By Scott Taylor / On Target

The Chronicle Herald, Halifax, Nova Scotia
May 15 2006

http://thechronicleherald.ca/Opinion/503696. html

AS THIS IS obviously an incredibly sensitive issue, I wish to state
from the outset that I have close contact and a good relationship with
a number of senior Turkish officials. Turkish intelligence officers
successfully negotiated my release from the hands of Iraqi insurgents
in September 2004 and, having visited the Turkish residency in Ottawa
on numerous occasions, I consider Ambassador Aydemir Erman a personal
friend. The fact that Erman has temporarily been recalled to Ankara
in protest over comments made by Prime Minister Stephen Harper has
hit close to home. I believe the recent statement made by Harper
concerning the Armenian tragedy of 1915 was not only damaging to
Turkish-Canadian relations, but unnecessary.

Two years ago, Bloc MP Madeleine Dalphond-Guiral brought forward
a bill condemning the mass deportation of Armenians from eastern
Anatolia during the First World War that resulted in the death of
hundreds of thousands. According to the bill, it was genocide on the
part of the Ottoman Empire.

While some may wonder why Canadian parliamentarians would spend their
time passing judgment on events 90 years ago in the Middle East,
Bill M-380 was passed on April 21, 2004, after a free vote in the
House of Commons.

The Turkish government voiced its opposition and offered up its
own version of events. While not denying that the Armenians died
in droves, the Turks pointed out that in 1915, eastern Anatolia was
being threatened by Czarist Russian troops, the Ottoman Empire was
crumbling and Armenian nationalists chose to rise up in open revolt.

The forced relocation of the potentially hostile Armenian
population into northern Iraq and Syria was undertaken by an Ottoman
administration so cash-strapped and inept that 80,000 Turkish troops
died that year on the Russian front from frostbite and starvation.

The Armenians claim the resultant death of their refugees was genocide,
while the Turks say it was a regrettable tragedy exacerbated by brutal
wartime conditions.

Realizing that Bill M-380 was an impediment to Canadian-Turkish
relations, the cabinet of then-prime minister Jean Chretien voted
against the motion and the bill was considered non-binding.

In the interim, the Turkish government has proposed a joint commission
of historians from Armenia and Turkey to attempt to thoroughly
re-examine the past to determine a "true" account of the 1915
tragedy. Although modern Turkey was founded in 1923 from the ashes
of the Ottoman Empire, the actions of the former ruling Caliphate
leadership still affects the nationalist psyche of the Turks. For
this reason, Turkey has agreed to reopen the archives and share the
documentation with the Armenians. Surprisingly, the Armenians have
yet to agree to participate in the study.

Nevertheless, on April 18, Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip
Erdogan forwarded a letter to Stephen Harper urging him to support
the study. Instead, Harper reaffirmed his support of M-380 at a press
conference the next day. Somewhat prophetically, Erdogan had written
warning Harper that "the Armenian lobby has not given up its intention
to create problems in Turkish-Canadian relations."

Although the prime minister's official website only briefly displayed
Harper's statement concerning M-380, Armenian-Canadian websites
continue to post the comments. Turkey responded by temporarily
recalling Erman and withdrawing from a NATO fighter jet exercise
in Alberta.

While these actions may seem harmless and petty, remember that Turkey
is a key NATO ally and a vital partner to the mission in Afghanistan.

More importantly, if Stephen Harper is anxious to mend fences with
the U.S. State Department, he should have consulted their position
on the issue. The U.S. does not insist on using the word "genocide"
and is prepared to wait for the study's results. As a secular
Muslim democracy that recognizes Israel, Turkey is the cornerstone
to America's Middle East policies. Maintaining good relations with
Ankara is a high priority for the U.S.

Closer to home, the fanatical elements of the Armenian nationalists
have not always resorted to diplomatic measures to bring attention to
their cause. In 1982, an Armenian assailant gunned down the Turkish
military attache, and in 1985 the Turkish ambassador narrowly escaped
when Armenian gunmen forced their way into the official residence.

Historical records are all too often written by the victors at the
expense of the vanquished. However, in the case of the Ottomans and
Armenians, both sides lost that war and suffered terrible casualties.

Clarification of this tragedy needs to be addressed by historians
examining the facts, not politicians appeasing a lobby group.

Canada's current relations with a vital ally and trading partner should
have taken precedence over passing judgment on a 90-year-old incident.
From: Baghdasarian