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

Topics

The House resumed from February 25 consideration of the motion.

The Armenian PeoplePrivate Members' Business

5:55 p.m.

Bloc

Francine Lalonde Bloc Mercier, QC

Mr. Speaker, tomorrow will be the first time members will be able to vote on this important matter, although it is the fourth time a similar motion has been introduced in this House.

I was therefore surprised to find in my mail a letter from the Minister of Foreign Affairs and International Trade addressed to MPs and encouraging us not to vote in favour of this private member's motion. I was, frankly, somewhat shocked and dismayed, particularly since this is one of the ministers of this government who claims to attach a great deal of importance to what members think and want. I was surprised for that reason.

Yet, after reading his letter, my second reaction was to be pleased he had sent it to us, and I will tell you why. In his third paragraph he says the following.

The established government policy was set out in a statement in this House in June 1999 in favour of reconciliation: “We remember the calamity afflicted on the Armenian people in 1915. This tragedy was committed with the intent to destroy a national group in which hundreds of thousands of Armenians were subject to atrocities which included massive deportations and massacres—”

Who has not read the definition of genocide in the Convention on the Prevention and Punishment of the Crime of Genocide? All components of that definition are clearly recalled in the minister's statement. According to the definition, genocide is “an act committed with intent to destroy, in whole or in part, a national, ethnic, racial or religious group.” That is what we have just heard from the mouth of the minister, or rather from his pen.

I would like to repeat the motion, for which I congratulate my colleague for Laval Centre. What does it say? It reads:

That this House acknowledge the Armenian genocide of 1915 and condemn this act as a crime against humanity.

There are some new elements, some recent events, that make it possible for us to be even more clearly in favour of this motion.

The first of these is the recent ruling by the appeals section of the International Tribunal in the Hague, relating to the defence of Mr. Krstic, who, hon. members will recall, felt that responsibility for the deaths of seven to eight thousand Muslims in July of 1995 was not sufficient reason to term this genocide. The appeal court clearly certified that this defence was invalid and recognized that this was genocide.

I believe we all understand the importance of this ruling, which the experts feel broadens the concept of genocide.

Another piece of news is quite interesting. The New York Times , a widely respected newspaper, has recently changed its guidelines for reporters and editorial writers. I do not have it in French, because it is the New York Times , so I will read it in English:

--“after careful study of scholarlydefinitions of 'genocide,' we have decided to accept the term inreferences to the Turks' mass destruction of Armenians in andaround 1915”...the expression'Armenian genocide' may be used freely and should not be qualifiedwith phrasing like 'what Armenians call,' etc”.

That is one more important element, and I can add that the Boston Globe did the same thing a year ago.

Now there are questions to be raised. Why not recognize that the 1999 declaration by the Minister of Foreign Affairs is equivalent to saying, “There was a genocide”? Why not recognize it? It has the same definition.

Why would this threaten relations between Turkey and Canada, and relations between Turkish-Canadian citizens and other Canadians? I can say—this is not the best argument—that the threat has been made everywhere but never executed, while many assemblies in many countries, which have been named repeatedly, have passed such a resolution.

How does this motion attack Turkey? The word “Turkey” is not spoken, in contrast to the motion that was proposed in the United States House of Representatives. The word “Turkey” is not seen here.

Can we not remember that Mustapha Kemal, who founded the Turkish republic in 1923—the genocide we are discussing took place in 1915—repeatedly, dozens of times, condemned the massacres? They were not hidden away in a closet. Many times, he called them heinous acts and called for the guilty parties to be punished.

The Republic of Turkey was not formed until 1923. Turks now and then could have said, “It was the Ottoman empire. It was a moment of crisis. We feel for the Armenians and acknowledge that they were victims of genocide”. Why do otherwise?

I want to add that, if the word “genocide” is not mentioned before 1948, it is because it was not used for this purpose. I even looked in my old Larousse dictionary, the first edition of which was published in 1932—interesting tidbit for a historian—and under “genocide” it states, “The word used by Holocaust deniers”.

In my opinion, there is no good reason to vote against the motion before the House tomorrow. I have already repeated the definition given by the Minister of Foreign Affairs. All we will need to say is, “what is called the Armenian genocide”.

The Quebec National Assembly and many other legislatures across Canada, as well as the Senate, have passed this motion couched in the harshest of terms. However, is this not necessary recognition for the descendants of these men and women whose suffering was great and attested to at the time by numerous witnesses? There is plenty of evidence.

How could voting in favour of this motion delay the rapprochement between Armenia and Turkey? Recognizing the Shoah certainly did not prevent an extraordinary rapprochement between Europe and Germany.

The future cannot be built on a hidden past. The future, in this case, depends on the respectful admission of the facts, so considered by those who have studied this issue.

With regard to the reconciliation, the future needs to be considered once the past has been put to rest.

The Armenian PeoplePrivate Members' Business

6:05 p.m.

