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Canadian Senate Debate

Recognition and Commemoration of Armenian Genocide

The debate took place betwwen the dates of March 27th 2001 and June 13th 2002.

"As I stated earlier, there is overwhelming evidence that Ottoman authorities deliberately attempted to eradicate the Armenian people from lands they had occupied for almost 3,000 years. This is defined as a genocide."

"The deniers claim that there was a civil war in which both Turks and Armenians were killed, that the Armenians were rebelling against the authorities, which caused the fighting and the deaths. Faced with the evidence, they admit that there were some deportations but that only 300,000 people died. In other words, deny what happened, distort what happened and blame the victims."

"Why this recognition now, after 85 years? It is because the denial of the historical record continues, and the act of denial is a continuation of the genocide itself. It will not allow people to mourn and move on." Hon. Shirley Maheu

"For these reasons, I point to the disappearance at the hands of the Turks of members of five of my grandfather's brothers and three of my mother's brothers."

"Honourable senators, it is because humanity is far from being safe from a repetition of this massacre that it is all the more important that the massacre be recognized."
 Hon. Raymond C. Setlakwe

"Did the Armenian genocide actually happen? One cannot dispute the overwhelming historical evidence that the Armenian genocide did, in fact, occur. This horrific tragedy happened and has been confirmed by eyewitness accounts, by the initial political settlement of World War I and by subsequent academic studies."

"As Canadians, when confronted with a clear violation of such fundamental human rights, we must ask ourselves these two simple questions: Does Canada put a price on the value of human life? Are the fleeting economic and political benefits gained by refusing to formally recognize the genocide worth sacrificing our fundamental principles?"

"Of course, there is trade between Canada and Turkey, and Turkey is also a member of NATO. Those are important economic and political considerations, but should they prevent us from following the underlying spirit of the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms and the Universal Declaration of Human Rights? Should we close our eyes to the most serious of all crimes against humanity for the sake of an indeterminate amount of money or ill-defined geopolitical considerations? How large must the profit margins be in order to persuade Canada to forgo its principles?" Hon. Serge Joyal:

"My conclusion, honourable senators, is that nationalism married to religion always seems to activate the rawest nerves, instigates hate, defining, dividing and distorting the human condition. Memory and history require that first the truth be told so that the human condition can be exposed to this flaw of hatred, the roots of genocide, the human condition so often and so easily injected by greater calls of nationalism and religion."  Senator Grafstein:

"Citizens of Turkey who have dared to discuss it over the years are strongly encouraged to forget about it. The Government of Turkey is in a perpetual state of denial about it. This is state policy. The events that pitted the Turkish forces against Armenians in 1915 resulted in catastrophic acts of genocide. The facts are well known. Some Turkish scholars admit the facts. These scholars now declare that it is factually correct to say that unchecked Turkish nationalism caused the death of more than 600,000 Armenians in fewer than 10 months."

"Rewriting history has often been a state policy. Many totalitarian governments have promoted half-truths and lies to prop up the sagging popularity or to fortify national myths that serve to consolidate internal support for the government of the day."
 Hon. Isobel Finnerty:


Recognition and Commemoration of Armenian Genocide - Tuesday, March 27, 2001

Recognition and Commemoration of Armenian Genocide - Notice of Motion

Hon. Shirley Maheu: Honourable senators, I give notice that on Thursday, March 29, 2001, I will move a resolution on the recognition and commemoration of the Armenian genocide.

Thursday, March 29, 2001

Hon. Shirley Maheu, pursuant to notice of March 27, 2001, moved:
That this House:

(a) Calls upon the Government of Canada to recognize the genocide of the Armenians and to condemn any attempt to deny or distort a historical truth as being anything less than genocide, a crime against humanity.

(b) Designates April 24th of every year hereafter throughout Canada as a day of remembrance of the 1.5 million Armenians who fell victim to the first genocide of the twentieth century.

She said: Honourable senators, I rise today to discuss a very serious matter: the genocide perpetrated against the Armenian people by the Government of the Ottoman empire between 1915 and 1918. I know that many senators may already be aware of the history, but for those who are not, a short recap is in order.

