ICTJ in the News

May 8, 2006

Turkey Recalls Envoys Over Armenian Genocide

CTV News Net

Turkey has recalled its envoys to Canada and France in protest of a decision by both countries to recognize the massacres of hundreds of thousands of Armenians during the early 20th century as genocide.

 
Osman Korutuk, Turkey's ambassador to France, and Aydemir Erman, the ambassador in Ottawa, will be recalled "for a short time for consultations over the latest developments about the baseless allegations of Armenian genocide," in the two countries, said Turkey's Foreign Ministry spokesman Namik Tan.

They will return to their posts following the consultations, he added.

The move comes amid mounting international pressure for Ankara to recognize the deaths of an estimated 1.5 million Armenians during 1915 and 1923, as genocide

The trial came at a particularly sensitive time for the nation, which recently joined EU membership talks and continues to draw criticism for human rights and laws that stifle freedom of speech.

The European Union has said Turkey's bid to seek membership could be hindered by the claims of genocide.

Both the International Center for Transitional Justice and the Association of Genocide Scholars have recognized the massacre as genocide, as has the United Nations Sub-Commission on Prevention of Discrimination and Protection of Minorities.

In 1985, the UN agency listed cases of genocide in the 20th century, among those "the Ottoman massacre of Armenians in 1915-1916."

"There's no doubt that there was the intention to destroy the Armenian national group in the territory that was known as Turkey in 1915. This does not mean that the Turkish people today should bear the burden except to the extent that they deny it happened," Concordia University history professor Frank Chalk told CTV Newsnet.

"And one of the strange things is that the Turkish army and intelligence department that really are the powers behind the Turkish government insist on maintaining the denial as a matter of Turkish honour," said Chalk, who is with the Montreal Institute for Genocide and Human Rights Studies.

But Turkey has long upheld a position of denial, saying the mass killings were not a systemic genocide, but part of broader ethnic clashes as Armenians sided with Russia during the First World War.

Turkey recently criticized Prime Minister Stephen Harper after he said his government continued to recognize motions adopted by the Canadian senate and parliament acknowledging that the genocide took place.

Canada recognized the genocide in a 2004 private member's bill in the House of Commons.

Turkey has also recently warned France not to pass a draft law which would make denial of the Armenian genocide a crime subject to a one-year jail term and a 45,000-euro (more than $63,000 Cdn) fine.

When French legislators formally recognized the Armenian genocide in 2001, Turkey cancelled millions of dollars worth of defence contracts.

The Turkish news media have also speculated that Canadian and French companies would be barred from bidding on the construction of a planned nuclear power plant which Turkey hopes to build in the Black Sea coastal town of Sinop.

Several other countries, including Argentina, Poland, and Russia, have declared the killings a genocide, and there is strong pressure from Armenians worldwide for the U.S. Congress to recognize the massacres as genocide as well.

In the past few years, a few lone Turkish voices have joined international critics in condemnation of Ankara's position.

The country's best-known and internationally acclaimed novelist Orhan Pamuk went on trial on charges of insulting his country's national character after he told a Swiss newspaper that Turkey was unwilling to deal with two of the most painful episodes in its recent history: the massacre of Armenians and recent guerrilla fighting in Turkey's overwhelmingly Kurdish southeast.

In January, a Turkish court dropped those criminal charges against Pamuk, who is an often-mentioned candidate for the Nobel Prize in literature, but the nationalist lawyer who pushed for the trial has said he would appeal the court decision.

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