Pickering—Ajax—Uxbridge Ontario

Liberal

Dan McTeague LiberalParliamentary Secretary to the Minister of Foreign Affairs

Mr. Speaker, clearly, I must have the consent of my colleague who introduced the motion to pass the following amendment. I am going to read it in English.

I request unanimous consent to amend the motion by substituting it with the following: That this House remember the calamity afflicted on the Armenian people in 1915. This tragedy was committed with the intent to destroy a national group in which hundreds of thousands of Armenians were subject to atrocities, which included massive deportations and massacres. May the memory of this period contribute to healing wounds, as well as to reconciliation of our present day nations and communities, and remind us all of our collective duty to work together toward world peace.

The Armenian PeoplePrivate Members' Business

6:05 p.m.

Bloc

Madeleine Dalphond-Guiral Bloc Laval Centre, QC

Mr. Speaker, I guess it is up to me to accept or refuse. I would like say that there are two official languages in this Parliament. I would also like to say that I find it unacceptable that this amendment was not prepared in French and English given the absolutely extraordinary translation resources available to the government and the hon. members.

Nonetheless, I understood it very well. I am sorry, but, with or without a translation, I cannot include this amendment in my motion.

The Armenian PeoplePrivate Members' Business

6:05 p.m.

Timmins—James Bay Ontario

Liberal

Réginald Bélair LiberalThe Deputy Chair

I believe the problem has just been resolved.

The Armenian PeoplePrivate Members' Business

6:05 p.m.

Ahuntsic Québec

Liberal

Eleni Bakopanos LiberalParliamentary Secretary to the Minister of Human Resources and Skills Development (Social Economy)

Mr. Speaker, it is truly a great honour for me today to speak once again in this House in support of this important motion put forward by my colleague.

I must admit that I am very happy about how much progress the Armenian cause has made since I have been in this House.

I have always been pleased to speak in favour of motions that have been presented in the House of Commons urging parliamentarians to recognize the Armenian genocide because I truly believe that we must all seek to do good by recognizing a wrong and speaking against it.

More important, however, I chose to speak today because I wish to assure the survivors of the Armenian genocide, who I have personally met in Montreal and in my constituency, that I want to ensure that they leave this life knowing that people like we parliamentarians in the House of Commons are fighting for recognition and closure to the horrors they lived and witnessed firsthand and that have haunted them all their lives. I have looked into their eyes and they are only asking for us to acknowledge what happened and to call it by its rightful name, the Armenian genocide.

We want to assure them that the Turkish government will recognize the Armenian genocide and other atrocities and move toward reconciliation, which we all want in the future.

The 20th century has seen two world wars and numerous historical conflicts. In spite of this, crimes against humanity are not a thing of the past but continue to be daily occurrences in too many countries, countries which routinely practice torture, slavery, and the massive deportation of their civilian population.

Everyday, we witness the persecution of minorities on the basis of their political opinion, race or religion.

To this day, these unacceptable acts of inhumanity continue, despite the fact that the Geneva convention condemns such actions. Even though the international community has admitted that these acts should not be practised, we are still a long way from achieving this goal. Present events attest to similar acts and cry out for our vigilance.

The Nuremberg war crimes tribunal, designed specifically to prosecute high ranking Nazis for the atrocities that had occurred during World War II, tried for the first time those guilty of committing crimes against humanity. These crimes were defined in article 6 of the London charter and included murder, extermination, enslavement, deportation and other inhumane acts committed against any civilian population before or during the war or persecution on political, racial and religious grounds.

While not all criminals have been tried, the international community recognizes the holocaust and commemorates it every year, as we did in Canada last week, so that everyone around the world will remember this tragedy to ensure that it will never occur again. Regardless of this, we still live in a world where ethnic cleansing is practised, the most recent examples being the former republics of Yugoslavia and Rwanda.

While these atrocities are some examples of crimes committed against humanity, there are unfortunately many others, both past and present. Some are well known; others, such as the Asia Minor catastrophe of 1922, are not so well known.

At the end of the first world war, close to two million Greeks were living in a region of Asia Minor on the west coast of modern Turkey. Greeks had been living in that region for over 3,000 years. In 1922, these people, like the Armenians and other Turkish minorities, were the victims of the first ethnic cleansing operation of the 20th century.

The Armenian genocide, which took place around the time of the first world war, is perhaps the most vivid example of genocide as an instrument of national policy by the Ottoman Turks. What makes the Armenian genocide such a particular example is that, unlike the genocide of the Jewish people that took place during the second world war, the international community did not try the war criminals or even formally acknowledge that this massacre took place.

The United Nations convention on the prevention and punishment of the crime of genocide describes genocide as, “acts committed with intent to destroy, in whole or in part, a national, ethnical, racial or religious group”. Clearly, this definition applies in the case of the atrocities committed against the Armenians.

Because the UN convention was adopted in 1948, 30 years after the Armenian genocide, Armenians worldwide have sought from their respective governments formal acknowledgment of the crimes committed during World War I. Countries like France, Argentina, Greece, Russia, Sweden, Italy and Belgium have officially recognized the Armenian genocide.

