Memory of 1915 atrocity continues to divide Armenians and Turks

'It happened during very difficult years...'

Historically Toronto’s Armenian and Turkish communities have lived together in harmony. But the one issue that sets them apart is an atrocity that is alleged to have taken place during the carnage of the First World War.

To this day the Armenian genocide is considered a controversial subject between Armenians and Turks, and it continues to divide them even in Toronto, thousands of miles, and 92 years removed.

This year marks the 92nd anniversary of the Armenian genocide, and it is being commemorated around Canada from April 22-26.

On April 24, 1915, Ottoman Turks committed a campaign of what they called “relocation”, where 1.5-million Armenians were taken from their homeland and either killed or displaced. Modern day Turkey refuses to accept the events as such saying that they were not targeting Armenians indiscriminately.

Most Turkish-Canadians follow Ankara’s stance in denying the fact that slaughter ever occurred. But Armenian-Canadians, and some governments around the world, believe that it was the first documented case of genocide of the 20th century. Canada is one of over 20 nations that have officially recognized this incident.

Harper acknowledges ’sombre anniversary’

In 2004, the House of Commons voted in favour of a motion that made an official recognition condemning the Turks for their acts as “a crime against humanity”.

The move caused some tension between Canada and Turkey, especially after Prime Minister Stephen Harper’s 2006 acknowledgement of the event as a “sombre anniversary” for the Canadian people.

Nedim Duzenli, President of the Federation of Canadian Turkish Associations, disagrees with the Canadian government’s approach to addressing this issue.

“Historically it is not true … genocide is a legal term by the United Nations,” Duzenli said. “There was no genocide … it happened during very difficult years.”

The whole incident occurred during the First World War, a long time before the United Nations came into existence and genocide prevention became international law.

Raffi Sarkissian, a youth representative for the Armenian National Committee of Toronto, believes that the Turkish government doesn’t admit to the killing because they are afraid of the cost.

Afraid to face retribution

“Turkey’s fear is that they would have to pay retribution.” Sarkissian said. “Just like any other genocide there is retribution … that’s why they continue to deny.”

The ANCT works to raise awareness about the genocide by educating citizens and politicians in Ontario. They also work with other cultural organizations in the community putting together a commemoration every year.

“There’s going to be a lot of individuals from different community centres coming, representing the Cypriots and the Kurds and a variety of others.” Sarkissian said.

As President of a Turkish-Canadian umbrella organization, Duzenli deals with issues pertaining to Turks across the country. They are a community that’s not afraid to voice their dissent about any particular matter, especially when it comes to dealing with the Armenians refusal to let history go unnoticed.

“They have their political agenda and they’ve been doing this for 50 years,” Duzenli said.

In the GTA there will be events taking place throughout the week. The commemoration starts on Sunday, April 22 at the Armenian Community Centre in Scarborough, and ends with a vigil at Queen’s Park in Toronto on Thursday, April 26.