[Translation]

An 1882 census showed that, at the time, there were approximately 2.6 million Armenians living in the Ottoman Empire. Ottoman authorities feared that Armenians would demand their independence, just like Greece, Bulgaria and Romania had done a few decades earlier.

To solve the Armenian issue, the Ottoman government decided to completely exterminate the Armenian people living on the land that they had been occupying for over 3,000 years.

On April 24, 1915, Ottoman authorities arrested and executed over 2,300 intellectuals and leaders of the Armenian community living around the imperial capital of Istanbul. In the absence of Armenian political leaders, the Ottoman government announced the deportation of all Armenians living in the interior. Since all young men had already been conscripted into the imperial army because of the Great War, the Armenians who were deported were mostly women, children and old people.

[English]

Secret orders were sent to provincial governors to organize the complete massacre of all Armenians living in those regions. Armenian men conscripted in the Ottoman army were murdered by their own Ottoman Turkish commanding officers. Most of the civilian population was either immediately put to death by death squads or killed en route to destination.

Forced to walk hundreds of kilometres with few belongings and no food or water, the survivors of these long "death marches" finally reached Syria, where they were received and helped by the local Arab population and Western missionaries.

Of the 2.6 million Armenians living in the Ottoman Empire before the genocide, only 400,000 remained in what became the Republic of Turkey, mostly in areas around Istanbul. Some 200,000 escaped to Eastern Armenia, a territory later annexed by the Soviet Union. The remaining 500,000 survivors found refuge in France and in the Middle East - Syria, Lebanon and Cyprus. Many eventually moved on to Western Europe, South America, the United States and Canada, creating the Armenian Diaspora that we know today.

As I stated earlier, there is overwhelming evidence that Ottoman authorities deliberately attempted to eradicate the Armenian people from lands they had occupied for almost 3,000 years. This is defined as a genocide.

In order to understand what we are talking about, Article II of the UN Convention on the Prevention of Punishment of the Crime of Genocide of December 11, 1948, defines a genocide as:

...any of the following five acts committed with intent to destroy, in whole or in part, a national, ethnical, racial or religious group, as such:

(a) Killing members of the group;

(b) Causing serious bodily or mental harm to members of that group;

(c) Deliberately inflicting on the group conditions of life calculated to bring about its physical destruction in whole or in part;

(d) Imposing measures intended to prevent births within the group;

(e) Forcibly transferring children of the group to another group.

Only one of these acts is necessary to consider events as a genocide. The historical evidence shows that the Armenians were subjected to at least four of these five acts between 1915 and 1918.

Despite huge amounts of documentary evidence, including German and Ottoman archival sources, and despite the recorded testimonies of the survivors of the massacres and published reports from foreign missionaries as well as diplomatic personnel stationed in the Ottoman Empire at the time, the Government of Turkey today denies that any of these things ever took place.

The deniers claim that there was a civil war in which both Turks and Armenians were killed, that the Armenians were rebelling against the authorities, which caused the fighting and the deaths. Faced with the evidence, they admit that there were some deportations but that only 300,000 people died. In other words, deny what happened, distort what happened and blame the victims.

[Translation]

Strangely, those who deny the historical truth do not have an answer to explain exactly who was leading the rebellion and who these rebels were, since the vast majority of young men had been conscripted into the Ottoman army and could therefore not take part in a rebellion or a civil war.

Given the figures provided by the census, they cannot explain where these 1.5 million people went in less than two and a half years.

[English]

(1640)

In the last few years, the Parliaments of many countries and two provincial governments, Quebec and Ontario, have chosen to recognize the Armenian genocide as a historical fact. France was the most recent to do so, in January 2001. Belgium, Greece, Italy, Germany and Sweden, as well as the European Parliament, have also recognized it.

Some governments, including Canada's, accept the historical evidence, including the deaths of 1.5 million people, but refrain from using the term "genocide" for fear of upsetting Turkey.

[Translation]

Canada's Armenian community now numbers close to 100,000 strong and these Canadian citizens are entitled to demand that their Parliament and their government acknowledge the reality of what happened to their ancestors.

When our European ancestors acknowledge the reality of the past, Canada has a duty to do likewise. Canada's reputation as a champion of human rights and freedoms is at stake. We need to shout out loud and clear that this crime against humanity is unacceptable, even 85 years after the fact.