On November 28, 2003, the Quebec national assembly passed a motion put forward by Yvan Bordeleau, my own representative there, declaring an Armenian genocide commemoration day. I greatly appreciate the efforts he has made in the 10 years we have been working together.

Thanks to our collective efforts in advancing the Armenian cause, we are reminding the international community that these types of tragic historical events cannot simply be forgotten or denied. It is my hope that the international community as a whole will take the necessary steps to condemn these horrible acts of inhumanity and recognize the atrocities committed by the Ottoman Turks for what they were: a genocide.

Many countries such as Italy, France and Israel, have adopted parliamentary decrees officially recognizing the Armenian genocide.

Why, people may ask, is it so important to recognize an event that occurred over 80 years ago? We must always remember that those who disregard history are condemned to repeat it. Let us just think about if the international community had reacted to this as it should have at the time. Would the atrocities of the second world war ever have taken place? Perhaps not.

During a debate in the House of Commons, the then secretary of state for central and eastern Europe and the Middle East reiterated the position of the Government of Canada, stating:

...we remember the calamity afflicted on the Armenian people in 1915. This tragedy was committed with the intent to destroy a national group in which hundreds of thousands of Armenians were subject to atrocities which included massive deportations and massacres.

May the memory of this period contribute to healing wounds as well as to reconciliation of present day nations and communities and remind us all of our collective duty to work together toward world peace--

Although the federal government recognizes the genocide as a “calamity” and “tragedy”, many parliamentarians, including me, do not agree with this position and continue to work toward the recognition of the genocide.

I truly believe that by working together we can and will accomplish our goal of recognition of the Armenian genocide by the Government of Canada and eventually the government of Turkey. For this reason, I have been working closely with the Armenian community in Canada and with my colleagues from the House of Commons and the Senate to convince the Canadian government, my government, to recognize the Armenian genocide. I do it for those survivors and I do it for my constituents and all Canadians of Armenian origin.

Years of work and concerted efforts resulted in significant breakthroughs in 2002 for the Armenian cause, starting with the first ever Canadian parliamentary visit to Armenia in May 2002. I was honoured to have the opportunity to visit Armenia as a member of the delegation formed by the Canada-Armenia parliamentary friendship group. My colleague, the member of Parliament for Brampton Centre, who is a Canadian of Armenian origin born in Aleppo, Syria, has been the leading champion of this cause in the House. I want to congratulate him again.

This trip reinforced my already firm commitment to this cause, after having the opportunity to visit Yerevan, a museum commemorating the victims of the Armenian genocide, and to meet with several Armenian political representatives or colleagues. This parliamentary exchange was reciprocated, of course, by a visit to Canada last fall.

The Senate of Canada passed a motion on June 13, 2002, presented by my colleague and friend, the Hon. Shirley Maheu, calling on the Canadian government to officially recognize the word “genocide” rather than just calling the event “a crime against humanity” or “atrocity”, as was the case in a former resolution of the House of Commons.

Another very important step toward the recognition of the Armenian genocide came when the House of Commons Standing Committee on Foreign Affairs and International Trade passed a historic motion on November 27, 2002, calling on the House of Commons to recognize the Armenian genocide.

The member for Brampton Centre presented this motion, which reads as follows:

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

We have done other things over the years to bring this issue to the forefront and make our colleagues recognize the importance of bringing resolution to this issue.

I invite all members of Parliament to support this. I certainly will be voting for it. Also, I am very proud to have in my riding of Ahuntsic a monument to the Armenian genocide and in fact to all genocides. It was constructed by the City of Montreal. I urge all my colleagues to support this very honourable effort by the member, who unfortunately will be leaving us and this House. I encourage all our colleagues to let justice be done and recognize a wrong.

The Armenian PeoplePrivate Members' Business

6:15 p.m.

Canadian Alliance

Stockwell Day Canadian Alliance Okanagan—Coquihalla, BC

Mr. Speaker, in addressing the question today it is first important that as we look at what this was and what took place, we are clear on what this was not. As a matter of fact, in regard to the motion today I would like to be clear in my view about what this is not. This motion is not a demand for reparations. This motion is not a demand for vengeance. As a matter of fact, it would decry vengeance and those wanting to somehow retaliate in any way.

When we look at horrific events throughout history, we recognize that we have to be part of a reconciliation process. If we look even at the second world war, I reflect on the fact that both my grandfathers served. One of my grandfathers was captured as a Hong Kong veteran and went through four years of torture. As a matter of fact, he never fully recovered from that torture and eventually died as a result of it. For that reason I never had the joy of meeting him, and yet I cannot be part of a process of ongoing vengeance and anger. I have to be part of a process that somehow moves on to reconciliation and to forgiveness.

This is not a demand for vengeance and retaliation. The motion is not a denunciation of the people of Turkey today or of the government of Turkey. I know there are sensitivities around this from those who represent that government.

