House of Commons Hansard #18 of the 37th Parliament, 3rd Session. (The original version is on Parliament's site.) The word of the day was countries.

Topics

Armenian People
Private Members' Business

6:15 p.m.

Some hon. members

Agreed.

Armenian People
Private Members' Business

6:15 p.m.

Some hon. members

No.

Armenian People
Private Members' Business

6:15 p.m.

The Acting Speaker (Mr. Bélair)

I heard a no.

The hon. member for Cumberland—Colchester.

Armenian People
Private Members' Business

6:15 p.m.

Progressive Conservative

Bill Casey Cumberland—Colchester, NS

It is a little disappointing, Mr. Speaker, that we cannot share our time in this debate. It is disappointing because here in Canada we do try to resolve our differences by giving different points of view. We do not resort to violence or military action. It is just disappointing that this happened this way.

This is the third time that I have spoken about this issue over several years. I want to compliment the member for Brampton Centre for raising it before and also the member today for raising it again, because it is an issue that certainly means a lot to a lot of people. It brings out a lot of emotion and a lot of sadness to people's hearts when we talk about it.

I was just thinking that we in North America were all moved by the disaster of September 11 when several thousand people died. Here, we are talking about a million and a half people, 250 times as many people, who were lost during this period from 1915 to 1923. It was a catastrophe of monstrous proportions that took place at the end of the Ottoman Empire and involved World War I.

We can only just possibly imagine what it is like for the Armenians to grasp the situation when we have turned our whole continent inside out because of the September 11 disaster that we experienced. In fact, it was only a small disaster relative to what they have gone through.

The whole debate surrounds the terrible massacre of human life between 1915 and 1923, with estimates in excess of a million and a half men, women and children lost. There was violence and there were deportations, internments, mass murders and all kinds of atrocities. We in the House can hardly imagine what went on.

It is good that we raise these issues, discuss them and raise public awareness of them and that we extend our sympathy to those who still suffer and are torn over the awful events.

We abhor any mass slaughter or killings, whether they are in Rwanda, the Middle East or Europe, by any country or any group. It is important that we remember these issues and work toward finding ways to prevent them. We have a responsibility in Canada to do that now and we have a responsibility to make sure that atrocities in the past are not forgotten. We are very fortunate here in the way we resolve our issues and fortunate that we have not been subject to anything like what those people in any of these disasters that I mentioned had to have experienced.

I think it is very important that we make sure we do everything we can to prevent them, as we are in Afghanistan now and in other areas around the world. It is certainly important that we keep the issues before the public so that we will never forget these awful things that happened.

I want to end my comments with that. This is the third of three debates I have been involved with, and perhaps if I had not been involved with the debates I would never have known anything about this. I hope that Canadians who are listening will take a lesson from it, learn about this issue and give it a lot of thought.

Armenian People
Private Members' Business

6:15 p.m.

NDP

Alexa McDonough Halifax, NS

Mr. Speaker, it is with great pleasure that I rise tonight to support and second this motion recognizing the Armenian genocide of 90 years ago and to condemn this atrocity as a crime against humanity.

I want to commend the hon. member for Laval Centre for bringing forward such an very important motion tonight. I also want to congratulate our fellow citizens, especially Canadian Armenians, who keep fighting for justice to be done.

As you all know, my hon. colleague for Burnaby—Douglas has moved a great number of motions along those lines over the last 10 years and more.

It is also true that the NDP, through the member for Burnaby—Douglas, has called for April 24 to be officially designated as a day of remembrance for the 1.5 million Armenians who fell victim to the first genocide of the 20th century.

We have all heard false arguments for why Canada should not recognize this genocide. I am very sorry to say that I think we heard one such argument or set of arguments from the new Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister of Foreign Affairs this evening. I think that is regrettable.

The most common argument that one hears--and I think we need a moment to consider this--is that if this recognition of the Armenian genocide were to be adopted by the Parliament of Canada, Canada-Turkey relations would be adversely affected.

I suppose the same people who make that argument would have argued that we in Canada should have plunged ourselves into Bush's Iraqi war because one could say that we might have suffered some retaliation. In fact, many would say we are suffering some retaliation. However, it was an important stand of principle that the Canadian people took in opposing the illegal, unjustified war in Iraq and it is time for us here in Parliament to take a similar principled stand in recognizing the Armenian genocide.

