By David Ljunggren
OTTAWA (Reuters) – The Canadian Parliament on Wednesday ignored long-standing government policy and angered Turkey by formally declaring that Ottoman Turks committed genocide against Armenians in 1915.
The House of Commons voted 153-68 to support a motion declaring the events of 90 years ago as genocide, despite a plea from Foreign Minister Bill Graham not to aggravate NATO ally Turkey.
Armenians say some 1.5 million of their people were deliberately slaughtered by Ottoman Turks between 1915 and 1923. Turkey denies the charges of genocide, saying the Armenians were among the many victims of a partisan war raging during World War One as the Ottoman Empire collapsed.
Graham quickly issued a statement after the vote stressing the motion would not alter Ottawa’s official policy, which is that while the events of 1915 were a tragedy, they did not constitute genocide.
Our “position on this issue … has not changed. Canada has had friendly and cooperative relations with Turkey and Armenia for many years. The Canadian government is committed to make these relationships even stronger in the future,” he said.
But the result looked certain to harm ties with Turkey and represented a sound defeat for the government, which had instructed Cabinet members to vote “no.”
Before the vote, Graham sent a letter to Liberal lawmakers saying he was “deeply concerned that it (the motion) could have far-reaching negative consequences” for Turkey and the region.
“We must recognize we must have good relations with our NATO colleague in Turkey … (which) is a very important NATO ally that we work with closely in many areas, including Afghanistan,” he told reporters.
Despite his efforts, no less than 75 Liberal legislators voted for the resolution. In recent years, parliaments in more than a dozen countries — including France, Russia and Switzerland — have adopted similar motions.
Ankara has fought hard to block attempts to press for international recognition of the events as a genocide.
“Certainly, relations with Canada will suffer as the result of adopting such a motion,” Turkish Embassy counselor Fazli Corman told Reuters, citing the example of Canadian companies seeking to sign contracts in Turkey.
France’s parliament backed the Armenian case in 2001, prompting Turkey to freeze official visits to France and temporarily block French companies from entering lucrative defense contracts.
The U.S. Congress dropped a similar resolution in 2000 after the White House warned it would harm U.S. security interests in the Middle East. (Additional reporting by Randall Palmer in Ottawa)