In the report related to Muslim nations which the foreign affairs committee of the House just completed, we in fact give commendation in our recommendations to the government of Turkey today, saying that Canada should encourage the government of Turkey to be a voice of democracy and moderation within the Muslim world and to continue to implement its democratic and human rights reforms. We recognize that.

This republic developed after 1923 under Ataturk. Mustafa Kemal was his real name. He was renamed Ataturk, meaning father of the Turks. The Islamic caliphate at the time was abolished in 1923. A modern state began to develop, albeit a one-party state, but after the second world war developing into a two-party state and becoming, incidentally, the first and only Muslim nation to become a member of NATO.

There are many things to be congratulatory about in regard to this particular government today. As a matter of fact, one of our other recommendations is that their prime minister, Recip Erdogan, visit Canada and address Parliament to tell us, among other matters, about strengthening ties with countries of the Muslim world.

When I have discussions with the ambassador from Turkey, I try to allay concerns he would have that this is any kind of reflection upon those people and upon that government. It is not, but it is important that what happened be addressed. It must be addressed and it must be called what it was. We cannot look for euphemistic terms for something that was nothing other than genocide, as 126 holocaust scholars and historians have said.

In their verdict of March 7, 2000, they said:

The World War I Armenian genocide is an incontestable historical fact and accordingly we urge the governments of western democracies to likewise recognize it as such.

The international Association of Genocide Scholars on June 13, 1997, said that it:

reaffirms that the mass murder of Armenians in Turkey in 1915 is a case of genocide which conforms to the statutes of the United Nations Convention on the Prevention and Punishment of Genocide.

Professor Roger Smith is the professor of government at the College of William and Mary. He is a historian and past president of the Association of Genocide Scholars. He said:

Indeed, there is now a consensus among scholars that the Armenian genocide, which was the first large scale genocide in the 20th century, is the prototype of much of the genocide that has occurred since 1945. Some of the patterns found in the Armenian case have appeared again and again in the 20th century.

Various world leaders have spoken of this. Ronald Reagan, during his term as president of the United States, said, “Like the genocide of the Armenians before it”. He was referring to the genocide of the Armenians and the Holocaust. Gerald Ford, past president of the United States, also talked about it and in his words said, “with mixed emotions, we mark the 50th anniversary of the Turkish genocide of the Armenian people”. Winston Churchill recognized it and talked about that “infamous” time in history and Mustafa Kemal Ataturk himself recognized and commented on it.

Mustafa Arif, the Turkish interior minister of 1918-19, said:

Unfortunately, our wartime leaders, imbued with a spirit of brigandage, carried out the law of deportation in a manner that could surpass the proclivities of the most bloodthirsty bandits. They decided to exterminate the Armenians, and they did exterminate them.

He made an important point, going on to state:

This decision was taken by the Central Committee of the Young Turks and was implemented by the government...The atrocities committed against the Armenians reduced our country to a gigantic slaughterhouse.

Why then do we pursue this? This happened. It took place. We have heard in great detail about the atrocities that took place at the time, the death marches, the massacres, the rapes, and, in many cases, the forced conversion to Islam.

At the time these were the headlines of the day in the British and United States press. Books were written at the time. Books are still being written today. Our own Atom Egoyan, a Canadian, has made a movie about this. It is called Ararat. A recent New York Times best-seller is a book called The Burning Tigris , written by Peter Balakian.

This event has been detailed since those times, since the headlines of the day, and in great detail. It is interesting to note that there was an awareness then in the United States and around the world that this was happening. It actually led to a huge response. People were trying to send funds. People were trying to find ways of intervening.

But the intervention did not take place. I want to look at that fact. The world knew at the time. This was making headlines at the time. People were shocked at the time. Yet an intervention did not take place because there was a sense that it was happening within a sovereign state.

I would suggest that the importance of recognizing this genocide will also help us today to grapple with the question of when it is legitimate for peace-loving nations of the world to stop a genocide that is happening in another sovereign state. As much as we recognize the importance of nation states, is there a point at which there should be an intervention to stop a genocide?

We still grapple with that question. The world could not grapple successfully with the question in the killing fields of Cambodia. We have just recently seen the anniversary of what happened in Rwanda, a heartbreaking, shattering event that took place. Our own general was there trying to send out a warning that intervention was needed. Peace-loving nations still grapple with this difficult problem.

In the Sudan today, untold atrocities are taking place and we still struggle. Part of it has to do with the defining and the acceptance of the very fact that human beings at times--though we find this hard to accept--are capable of genocide. We find it hard to accept that groups of human beings could actually do this. I try to be optimistic about human nature and I ask these questions. How can these things happen? How could it have happened to the Armenians? How could these things happen to others?

We have just celebrated, if I may use that word, the anniversary of the most atrocious event ever in the 20th century or throughout history, and that is the Holocaust itself. Part of it is our lack of acceptance, our reluctance as human beings to accept that human beings could do this to one another, but we must accept it.