Because I do not wish to encroach on the time of other members, I want to briefly wrap up by quoting from the current president of the Armenian National Committee of Canada and again recognize the important ongoing work that has been done, contrary to the parliamentary secretary who basically says, if I understood his comments, why do we not just let it go and move to the future?

It has to be understood that people move on from such a brutalizing experience to their people, particularly family members and loved ones, by being able to have an acknowledgement of the atrocities and then being able to leave it behind them. It is a psychological matter. It is a political matter. It is an historic question of justice.

Let me quote, in conclusion, from the very thoughtful submission of the Armenian National Committee of Canada:

The recognition of the historical fact of the Armenian genocide by a political body is a genuine expression of respect towards justice, respect towards the memory of the victims, respect towards their sons and daughters all over the world including Canada.

It is not an act of vengeance as it is often portrayed by the politicians of denial, it is not an act of obligation for restitution as professed by authorities of falsification, it is not an act that would create any hatred between communities as it is erroneously represented by the outside sources.

It is merely an act of historical justice.

It is time for Canada to add its name into that list of countries [who have already done so].

I hope we will do so here tonight.

Armenian People
Private Members' Business

6:20 p.m.

Liberal

Stan Dromisky Thunder Bay—Atikokan, ON

Mr. Speaker, there has certainly been a change in the atmosphere in this chamber versus the atmosphere of two hours ago. That is a clear indication to me, and to everyone else, that this is a solemn occasion and a sensitive one for all the members present in this chamber.

I would like to tell the House that in October 1995 I was fortunate to have visited Turkey. Why did I visit Turkey? I formed the Canadian-Turkish parliamentary friendship group here and was keenly interested in that country. I was hoping to develop more positive relationships with a country that I knew very little about, and most parliamentarians knew little about the country as well.

It was a highly organized and planned trip, one in which I had complete control in determining whom I would meet, the topics of discussion, concerns, places to examine, from the highest levels of governmental and religious control to the bagel peddlers on the street. Without any doubt, it was a fantastic learning experience.

Before I left Canada, I did a lot of research and had the opportunity to meet with some Canadians of Armenian descent and leaders in the Armenian community.

I will never forget that meeting because they did their very best to convince me not to visit Turkey. They presented to me a picture of a country where they claimed human rights did not exist for the masses and where the Kurds were being persecuted daily.

For instance, one story I remember so vividly claimed that if people were caught speaking on the street or overhead on the bus or on the streetcars speaking one of the Kurdish dialects, they were reported and could be punished. They told me quite a few others.

I soon discovered that none of their horror stories were true. The constitutional protocol of the Turkish government states:

Differences of languages, faith, and origin within our national culture enriches our cultural life. The natural prerequisite of a democratic social structure is that these differences can be expressed freely within the scope of national integrity.

Seventeen constitutional amendments, early in 1995, introduced democratic reforms in the human rights areas, the most important being freedom of speech, freedom of association and freedom of assembly.

These reforms are working. I found that there were 15 Kurdish newspapers, numerous books written in the Kurdish dialects and today, eight years later, the evidence is overwhelming with over 3,000 independent, not government controlled, radio stations, some broadcasting in the Kurdish dialect.

While visiting the Turkish grand national assembly, which is its parliament, I discovered that over 100 members sitting in that parliament were of Kurdish descent, such as the minister of foreign affairs, Mr. Hikmet Cetin.

With all the democratic improvements that have taken place in Turkey since 1995--and I compare it to all the other countries surrounding Turkey and near Turkey--I firmly believe that Turkey stands out as the most secular and democratic state in the Middle East.

During my first visit I met many Canadians who had invested in economic projects in Turkey. From Montreal, there was the famous LaSalle College International Fashion School, whose graduates are found in many houses of fashion throughout the world. There was Netas, a giant telecommunications enterprise in Istanbul, a company which is 51% owned by Northern Telecom, and the list goes on.

The highlight of my visit was visiting the enormous complex subway system that was under construction in Ankara, the capital city. Government officials, engineers and representatives from Bombardier Incorporated and SNC-Lavalin, Quebec companies, and a delegation of officials from the Bombardier plant in Thunder Bay--Thunder Bay is my riding--where the subway cars were built, took me on the first trial run of the cars in that system. In that trial run I discovered that they were all highly impressed by the effectiveness of the system and by the superior workmanship revealed within the subway cars.

