase the "democratic deficit" by giving MPs more power on Parliament Hill. But some politicians are questioning his commitment in light of the government's decision to ignore the results of the vote.

Martin didn't show up for Wednesday night's vote recognizing the Armenian genocide, but he didn't escape questions about whether there is any value in allowing more free votes if his government is just going to ignore the results.

Martin said he felt Parliament and the government could have differing views, "And that, in fact, is one of the great benefits of dealing with parliamentary reform and parliamentary democracy."

The government's view is that the events nearly a century ago in the Ottoman Empire were a tragedy, but not genocide.

Liberal MP Jim Karygiannis says the clear majority of Parliament and a majority of Liberal MPs see it differently. They want Martin to live up to his promise to give MPs real clout. "The people elected parliamentarians to come here and rule the country," he said.

Fellow Liberal Sarkis Assadourian has the same message. "They should stand up and take note."

In the House of Commons, Bloc Québécois MP Madeleine Dalphond-Guiral also questioned Martin's commitment to democratic reform. "Is the prime minister saying, 'Talk, talk all you want, but we'll do what we like.'?"

Foreign Affairs Minister Bill Graham said the government has enormous respect for the sentiments expressed in the motion, but he says foreign policy must rest in the hands of the government.

Finance Minister Ralph Goodale said there was nothing about the government's response to the vote that undermines its commitment to parliamentary reform.

He said there will always be a difference between the will of Parliament and the cabinet's job to set official government policy.

But the Turkish Embassy in Ottawa wasn't buying the argument. Fazli Corman, a counsellor at the embassy, told CBC News, "This move will affect Turkish-Canadian relations negatively."