Accepting it equips us to identify it if it happens again in the course of human history and also impels us to action to possibly prevent it from happening again. That is why it is so important that this is recognized. That is why it must be called what it was, a genocide: to equip us and alert us to the fact that it can happen, that human beings can do these things to one another.

We need to stand as members of Parliament in this place and recognize this motion, not using euphemisms but using the word and calling it for what it was: a genocide. Perhaps then, when somebody sounds a future alarm, as the ambassador to Turkey in 1913, Henry Morgenthau, did when he sounded the alarm, we will listen. We will be aware that it has happened, we will be aware that it could happen again, and the incredible number of deaths, up to 1.5 million, will not have been in vain. Today, for those people who were massacred, for those people who were targeted for extermination, for their lives and their deaths, our calling it what it is can serve, hopefully, to honour what they went through but also to prevent future atrocities.

The Armenian PeoplePrivate Members' Business

6:25 p.m.

The Acting Speaker (Mr. Bélair)

I have a list of four members and a potential fifth who wish to speak on this matter. I know the Chair is not in a position to ask members to limit their remarks to five minutes each, but I would ask you to be as brief as possible. I will try to let as many hon. members as possible speak.

The hon. member for Sackville—Musquodoboit Valley—Eastern Shore.

The Armenian PeoplePrivate Members' Business

6:30 p.m.

NDP

Peter Stoffer NDP Sackville—Musquodoboit Valley—Eastern Shore, NS

Mr. Speaker, I want to remind the House and all the people listening that if the House of Commons wants to deal with the issue, then let us have a vote on it now and move it forward.

I have information in front of me that the Ontario legislature was discussing this in 1980. The national assembly of Quebec was also discussing this in April 1980. The Progressive Conservative Party of Canada on July 23, 1984, stated, and I quote Mr. Stevens who said that “We will make representation to the General Assembly of the United Nations to recognize and condemn the Armenian genocide and to express abhorrence of such actions”.

The Liberal Party of Canada in 1984 abdicated setting aside a special day once a year in recognition of events such as the Armenian genocide. The NDP spoke about this in December 1989. It goes on and on.

Here we are in 2004 still speaking about it. Today, if people were not following the debate, they would be very confused about what is happening.

I have a letter from the ambassador of Turkey. In one of the paragraphs he states that the truth about what happened between Turks and Armenians is there in history for clear minds to study. The very fact that Armenians are so persistent to have the House adopt a motion to attest that the history was genocide is indeed a testimony that it was not.

I have a letter from the Armenian National Committee of Canada. It states “I am convinced of your response. You have always shown general understanding of the historical fact of the Armenian genocide. We ask that you give precious support for Motion No. 380”.

I have another letter from the Minister of Foreign Affairs that says we should be careful what we do. We have one side saying no; we have another side saying yes; and we have someone in the middle saying we should be careful what we do.

I have spoken to the hon. member from Brampton and I know that this debate must be a very emotional time for him, his family and his ancestry.

My wife's aunt is married to an Armenian in Sacramento, California. A few years ago I spoke to him about this very issue. He said he did not believe he would ever live to see the day when the current country of Turkey recognizes what happened back in 1915.

I say very clearly that we have to call this for what it was. It was a genocide--the mass slaughter of a bunch of wonderful people. They were killed for whatever reason. We can debate that until the cows come home, but they were murdered and slaughtered.

The fact is that nobody is blaming the current Turkish government for what happened in 1915. All we are doing in the House of Commons is recognizing that the tragic event took place. We are calling it very clearly what it was.

There was a poem written by Lorne Shirinian and Alan Whitehorn. I say this because this poem says a lot. I was born in Holland and my parents and oldest brother were liberated by Canadian sacrifices. At that time the Nazi regime of Germany did some terrible atrocities to the people of Europe and, for that matter, the Jewish people as well. We just had a day of remembrance for the Jewish holocaust.

When groups of people are out there in the world today being harassed, slaughtered, killed or in any way defamed because of their nationality, religion, ethnicity or whatever, then we as parliamentarians in Canada must stand up against that.

We must remember the genocide for the following poem:

We must remember. Remember and learn. Remember and tell. But also remember and live.

The last line is the most important:

And some day, remember and forgive.

That little poem summarizes this entire debate. We offer recognition to the Armenian survivors. We probably do not have many of them left, but to the children who are here and know the stories of their ancestors we can say once and for all that we remember what happened so that we can prevent these types of atrocities from ever happening again.

No one in this House or anyone else who I have referred to is in any way insinuating that the Turkish government is responsible for what happened. We are just offering our assistance to the Turkish government and to the Armenian people to get together, bury the hatchet, as they say, and work toward a common and lasting peace so that some day we will remember and forgive.

The Armenian PeoplePrivate Members' Business

6:35 p.m.

