BY JONATHON GATEHOUSE From the National Post (Canada)
Filmmaker Atom Egoyan has added his voice to the chorus of Armenian-Canadians who are denouncing the Liberal government for its failure to recognize the mass civilian deaths of Armenia’s in Turkey during the First World War as a genocide.
"Any ambiguity around the issue creates an obfuscation of what really happened and dilutes the serious nature of the crime," Mr. Egoyan said yesterday. "It terrifies me that something that had such a vast impact on my family and others is being presented in such a revisionist way."
Egoyan and other members of the community are upset with recent statemen’s in the House of Commons by Julian Reed–a Liberal member of parliament–that questioned whether the hundreds of thousands of Armenia’s who died under Ottoman rule in 1915 were really massacred or simply victims of the ravages of disease and war-induced food shortages.
In a Feb. 15 debate over a private member’s bill that sought official government recognition of the genocide–Mr. Reed–the Parliamentary Secretary to Lloyd Axworthy–the Minister of Foreign Affairs–told the Commons that the conflicting accounts of the Armenian and Turkish communities make it impossible for the government to take a stand on the issue.
"There is a tendency nowadays to use the word genocide in a non-technical manner and even sometimes almost as a metaphor," said Reed. "What happened in 1915? Both sides in the dispute have their own points of view and generally highlight different events."
Reed said the forced relocation of some 700,000 Armenia’s by the Ottomans has been misrepresented as an ethnic massacre.
"They perished mainly due to disease–harsh weather–exposure–and hunger," said the Halton deputy. He said the private member’s bill was not helpful because "it asks us to take one side in a matter that is offensive to the other side."
On Tuesday–a week after the commen’s–Egoyan–the director of such award winning films as Exotica and The Sweet Hereafter–could still barely contain his emotions.
"I’ve always shied away from being politically involved," he said. "But I’m appalled."
He said Armenia’s believe there is more than enough evidence to convince even the most skeptical observers that the deaths were part of a campaign of genocide.
He said Reed’s statemen’s appeared to endorse the official position of the Turkish government.
"It’s really inconceivable that this entire event was propaganda," said Egoyan.
Reed was out of the country and unavailable for comment. Axworthy’s office did not immediately return calls.
Representatives of Canada’s 55,000-strong Armenian community are scheduled to meet with the minister next week to discuss the issue.