There is not enough time to deal with the economic relationships between Canadian and Turkish companies. Supporting and accepting this motion, for which there is absolutely no proof of a planned genocide of Armenians, would have disastrous economic effects on Canada's economy.

At this very moment, pending the outcome of this motion, we could win or lose a billion dollar contract to have over 300 subway cars built in the Bombardier plant in Thunder Bay. Over 1,000 employees are involved, mostly highly trained and skilled union members. Parts are manufactured in Thunder Bay, which involves a great number of other skilled workmen, and a great number of parts and systems are manufactured in Quebec.

SNC-Lavalin, a major contributor to telecommunications and control systems for the subway, would also be severely affected, which would mean a decrease in employment of this company, not only in Ontario, but especially in Quebec.

Our ties with Turkey are growing in a very positive manner and we must not jeopardize this beneficial growth in an emotional, reckless, foolhardy manner.

I would like to say a word now about the claimed planned genocide. The Ottoman Empire was comprised of 25 countries. For many years turmoil prevailed throughout certain regions, especially in eastern Anatolia and Armenia, which is in the far eastern section of what we now call Turkey. Even before the Balkan war started in 1912, many were moving and leaving that area for safer havens. Prior to 1912, British, French and Ottoman sources claim the Armenian population was somewhere between 1.05 million and 1.5 million.

Historian Dr. Justin McCarthy of the University of Louisville, British historian Arnold Toynbee and Monseigneur Touchet, a French missionary, all calculated that the Armenians lost approximately 600,000 people from 1912 to 1920. However, during the same period, over 2.5 million Muslims, including Turks, Kurds and Tartars, died in eastern Anatolia. We have no idea how many Russians were killed.

The Armenian delegation to the Paris Peace Conference in 1920 declared that, after the war, 280,000 Armenians remained in the Anatolian portion of the occupied Ottoman Empire while 700,000 Armenians emigrated to other countries such as France, Australia, the United States, and Canada, where the majority went to Quebec. Clearly then, a great portion of the Ottoman Armenians were not killed as claimed.

Each needless death is tragic. Equally tragic are lies meant to inflame and perpetuate ethnic hatred. That is not the Canadian way.

In conclusion I would like to quote what the former prime minister, Jean Chrétien, said on April 24, 2002:

--let us be reminded of the importance of working together to eliminate intolerance and fanaticism wherever it appears, and to promote reconciliation and cooperation among peoples.

That is the Canadian way.

Armenian People
Private Members' Business

6:30 p.m.

Canadian Alliance

Jason Kenney Calgary Southeast, AB

Mr. Speaker, before I begin debate, what is the scheduled rotation? There has been some discussion about changing it.

Armenian People
Private Members' Business

6:30 p.m.

The Acting Speaker (Mr. Bélair)

At this point in time, I try to alternate between the government and the opposition, and each and every party, if that is possible. Right now in the rotation it should be a Conservative member, followed by a Liberal, and this should bring us to 6:50 which is closing time.

Armenian People
Private Members' Business

6:35 p.m.

Canadian Alliance

Jason Kenney Calgary Southeast, AB

Mr. Speaker, in recognition of my colleague from Brampton, I will only take three or four minutes.

I have spoken on similar motions a couple of times and I have put on the record what I think is a pretty compelling and undeniable historical record. In my last intervention on this issue, I began reading from headlines that appeared in Canadian media outlets during 1915 and 1916. I would like to continue citing a few of these.

I would like the member from Thunder Bay to perhaps listen to what the Canadian media was reporting as objective news facts during the genocide.

The headline in London Free Press on October 22, 1915, read, “Armenian race may disappear before war ends. Vatican has appealed for unfortunate people”.

The Globe newspaper, predecessor to the Globe and Mail , reported on October 23, 1915, “A million Armenians wiped out by Turks. Only 200,000 Armenian inhabitants of Turkey now remain in country”.

The Globe on Saturday the 27th, 1915, reported “unspeakable cruelty to the lot of Armenians, massacres of unsurpassing horror committed, people burned alive, torturing, beggaring, all descriptive language practised on defenceless Christians.

That was according to Viscount Bryce.

The Ottawa Evening Journal on November 29, 1915, reported, “a saturnalia of slaughter by refined methods as young Turks set out to wipe Armenian race out of the world”.

The Ottawa Evening Journal of November 30, 1915, reported, “crime of Belgian venial sin when Armenian massacre known to nations”.