Canadian Alliance

Maurice Vellacott Canadian Alliance Saskatoon—Wanuskewin, SK

Mr. Speaker, it is kind of with a heavy heart that we are in this place today discussing very difficult, sad and tragic events that occurred back in 1915, the earlier part of the last century. Very troubling to me is the fact that we want to bring conflicts from abroad in a very calculated and deliberate manner into this place.

I have always had a bit of a concern about bringing some of the ethnic clashes in other parts of the world into this place, be it from Sierra Leone or wherever it happens to be. That we do it here without the careful kind of thought and attention we should is a somewhat troubling thing as well as the fact that it occurred so many years ago when there were things that occurred in history at that time that are in dispute. There are two different sides to it.

Also, what we tend to see here most often, and on this particular issue as it comes up time and again, is one side of it. Then we draw into the whole issue conflicts that the Greek people had with the Turks. We had a member today speaking from that perspective. We bring all of these conflicts into this present place. I do not think it is helpful. I do not think it is constructive or productive for this place. I think it would be much better for Armenian and Turkish people to be getting together and working through this. There were many lives lost on both sides, and that is to be regretted.

I have talked with individuals from the Turkish community who would like to meet with people from the Armenian community and in fact proposed this to an individual and asked if they could go on from here and heal respectively in regard to the losses and terrible tragic time back then. This individual was declined. I hope that is not reflective or symbolic of all Armenian people. I would hope it not to be true, but I know in this one case there was that invitation offered and there was just a flat refusal.

We need to go back very quickly in history to recognize that at that period in time there was the collapse of the Ottoman empire. Indeed, for all intents and purposes, it was an empire that was fairly benevolent. If we look at history one understands that they allowed a fair bit of local control throughout that vast empire. They sheltered the Jewish people. They provided refuge to them when the Jews were expelled en masse from Spain. It is a kind of cultural legacy that is much to be proud of. It contradicts to some degree the Armenian claims that the Turks had waged a war of total ethnic cleansing.

Of the multitude of ethnic groups which resided within the borders of the Ottoman empire, have any other people made claims of genocide as we have here to date? In fact, many of our Greek neighbours in Canada have told us that Ottomans had sheltered them from the conflicts that raged among the European Christians, Orthodox and Catholics at the time.

Stepping back in history it was a time when Russia, on the east and Great Britain were instigating one of the main ethnic groups of the Ottoman empire, the Armenians, to rise up against the Ottomans, in the eastern part of the empire. We were individuals who operated in a fairly violent fashion, Armenian terrorist gangs. Let us be honest. I am almost hesitant to go out on a limb when I say these things because I know that there could well be reprisals against people who speak. There have been within our own country. There were assassinations in our own country back in the 80s and in places around the world by Armenian terrorist gangs. That does not make me feel really comfortable, even here, speaking today on such a matter.

These Armenian terrorists back at that time intensified their actions. There were sporadic clashes between the Muslim and Armenian settlements in Turkey. Then when the Russian army invaded eastern Anatolia in 1915 those Armenian terrorist gangs, side by side with the Russian army, started launching systematic attacks against the Ottoman troops, but also against their civilian Muslim fellow countrymen. In addition to those attacks, the Armenian gangs also assisted the Russians by cutting supply lines of the Ottoman army, which was fighting with an invading force.

Under those circumstances the Ottoman government decided to relocate the Armenians who were living in that war theatre to other provinces in the empire. The rationale for that decision was two-fold: to prevent the inter-communal massacres, to keep these two conflicting communities apart, and to cut the support extended by those Armenian towns to the Russians.

During the period in discussion there were hostilities, famine, ailments, banditry and so on. It heavily affected all those communities in eastern Anatolia.

Innocent civilians lost their lives during that migration which took place under some very difficult winter conditions and those are the consequences of a war of unprecedented magnitude. But neither the distress of the Turks nor the Armenians should be solely singled out. It was a tragic and sad time in the course of history. These painful experiences were only part of the tragedy to which the whole of the Anatolian population was subjected.

I could go on a great length, but I do want to allow some time for other members. I am rather concerned when I hear genocide kind of statements that we have around the world. Generally we are going after somebody to prosecute them in the criminal courts in the international tribunals at the Hague or wherever. I am not exactly sure, even if this were to pass today, who we would be prosecuting or going after.

Another concern is when this is passed in other countries. It is interesting in noting the countries that have passed this; not the U.S., not the U.K., and not the United Nations. They have never passed a motion or resolution to this effect. Other countries may have had their own vested motions for doing so. In France, particularly, when as a result of passing a law somewhat to this effect, a lawsuit was brought against anybody who questioned that. A professor is now being sued because he differs with the Armenian perspective on this tragic time in history.

I am going to leave it there. I hope all members across the House, when they cast their ballot tomorrow, would recognize that often we have heard only one side of the story. There were Armenians trying to destabilize the empire at that time. They were collaborating with the orthodox Russians in the east. There were many tragic violent events occurring at the time. War is awful; war is ugly.