[English]

Most important, we must recognize the Armenian genocide to show the world that one cannot get away with denial. If we allow the Armenian genocide to be denied today, will we allow Holocaust deniers to get away with such lies a few years from now?

Honourable senators, for over a century, Canada has been a peaceful and democratic home for millions of victims of racial discrimination and genocidal actions. It is my hope that Canada will not only inform and educate its people of past genocides, but also work toward the creation of an international system of justice that will prevent further genocides from happening.

Why this recognition now, after 85 years? It is because the denial of the historical record continues, and the act of denial is a continuation of the genocide itself. It will not allow people to mourn and move on.

The time is ripe for reconciliation. Today, Turkey is aspiring to join the European Union and must face its dark past in order to move forward toward the future. By adopting resolutions such as this one and by talking about this important issue, Canada encourages Turkish authorities to begin a real dialogue with Armenia and with the Armenian diaspora. This is the only way this issue will be resolved. Canada must encourage it.

As a friend and ally of Turkey, Canada must help her along this difficult path. By doing so, we are not hurting Turkey; we are helping her. As stated by Murat Acemoglu, of the Armenian Reporter International:

It is obvious that the Armenian Genocide Resolutions adopted across Europe have become a catalyst, not only to stimulate the debate in Turkish society but also to give a new fresh impetus to reconciliation efforts by the leftist forces and Ankara government as well, as we witnessed in the recent Istanbul conference on February 14 where the Turkish Foreign Minister took a conciliatory tone against Armenia.

After the First World War, the world failed to adequately recognize the ultimate evil that had occurred to the Armenians. By not denouncing what had happened and the perpetrators who were responsible, we left the door ajar for it to occur again. Unknowingly, by not saying anything at the time, we allowed that ultimate evil to reappear 20 years later, during World War II.

Some people, however, are better students of history than others. I want to read a quote from a person who was influential in the planning and execution of the Holocaust during the Second World War. In a speech to Nazi generals and German army commanders on August 22, 1939, the man said:

I have placed my death units in readiness with orders to them to send to death, mercilessly and without compassion, men, women and children of Polish derivation and language. Only thus shall we gain the living space which we need. Who, after all, speaks today of the annihilation of the Armenians?

The name of the man uttering these words was Adolf Hitler, speaking one month before invading Poland and sparking World War II. The answer to Hitler's rhetorical question must be "We do." We must say so strongly and unequivocally. To do otherwise, would be to invite others to do what the Ottoman government and the Nazis did.

[Translation]

Canadians of Armenian descent implore the Government of Canada not only to recognize and condemn the Armenian genocide, but also to speak out against any form of servitude, destruction or oppression of a people, a state or a nation. Moreover, the Armenian community hopes that the Government of Canada will condemn any attempt to deny, distort or minimize the facts of the genocide.

[English]

For a number of years, Armenians all over the world have commemorated the genocide on April 24 of each year.

[Translation]

With this resolution, we call upon Canada to recognize these days of terror with an official national day, this very date.

[English]

In conclusion, I hope that I was able to convince all my honourable colleagues that the Armenians have suffered for long years and continue to be haunted by cruel memories that are passed on from generation to generation - and it does affect other generations.

In order to break this sad pattern, it is time to recognize this destruction of a people and call it what it is - a genocide.

I thank honourable senators for their attention.

With your permission colleagues, after being advised that reading the preamble to my resolution would have been out of order, I ask permission to have the text appended to my debate.

The Hon. the Speaker: Is leave granted, honourable senators?

Hon. Senators: Agreed.

(For text of preamble, see Appendix, p. 524.)

[Translation]

Hon. Raymond C. Setlakwe: Honourable senators, I wish to express my support of the motion by the Honourable Senator Maheu, speaking out of sorrow, but also out of a desire to preserve a historical memory.

Jean d'Ormesson has written that a great family is one with traditions and with memories of its past. The great Armenian family is such a family.

For these reasons, I point to the disappearance at the hands of the Turks of members of five of my grandfather's brothers and three of my mother's brothers.