Those were the headlines in the Canadian media of the era.

Finally, the Globe newspaper, on December 15, 1915, reported, “a million Armenians massacred by Turks. Lord Bryce publishes further report of atrocities in Asia Minor”.

Those were the accounts of Canadian journalists and their firsthand sources in the region at the time. This is not some arcane debate between historians on differing sides. This is a recognized objective, historical fact that cannot be denied.

Let me move briefly to the comments of the parliamentary secretary, who continues to use the government's language of a tragedy. Oxford describes a tragedy as “a serious accident...or natural catastrophe”, whereas it defines a genocide as “the mass extermination of human beings, esp. of a particular race or nation”.

I believe the historical fact is absolutely clear and undeniable that that was what occurred during the first world war in that region. There was a deliberate attempt by an element of the then Ottoman government to destroy the Armenian people. I believe that just as the western world has recognized the reality of the Holocaust and has learned from the terrible historical lessons of that era, so too must we learn from the first great genocide of the last century.

I closing I want to say that I have many friends in the Turkish Canadian community. I have had representations made to me by the excellent Turkish ambassador to Canada, by the Turkish consul in Calgary and other members of that community. I believe the passage of this motion should in no way, shape or form cast any kind of cloud over the marvellous contribution made to Canada by Turkish immigrants, nor should it in any way inhibit our fantastic relationship with our NATO ally and aspiring European Union member in Turkey.

I reject categorically the notion that acceptance of the historical reality of the genocide will in any way inhibit our relationship with Turkey. I believe in that relationship. I am a fan of Turkey as a Muslim country that is seeking to lead the way in terms of democracy and human rights. Yes, it is imperfect, and yes, improvements are needed in many areas in terms of minorities, but it is so much further ahead of many countries in that region. We need to continue to build on that relationship and we need to ensure that the Turks in Canada do not feel that this motion in any way places any culpability on the Turkish people. That is simply a red herring.

On behalf of the vast majority of members in my party, we ought to recognize the historical realities so that our grandchildren and their grandchildren will know that this was the first great genocides, and that we must recognize it in our history if we are to prevent these things from reoccurring in the future.

Armenian People
Private Members' Business

6:40 p.m.

Liberal

Sarkis Assadourian Brampton Centre, ON

Mr. Speaker, I would like to thank my colleague from Laval Centre for presenting the motion. This is not the first and it will not be the last. I would hope it would be the last because we have worked on this in the past and we have to get on with debating other issues in the House to do with the Armenian-Turkish relationship. I hope we support this motion and go forward from here.

I want to reflect on the comments made by my colleague from Thunder Bay. He mentioned that Turkey is ready to join the European Union. That is a false statement because Turkey has tried for the last 30 or 40 years to join and every time it has been blocked for many reasons. The first issue was the human rights treatment by the Turkish government against a minority. The second issue was the Kurdish minority treatment. The third issue was the Armenian genocide. The fourth issue was the Cyprus issue. If it does not address these four issues, Turkey will never be a European Union country.

My colleague mentioned that the Turkish constitution is such a fantastic instrument. He may be right, but the Turkish constitution was written after the genocide. No constitution in the world would provide that type of clause. Even the Hitler constitution did not provide for genocide of the Jews. The Rwanda constitution and the Bosnia constitution never provided a clause to kill a minority.

These things are done in the name of national security. Turkey at the time felt that the Armenians were a threat to national security: “Let us eliminate them; let us solve it with a final resolution and get it over with”.

My colleague from the NDP mentioned Iraq, the U.S. and Canada. She is 100% right. We can afford to upset the U.S.A. when we do about $1 billion of trade a day. With Turkey our trade over two years was $1 billion. If we can provoke the U.S. in these conditions, what is the big deal about a so-called provocation with Turkey? Of course we know this whole thing is hot air.

When France passed a resolution two or three years ago, the Turkish ambassador was recalled from Paris to Ankara and six months later he went back. It said it was going to cancel the contract. No contract was cancelled. Therefore the argument is totally false.

My colleague from Thunder Bay mentioned that SNC-Lavalin and the Canadian government are involved in a contract with the Turkish government to provide some 300 rail cars. I have been there long enough, especially on this issue for 25 to 30 years. Three years ago there were discussions that Turkey was going to buy a Candu reactor from us.