It is a mistake, though, at this time in history, so many years later, to be dragging that conflict here. We should leave those things to the historians to work out and to come to some agreement in terms of what the actual facts were. But there is not that clear agreement. The term genocide is far too strong a case to use in respect to what occurred--the tragic events that affect the Armenian community and likewise affect the Turkish community.

I rest my case and leave time for others at this point.

The Armenian PeoplePrivate Members' Business

6:40 p.m.

Bloc

Réal Ménard Bloc Hochelaga—Maisonneuve, QC

Mr. Speaker, I will start by thanking my colleague, the member for Laval Centre, for her initiative. There is something about this motion and the nature of the debate we are hearing that pleases me. I stayed for the first hour of debate in order to listen to my colleagues. I think our colleague is right to address the importance of historical rehabilitation. The motion we will be called to vote upon tomorrow is not in fact intended as any sort of accusation against anyone.

I have met with a number of members of the Turkish community, and I hope that the next time I travel it will be to Turkey. I know that the Turkish community includes some people who are just as peace-loving as the Armenians, the Quebeckers, the French, in fact anyone else living on this planet Earth.

It would, however, be a mistake not to want to recognize what happened during the years leading up to 1915 and in 1915 itself. This was a time for which the Turks of today have no need to feel responsible. We are well aware of their desire to engage in constructive and positive dialogue with the Armenians.

It was with the purpose of rehabilitating historical memory that Brian Mulroney apologized to the Japanese community. It was with the purpose of historic rehabilitation that the member for Charlesbourg—Jacques-Cartier and a senator from the other place, wrote a book on the commemoration of the Holocaust. It was in the name of this historical commemoration that the hon. member for Verchères—Les-Patriotes put forward a motion concerning the deportation of the Acadians. This does not mean that we want to rewrite history. It means that we want to take the time to remember that there was suffering and historical conditions that led to what we call a genocide.

The word “genocide” has a particular meaning in international law. It does not have the same meaning as “tragedy.” It certainly does not have the same meaning as “calamity,” the word the parliamentary secretary proposed. In this process of historical rehabilitation, we must remember and we must call things by their proper names.

Because we love peace, because we believe in a productive dialogue, because we value the Turkish community, I believe that tomorrow, all members of this House should do what Argentina, Belgium, Cyprus, France, Greece, Italy, Libya, Russia, Sweden, Switzerland, Uruguay, the Vatican and the European Parliament have done, which is to call for remembrance of the fact that 1.5 million Armenians lost their lives during a time of historical tension—the tension that prevailed at the beginning of the last century. We must remember that so as to avoid a similar event happening, and to make such an event impossible in the future.

I believe that the hon. member for Mercier, the Bloc Quebecois critic for foreign affairs, referred to this. It is even more important now, when the values of international solidarity and the concept of international justice have never been clearer. The United Nations was founded in San Francisco in 1945. In the Canadian delegation at San Francisco were two parliamentarians who served as Prime Minister of Canada, William Lyon Mackenzie King and Louis Stephen Saint Laurent.

The Armenian PeoplePrivate Members' Business

6:40 p.m.

An hon. member

Joe Clark

The Armenian PeoplePrivate Members' Business

6:40 p.m.

Bloc

Réal Ménard Bloc Hochelaga—Maisonneuve, QC

The former prime minister and right hon. member for Calgary was too young, of course, to have been a member of the delegation, but that does not detract at all from his great international credibility.

I want to say that, in 1945, when we adopted the Charter of the United Nations, the San Francisco bylaws included the idea of an international court of justice.

Closer to home, there is this idea of an international criminal court. How important is this and what does it mean to have such instruments if, as parliamentarians, on a more national scale, we are not able to recall the facts that must be recalled for what they are, without any complacency, but to be constructive?

I do not believe that, when the member for Laval Centre introduced her motion, she intended once again to make accusations, stigmatize communities and make people bear a historic weight that is not theirs to bear.

We are well aware that all the conditions are in place for the current Turkish government to distance itself from the events that occurred at the time of the Ottoman empire and when, as was mentioned, modern Turkey, later founded by Mustafa Kemal Pacha Atatürk in 1923, did not even exist yet.

Once again, it is in the name of this ideal for peace. It is because we believe it is possible to build dialogues that the facts must be recalled.

Yesterday, I attended the book launch for the member for Charlesbourg—Jacques-Cartier, who stressed the importance of remembering the Holocaust of 1945.

Does this mean that, by remembering the Holocaust, we think that the Germans are warmongers? Of course not. Does this mean that, when Brian Mulroney apologizes for the undeserved internment of certain members of the Japanese community, that Canadians are warmongers? Of course not.

We refuse, as parliamentarians, to cross that line. Some people are saying that, if we recognize the 1915 genocide, we will stigmatize groups. That is not our intention. That is not the intention of the member for Laval Centre. So, for all these reasons, tomorrow we must support the motion by the member for Laval Centre.

The Armenian PeoplePrivate Members' Business

6:50 p.m.

The Speaker

Because the hon. member for Hochelaga—Maisonneuve has finished his speech, the hon. member for Laval Centre now has the right to reply. She has five minutes.

