Canada’s Response to the Armenian Genocide

While the contribution American and a number of European nations made to relieve the suffering of the victims of the Armenian Genocide is relatively well known, most people are less familiar with Canada's substantial response to the horrendous crime Turkey perpetrated against its Armenian minority from the late 19th century to the early '20s. Aram Adjemian's recent "The Call From Armenia: Canada's Response to the Armenian Genocide" goes a long way to rectify the situation by providing  hundreds of Canadian archival documents, newspaper articles, illustrations, advertisements, and photographs about Canada's response.

Adjemian (B.A., M.A.), who lives in Ottawa, specialized in political science, history, genocide and human rights studies at Concordia University in Montreal. He is Parliamentary Research Assistant to Senator Serge Joyal (P.C., O.C., O.Q.). "The Call From Armenia" was published by corridor books. Below are laudatory quotes from several prominent Canadians. 

While the contribution American and a number of European nations made to relieve the suffering of the victims of the Armenian Genocide is relatively well known, most people are less familiar with Canada's substantial response to the horrendous crime Turkey perpetrated against its Armenian minority from the late 19th century to the early '20s. Aram Adjemian's recent "The Call From Armenia: Canada's Response to the Armenian Genocide" goes a long way to rectify the situation by providing  hundreds of Canadian archival documents, newspaper articles, illustrations, advertisements, and photographs about Canada's response.

Adjemian (B.A., M.A.), who lives in Ottawa, specialized in political science, history, genocide and human rights studies at Concordia University in Montreal. He is Parliamentary Research Assistant to Senator Serge Joyal (P.C., O.C., O.Q.). "The Call From Armenia" was published by corridor books. Below are laudatory quotes from several prominent Canadians. 

“This interesting work sheds new light on one of modern history's oft forgotten catastrophes and serves as further evidence of Canadians’ enduring concern for human suffering around the world.”

Lieutenant-General, Honourable Roméo Dallaire (Ret’d)

“This is a compelling and original account of a forgotten chapter in Canada’s early days of foreign affairs.  It’s full of new information, and will certainly be a valuable addition to anyone studying this crucial period of history.”

Atom Egoyan, film director

“I found this book both fascinating and persuasive […] even the remote possibility of Canada accepting a League mandate to protect an Armenian republic has added to my repertoire of opportunities born and, more often, still-born in our nervous progress toward autonomous sovereignty […] the book has enriched my knowledge of a complex period in our national evolution.”

Prof. Desmond Morton, historian, author.

“I thoroughly enjoyed this book. The research is solid, and all the right sources were consulted. It is a good story to tell, one that has been neglected by historians […] This is an excellent account.”

Prof. John Meehan, historian, author.

PREFACE

Aram Adjemian, Ottawa

I am the product of genocide.

Practically all Armenians living in the diaspora share my fate. My grandparents were born and lived in Ottoman Empire villages that had been part of ancestral Armenian lands, before being uprooted in 1915. They and their families immigrated to Canada, my country of birth, over fifty years ago. I know few details of my family history; as is often the case for survivors of any genocide or mass atrocity, those who survive rarely relate their traumatic experiences in detail. I will relate the little I have pieced together in a separate section below.

The issue of trans-generational trauma is a phenomenon most often ascribed to descendants of victims of genocide, colonial suppression, slavery, political totalitarian control, and so on. It refers to the transfer of trauma from one generation to the next via complex mechanisms related to post-traumatic stress disorder. I am part of the third generation born after the genocide, but I don’t feel I exhibit any such trauma. However, powerful feelings of injustice inculcated throughout my youth account, in part, for my motivation to pursue academic interests in the field of comparative genocide studies and, ultimately, to write this book.

The goal of this publication is to inform Canadians about a historical topic about which they may know very little, but which their forebears from a century earlier almost certainly knew intimately: the story of the Canadian reaction to the Armenian genocide. This book explores the Canadian reaction to atrocities perpetrated on the Armenian people from the late nineteenth century to the 1920s. It is my hope that the present volume will add a uniquely Canadian perspective to the already substantial historical record of these events and will help curtail any efforts to confuse this shared history any further.

The manuscript will convey the close links that religious Canadians felt toward the Christian Armenian people of the Near East and reveal the many efforts they undertook to send relief to genocide-surviving Armenians. The Canadian reaction to the Armenian genocide was substantial, especially given the seeming distance between the two peoples, both geographically and culturally. These pages attempt to explain the objectives behind Canadians’ motivation to do. The book is particularly useful for those who have an interest in the topics of genocide or human rights studies, Canadian missionary involvement abroad and religious movements in Canada, and the early years of Canada’s Department of External Affairs.

I am thankful for the opportunity to publish this book for the 2015 commemorative centenary. I believe this book fills a void in the scholarship relating to the Canadian reaction to the Armenian genocide and sheds light on certain overlooked aspects of the early years of Canada’s Department of External Affairs. Moreover, my research brought together elements of my Canadian upbringing and Armenian ancestry and is thus a very satisfying personal accomplishment.

