Canada still has 'good relations' with Turkey, official in Ottawa says
Turkish ambassador to Canada recalled
Turkey's recall of its ambassador to Canada after Canadian officials reportedly participated in an event that labelled the Ottoman-era killings of Armenians as genocide does not represent a diplomatic breakdown, an official with the Department of Foreign Affairs in Ottawa said Wednesday.
"Turkey is a democracy, we have good relations with Turkey — they are allies," said Catherine Loubier, a spokesperson for Foreign Affairs Minister Lawrence Cannon.
Canada's position on the mass deaths of Armenians more than 90 years ago is "not an indictment of modern Turkey," Loubier said.
Her comments came after Turkish Foreign Ministry spokesman Burak Ozugergin said Ambassador Rafet Akgunay had been called back to Ankara for "thorough evaluations and consultations."
Ozugergin declined to comment on why Akgunay was recalled or for how long.
But another Turkish government official, who spoke to reporters earlier in the day on the condition of anonymity, said the withdrawal was in protest of Canada commemorating the deaths of Armenians at the end of the First World War.
Canadian officials reportedly attended an event in Ottawa on Monday that was organized to mark the fifth anniversary of parliament recognizing the 1915 killings as genocide.
Citizenship and Immigration Minister Jason Kenney was reportedly among those who attended the event, which included MPs and Senators from several political parties.
Though Prime Minister Stephen Harper did not attend, there are reports that he sent a letter to the Congress of Canadian Armenians who organized the function.
2nd recall of ambassador
At the event, the Congress of Canadian Armenians presented representatives from each of Canada's political parties with a certificate of appreciation for upholding human rights.
Ambassadors from some other countries that have recognized the deaths as genocide were also reportedly in attendance at the event.
Canadian officials have not commented on the ambassador's recall.
It is the second time that Turkey has recalled its ambassador to Canada since parliament recognized the deaths as genocide in 2004.
In 2006, Turkey criticized Harper for remarks he made in support of recognizing the mass killings as genocide and briefly withdrew its ambassador.
Turkey also pulled out of a military exercise in Canada as a protest.
"All Canadians should be proud of their government's courageous stance on this human rights issue, despite the obvious pressure they must have faced," said Taro Alepian, chairman of the Congress of Canadian Armenians.
Historians estimate that up to 1.5 million Armenians were killed by Ottoman Turks in 1915 at the end of the First World War. The deaths are widely viewed by genocide scholars as the first genocide of the 20th century.
More than 21 countries have recognized the deaths as genocide.
Turkey says victims died in civil strife
But Turkey denies that the deaths constituted genocide and contends the toll has been inflated and the casualties were victims of civil war and unrest.
Legislators in the United States have also recently introduced a resolution that would label the deaths genocide. If passed, the resolution could undermine efforts by President Barack Obama's administration to win NATO ally Turkey's help on key foreign policy goals.
U.S. legislators almost passed a similar resolution two years ago but congressional leaders did not bring it up for a vote after the Bush administration brought intense pressure to bear on them.
During his presidential campaign, Obama said the killings amounted to genocide, but avoided the term when he addressed Turkish lawmakers during his visit earlier this month.
With files from The Associated Press