Every time there is a motion in the House that this issue is close to a settlement or a final resolution, Turkey comes up with a so-called memorandum of understanding. If anyone believes that Turkey is going to buy these rail cars from Bombardier, good luck. They are really naive to believe that Turkey is going to pay for this. It has no money to pay for its own daily expenses so how could it afford to pay so much money for this kind of fantastic service? Bombardier should know better. That company is being used to provoke the Canadian government to take a stand against the Armenian question.

It was mentioned earlier that we owe it to ourselves to know and recognize the history of this issue. This is not to do with the Turkish government. At the end of the day the relations between the two countries, Turkey and Armenia, will improve because this issue is out of the way.

I have a list of the countries that have recognized the genocide. The most recent one is the Swiss government on December 16, 2003. Others are the Canadian Senate on June 13, 2002; the European parliament assembly on April 24, 2001; the Italian chamber of deputies; the Lebanese parliament; the French national assembly; the Belgian senate; the U.S. House of Representatives; the Argentine senate; and the European parliament. There was a French law in January 20, 2001. Again there is the European parliament; the French national assembly; the Swedish parliament; the council of the European parliament; the Lebanese parliament; the Hellenic parliament; the Russian Duma; the European parliament; the Cyprus parliament; and Uruguay. There was a joint declaration of France, Great Britain and Russia on May 23, 1915 to condemn what happened to the Armenians.

My colleague from Calgary also read a few pages of a book.

I have in my possession a newspaper articles from the Evening Telegram , the Globe and Mail , the London Times and the New York Times . I also have in my possession all the resolutions I read earlier, about 40 or 50 pages, that passed through the parliaments of Canada, the United States and the European parliament. I would ask for the unanimous consent of the House to leave these documents with the clerk for further study.

I remember debating this issue way back. I remember a few years ago there was the Créditiste Party some 30 or 40 years ago. They raised this issue--

Armenian People
Private Members' Business

6:45 p.m.

The Acting Speaker (Mr. Bélair)

I would like to clarify with the hon. member because we are not sure what he wants.

Armenian People
Private Members' Business

6:45 p.m.

Liberal

Sarkis Assadourian Brampton Centre, ON

Mr. Speaker, I would like to table the documents I mentioned earlier. I have clippings from the Evening Telegram , the New York Times , the London Times and the Globe and Mail newspapers. These documents speak about the issue at the time. They are not edited. They are simply historical facts as they were written in 1915.

Armenian People
Private Members' Business

6:45 p.m.

The Acting Speaker (Mr. Bélair)

Does the hon. member have unanimous consent to table the documents?

Armenian People
Private Members' Business

6:45 p.m.

Some hon. members

Agreed.

Armenian People
Private Members' Business

February 25th, 2004 / 6:45 p.m.

Liberal

Sarkis Assadourian Brampton Centre, ON

Mr. Speaker, I am sure anyone who would study these historical facts would find many undisputed facts in this presentation.

I mentioned earlier that the Créditistes in the 1960s were probably the first political party in the House of Commons to raise the issue of the Armenian genocide. Since then, in the 1970s and 1980s we passed many resolutions in the House to bring the issue into focus for the Canadian public.

I have to say that the issue was quite forceful and brought out many points of view on how to solve this problem. I am pleased that our Parliament in the past 10 years has passed many resolutions. One resolution was passed a couple of years ago by the Senate. The resolution asked the government and the Parliament of Canada to recognize this genocide as an historic event.

The second resolution passed nine to seven in the foreign affairs committee. That was an historic day for us. The foreign affairs committee accepted the fact that the House of Commons must recognize the act of genocide and passed the resolution on to the Government of Canada. I would like to have that motion passed again.

The motion was:

That the Committee invite the House of Commons to recognize the genocide of the Armenians, which began at the turn of the last C century, by the Ottoman Turks, during the First World War.

There was also a resolution passed in 1996 which was mentioned earlier. The resolution declared April 20 to 27 as a week of remembrance of the inhumanity to fellow man.

What is important is that we have to continue this struggle not only for the sake of Armenians, not only for the sake of the Turks, but it is vital to recognize the historical fact. When we take positive steps, it will help bring these two nations together forever. They will live together because Armenia and Turkey are still there. Armenia will not vanish and neither will Turkey.

It is better that we do our part to bring them together so they can move forward for the peace, security and prosperity of both the Armenians and Turks.