Turkey’s ambassador to Canada says the [Canadian Prime Minister] Harper government’s decision to brand the killing of Armenians by Ottoman Turks as genocide may be hindering a potentially lucrative trading relationship, CTV News reports.
Ambassador Tuncay Babali made clear in a wide ranging interview with The Canadian Press that Canada’s position on the First World War-era slaughter of an estimated 1.5 million Armenians still carries a sting for his country.
But that doesn’t mean Turkey doesn’t want to press on with forging a deeper economic relationship with Canada, ideally a free trade agreement to compliment the current Canada-EU free trade talks once they are completed, he said.
“I’m a true believer in the potential of our two nations. Canada has a lot to offer Turkey and Turkey in return has a lot to offer Canada,” said Babali, noting that Canada’s internal Foreign Policy Plan has identified Turkey as a key country of focus.
“It cannot be business as usual while accusing a nation of genocide. It’s a serious allegation. It needs to be substantiated, legally, historically.”
Babali said he suspects Canada is not engaging as quickly as Turkey would like because the genocide issue is still hanging over relations.
“There is a pacing issue here,” he said. “We want results. We want action. We want concrete steps forward. Talking about positive things is ok, but it takes two to tango.”
The $2.5 billion in two-way trade between countries “is far from the potential” of what Turkey predicts would result from deeper economic ties: $10-$15 billion within five years, he said.
He said Turkey would like to open free trade talks with Canada.
But on the genocide question, Babali said Turkey would like to see a gesture from Canada that the government is “trying to leave this behind us.”
A significant gesture would be a “high level” visit by Foreign Affairs Minister John Baird to Turkey. Baird cancelled a planned trip in November, Babali said, because of an important cabinet meeting in Ottawa.
Babali praised the efforts of Baird for mending fences with Turkey, including the personal friendship he has forged with his counterpart, Ahmet Davutolu, who visited Canada this past September.
“We have good room to manoeuvre here after our minister’s visit. But it takes two to tango,” he said.
“If there is a political will from the Canadian side to move forward and improve our relations further, to live up to the promise and potential, we need concrete steps.”
Canada’s Parliament voted in 2004 to recognize the events of 1915 to 1923 as a genocide carried out by Ottoman Turks..
The Harper government formally adopted that position after winning power, a decision that angered Ankara and sparked the temporary withdrawal of its ambassador from Ottawa.
Turkey has lobbied hard internationally to block the genocide designation, although many other countries have used the term.