The Armenian PeoplePrivate Members' Business

6:50 p.m.

Bloc

Madeleine Dalphond-Guiral Bloc Laval Centre, QC

Mr. Speaker, it is with considerable emotion that I rise to close this second hour of debate on recognition of the Armenian genocide of 1915.

Part of the reason for that emotion is this opportunity to be able to share with you the respect I feel for the Armenian people and their remarkable tenacity in demanding recognition of this genocide, despite the pressure of often dubious socio-political imperatives. Their attachment to their identity and history is an example to us all.

On several occasions since 1993, the debate on the genocide of 1915 has been brought to the attention of the members of the House of Commons, yet only one debate has ever been sanctioned by a vote. It was on a motion by a Bloc Quebecois member, Michel Daviault, on April 23, 1996, during an opposition day when the Bloc was the official opposition. The text of his motion was as follows:

That this House recognize, on the occasion of the 81st anniversary of the Armenian genocide that took place on April 24, 1915, the week of April 20 to 27 of each year as the week to commemorate man's inhumanity to man.

After much debate, the motion on which the House finally voted referred not to recognition of the Armenian genocide, but merely the Armenian tragedy. The support was unanimous . Some saw this as a step in the right direction, but others just saw it as better than nothing.

SInce the beginning of the 37th Parliament, this is the fourth time we have had an opportunity to debate this important matter, and I am delighted that the vote on this motion takes place precisely during what is called, and I repeat the wording of the motion of April 23, 2996, “the week of man's inhumanity to man”. This is, in fact, the first time we will have the opportunity to take a clear stand by voting in favour of this recognition of history. By supporting Motion M-380, we will be adopting as our own this thought of Étienne Gilson on the meaning of history:

We do not study history to get rid of it but to save from nothingness all the past which, without history, would vanish into the void. We study history so that what, without it, would not even be the past any more, may be reborn to life in this unique present outside which nothing exists.

It is high time that this Parliament joined the many parliaments—and not minor ones—that have recognized the Armenian genocide, as has the Senate of Canada, which, on June 13, 2002, passed a motion by Senator Shirley Maheu recognizing the Armenian genocide. I am pleased to point out as well that in December 2003, the National Assembly of Quebec unanimously passed a bill proclaiming April 24 as Armenian Genocide Memorial Day.

How can we explain that a country like Canada, so proud of its values of compassion and justice, prefers to use a euphemism instead of having the courage to call a spade a spade?

The Armenian genocide was the first genocide of the 20th century, but unfortunately it was not the only one. A number of historians describe the 20th century as the century of genocide. If we consider the situation in Sudan at this moment, it appears that we have not finished learning from the past.

Now that the world has become a global village, it is important to recognize that we all share in the responsibilities. As Mr. Robert Kocharian, Prime Minister of the Republic of Armenia put it so well, on March 24, 1998:

The genocide was not the tragedy of the Armenian people alone, but a tragedy for all of humanity.

As I finish this brief speech, I would like to say how much I want to see this House show the courage of its convictions. On April 24 this year, the Armenian genocide will mark its 89th anniversary. As for myself, I will be leaving politics soon. Nothing could make me happier than if, before I finish my mandate, I could have contributed in my own way to presenting the Armenian people with the best gift of all: recognition of its history.

Émile Henriot wrote:

The dead live on in the memories of those they leave behind.

Each and every one of us has the duty to remember. Thank you for your support and for the solidarity you will show to the Armenian people in the vote on Motion M-380.

The Armenian PeoplePrivate Members' Business

6:55 p.m.

The Speaker

It being 6:56 p.m., the time provided for this debate has now expired. The question is on the motion. Is it the pleasure of the House to adopt the motion?

The Armenian PeoplePrivate Members' Business

6:55 p.m.

Some hon. members

Agreed.

The Armenian PeoplePrivate Members' Business

6:55 p.m.

Some hon. members

No.

The Armenian PeoplePrivate Members' Business

6:55 p.m.

The Speaker

All those in favour of the motion will please say yea.

The Armenian PeoplePrivate Members' Business

6:55 p.m.

Some hon. members

Yea.

The Armenian PeoplePrivate Members' Business

6:55 p.m.

The Speaker

All those opposed will please say nay.

The Armenian PeoplePrivate Members' Business

6:55 p.m.

Some hon. members

Nay.

The Armenian PeoplePrivate Members' Business

6:55 p.m.

The Speaker

In my opinion the nays have it.

And more than five members having risen:

The Armenian PeoplePrivate Members' Business

6:55 p.m.

The Speaker

Pursuant to Standing Order 93 the division stands deferred until April 21, 2004, just before private members' business.

Avian FluEmergency Debate

April 20th, 2004 / 6:55 p.m.

The Speaker

The House will now proceed to the consideration of a motion to adjourn the House for the purpose of discussing a specific and important matter requiring urgent consideration, namely, the avian flu.