*****

My first foray into this domain was attending the first seminar on Genocide and Human Rights hosted by Toronto’s Zoryan Institute in 2002, an intensive two-week course taught by experts in the field, which has continued to be offered every summer since then. The course focused on the Armenian genocide as a point of reference for teaching about other genocides using a comparative, interdisciplinary approach. The lecturers included many experts from the field: Yair Auron, Lorne Shirinian, Taner Akçam, Vahakn Dadrian, Khachig Tololyan, Roger W. Smith, and Frank Chalk. Particularly memorable for me was a special visit by Major Brent Beardsley, who only eight years earlier had been personal assistant to the U.N. commanding general in Rwanda, Roméo Dallaire. Beardsley recounted his chilling personal story to our small class.

That same year, I met Vartkes Dolabjian, a private researcher who had been working on a paper to present at the biennial conference of the prominent International Association of Genocide Scholars (IAGS) in Galway, Ireland, in 2003. He recruited me to help with the writing and research and, ultimately, to present the paper at the prestigious conference. Vartkes’s support was instrumental in launching what I then thought would be my future career as a genocide scholar.

That same year I returned to full-time studies and was accepted in the master’s program in history at Concordia University. Frank Chalk, one of the world’s foremost genocide scholars, whose class on comparative genocide I had taken years earlier and who I met again at Zoryan’s summer program in 2002, became my thesis advisor. He specifically asked me to pursue this particular project when I approached him with a rather long list of possible thesis options.

The assassination of journalist Hrant Dink in early 2007, the chief editor of the bilingual (Armenian and Turkish) Istanbul newspaper Agos, dumbfounded many, including me. Here I was, cheerfully finishing up my thesis regarding an event that happened nearly a century ago, when I suddenly realized that this “past” I was immersed in had the potential of claiming victims, still. It was a rude awakening and a reminder that publications such as this one do matter and need to be disseminated.

Over the years I have attended, and occasionally presented at, genocide-related seminars and conferences whenever possible. Working on Parliament Hill since 2008 as a legislative and research assistant for Senator Serge Joyal, I have been privy to and have attended whenever possible meetings of the All-Party Parliamentary Group for the Prevention of Genocide and other Crimes against Humanity (chaired by Senator Roméo Dallaire until his recent retirement from politics, in 2014, and currently headed by Member of Parliament Paul Dewar). Although I am currently rather removed from the academic sphere, my job on the Hill fortunately, for the most part, keeps me on my toes. Working in the beautiful High Victorian Gothic style of Parliament Hill’s East Block building—which houses offices previously occupied by John A. Macdonald, George-Étienne Cartier, and every prime minister until Pierre Trudeau—keeps me physically close to these “spirits” of Canadian history. Most recently I submitted an entry on the Canadian reaction to the Armenian genocide for the newly published The Armenian Genocide: The Essential Reference Guide (ed. Alan Whitehorn, ABC-CLIO, March 2015).

There is an interesting sidebar to my paternal lineage (related at the end of this book) and their arrival in Canada: several of them were featured in an early National Film Board of Canada (NFB) short documentary film. Pour quelques arpents de neige was prepared by early stalwarts of the NFB’s French Unit: filmmaker and producer Fernand Dansereau (producer), French director and cinematographer George Dufaux (director), and the ubiquitous Québécois intellectual Jacques Godbout (director). The documentary film features newly arrived immigrants who rode the train to Montreal from Halifax, Nova Scotia, where their ship had docked at the renowned seaport immigration facility of Pier 21. My aunt and grandfather were the only people interviewed in the documentary film, presumably because they were francophone.

2 comments
  1. Great Folkdancer too

    This book is a great source and scholarly work for understanding what was happening in Canada at the time. It is wonderful to have Aram's young family join and lead the OttaHye community… not only in our folk dances.
    CONGRATULATIONS, Aram,

  2. Canada’s Response to the Armenian Genocide

    We wish to thank Aram Adjemian "The Call From Armenia" on Canada's response to the Armenian Genocide. We hope Armenians in the United States will continue to push Washington to recognize the well-documented Armenian Genocide of 1915-1923 when the Turks massacred 2 million Armenians, forced one million to become Moslem and a million who fled to other lands for safety.

    Aram's book and any book written on the Genocide should be donated to government officials to give them a background on what Christian Armenia went through. We must not forget it wasn't just the Ottoman Turks who committed Genocide but also their ancestor Seljuk Turks, when they came to Armenia in 1064, plus the Mongol Turks who invaded Armenia around 1250.

    We thank numerous nations around the world which have recognized the above atrocities. We should pressure not only the U.S. but other nations also to recognize this forgotten tragedy.

Comments are closed.

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