[English]

Armenians everywhere claim a recognition of this genocide by the Turkish government and a symbolic restitution. Had this been done before the Holocaust, Hitler would not have been able, as my colleague has just pointed out, to say in 1939, "Who remembers the Armenians?"

(1650)

Until this historic act of barbarism is recognized, the world and all Armenians will remember, and the words of the poet will ring true:

Out of the night that covers me,
Black as the Pit from pole to pole,
I thank whatever gods may be
For my unconquerable soul.

Honourable senators, I should like to quote from an article that appeared in the International Herald Tribune on March 14, 2001, in which Paul Glastris writes:

After more than 80 years, the public are coming around to the view that what the Armenians suffered was not a tragic wartime loss, but a deliberate genocide.

This shift is most obvious on the political front. About two decades ago, the Armenian diaspora began trying to persuade Western governments to pass resolutions acknowledging the genocide. Lobbyists funded by the Turkish government thwarted almost every attempt.

With opinion turning against the Turkish position, some former government officials in Turkey are advocating a new approach; convening a panel of scholars from around the world and giving them full access to all archives to look at the historical record.

Ending this dispute would help Turkey achieve its primary national goal: entry into the European Union. Not ending it would put Turkey on a collision course with nations that might pass Armenian genocide resolutions.

I would hope that Canada would soon be among those nations.

[Translation]

Here, in translation, is an extract from an editorial written by Robi Ronza, which appeared in Milan's Il Giornale.

A recent vote in the French parliament, subsequently supported by President Chirac, revived an issue which Europe cannot afford to forget: the first genocide of the 20th century, the genocide of the Armenians of Anatolia, carried out by the Turks in 1915. Europeans must adopt a firm attitude towards Turkey's obstinate denial of an extermination that cost many people - perhaps a million and a half, but at least 850,000 - their lives, and its refusal to conduct a just national examination of conscience in this regard. The genocide of the Armenians was the first genocide in the century which has just ended and we know that it was influential in Hitler's thinking when he conceived the idea of the Holocaust.

If, however, we compare Turkey's current attitude vis-à-vis this issue with all that Germany has said and done to recognize its faults and to compensate the survivors as well as the descendants of the victims of Nazi exterminations, we must conclude that present-day Turkey cannot aspire to enter the EU, not just because it is not a part of Europe, but also because, even today, it will not respect human rights and observe the democratic principles without which one cannot lay claim to the Western cultural heritage, even by affiliation.

However, we must demand that Turkey show this courage. It needs such courage if it wishes to establish and consolidate a special relationship with Europe, but it also needs it if it wishes to free itself of the burdensome heritage of the Kemal myth, which in reality is no longer helping it to become the country it aspires to be.

Honourable senators, it is because humanity is far from being safe from a repetition of this massacre that it is all the more important that the massacre be recognized. Africa and many other places in the world are threatened by this sort of barbaric behaviour, which leads to the annihilation of peoples.

[English]

Hon. John Lynch-Staunton (Leader of the Opposition): Honourable senators, I have a question to ask. If the honourable senator cannot answer, I would ask leave for Senator Maheu to answer.

I do not see what force this resolution will have if it is passed as it is presently written. The resolution asks that this house designate April 24, but the resolution will not have the force of law. Rather, it will be an expression of the majority of this house. I would think that the honourable senator would reinforce her intent if she asked the Parliament of Canada and sent such a motion over to the other place to have it ratified. If it is passed in both Houses, then it would have the force of law and be recognized legally. Otherwise, as it is written now and as I interpret it, it is really just an expression from this chamber. It will end here.

The Hon. the Speaker: Honourable senators, is leave granted to allow Senator Lynch-Staunton's question to Senator Maheu?

Hon. Senators: Agreed.

Senator Maheu: I thank the Honourable Senator Lynch-Staunton for his question. I was well aware that the Senate cannot make this resolution a law.

A private bill sponsored by the only Armenian member of Parliament, Mr. Sarkis Assadourian, is progressing through the House of Commons. Whether it is made votable is another point.

If we cannot have a date declared, then at least Canadians will be aware of what occurred. My hope is that when the Armenian community comes to Parliament Hill on April 24 to reflect upon this genocide, most Canadians will know that the day has been dedicated to them. Whether it be through law or not, the symbolic fact is essential.

Perhaps in helping Mr. Assadourian, we may have a positive influence on the members of the other place.

Hon. Consiglio Di Nino: Honourable senators, both Senator Prud'homme and Senator Wilson indicated to me that they wished to speak to this issue, as do I.

On motion of Senator Di Nino, debate adjourned.


Tuesday, April 3, 2001

Hon. Lois M. Wilson: Honourable senators, I speak in support of the motion of the Honourable Senator Maheu. For the survivor generation, it is inconceivable that the world would ever doubt what had occurred. Many articles and books appeared subsequently to document the events of 1915 to 1923 in Armenia. The U.S. Ambassador to Turkey from 1913 to 1916, in his 1918 published account, told what had transpired in the Ottoman capital during the deportation and massacres, the admissions and denials of Turkish officials, and specifically with relation to the Armenian genocide.

Arnold Toynbee, the distinguished historian, has written movingly and documented events in several books, one of which is called The Armenian Atrocities: the Murder of a Nation. In 1985, a permanent Peoples Tribunal, which has evolved from the tribunal established by Bertrand Russell, considered the case of the Armenian genocide during a sitting at the Sorbonne in Paris. The tribunal's verdict confirmed that the Armenians had been victims of genocide, that the crime was not subject to any statute of limitations, and that the United Nations and its member states should recognize the "reality of the genocide and take..." measures to mitigate its effects. The events, as documented by historians, scholars and witnesses, are consistent with the definition of "genocide" in article 2 of the Geneva Convention of 1946.

There have been numerous international affirmations of the Armenian genocide. The United Nations Economic, Social and Cultural Commission on Human Rights, in July 1985, declared as follows:

Toynbee stated that the distinguishing characteristics of the 20th century in evolving the development of genocide are that it is committed in cold blood by the deliberate fiat of holders of despotic political power, and that the perpetrators of genocide employ all the resources of present day technology and organization to make their planned massacres systematic and complete.

Among other examples of genocide, the document goes on to say, are the Nazi genocidal policy, the Ukrainian pogrom of Jews in 1919, the Tutsi massacres of Hutu in Burundi in 1965 and 1972, the Paraguayan genocide of Ache Indians prior to 1974, and the Khymer Rouge genocide in Kampuchea between 1975 and 1978. It would seem pedantic to argue that some terrible mass killings are not legalistically genocide, and just a "tragedy."

At least 1 million, and well over half of the Armenian population are reliably estimated by independent authorities and eye witnesses to have been killed or death marched. This is corroborated by reports in the United States, German and British archives, and of contemporary diplomats in the Ottoman Empire, including those of its ally, Germany. Though the successor Turkish government helped to institute trials of a few of those responsible for the massacres at which they were found not guilty, the present - that is, 1985 - official Turkish contention is that genocide did not take place, although there were many casualties and dispersal in the fighting and that all evidence to the contrary is forged. Yet one must say that even in Turkey there is now some dissent from this official view.

The Belgian Senate passed an Armenian genocide resolution in 1998. The French Parliament did the same in January 2001, leading Turkey to cancel an array of contracts with French companies. In the U.S.A., the Armenian National Institute bought the old National Bank building two blocks from the White House, with the aim of transforming it into a place that will preserve a memory.

The act of genocide is also supported by the Commission of the Churches on International Affairs of the World Council of Churches in 1984, a group that I chaired for some years. I met some of that committee when I was in Germany recently and we talked about this matter and they reaffirmed that position. They were also totally surprised that the authenticity of the historical genocidal event is still a matter of debate in Canada.

Let me say a world about my personal involvement in this issue. During 1980, when I was moderator of the United Church of Canada, many orphans of the 1950 genocide were brought to Canada under the care of my church, which safely stored their birth certificates for future use. They were called the Georgetown boys. In 1980, when they turned 65 and became eligible for Canadian pensions, I had the honour to give their own birth certificates back to them. I know some of these people and their history. I strongly support this motion and I hope the Senate does likewise.

On motion of Senator DeWare, for Senator Di Nino, debate adjourned.


Tuesday, April 24, 2001

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