Controversy Surrounds Mount Hope Cemetery Plot

International Intrigue

By Heather Ibbotson Brantford Expositor, 2 August 2013

A plan to erect a plaque or monument in Mount Hope cemetery is stirring up controversy beyond the boundaries of Brantford.

The plaque would have a dual purpose of marking an early Ontario Muslim burial plot while also telling the story of a 1914 roundup of about 100 so-called “enemy aliens” during the First World War.

Researcher Bill Darfler shows one of two stones with Arabic script, which may be boundary markers of a Muslim plot in the northeast corner of Mt. Hope Cemetery in Brantford, Ontario on Thursday, August 1, 2013. The plot, dating back to 1912, measures approximately 33 x 33 feet and contains 16 graves, the last burial having taken place in 1963. (BRIAN THOMPSON Brantford Expositor)

The apparent linking of the two is misleading, critics say, adding that a recent visit by representatives from the Turkish consulate in Toronto to Mayor Chris Friel's office and the cemetery hints at a political agenda.

International Intrigue

By Heather Ibbotson Brantford Expositor, 2 August 2013

A plan to erect a plaque or monument in Mount Hope cemetery is stirring up controversy beyond the boundaries of Brantford.

The plaque would have a dual purpose of marking an early Ontario Muslim burial plot while also telling the story of a 1914 roundup of about 100 so-called “enemy aliens” during the First World War.

Researcher Bill Darfler shows one of two stones with Arabic script, which may be boundary markers of a Muslim plot in the northeast corner of Mt. Hope Cemetery in Brantford, Ontario on Thursday, August 1, 2013. The plot, dating back to 1912, measures approximately 33 x 33 feet and contains 16 graves, the last burial having taken place in 1963. (BRIAN THOMPSON Brantford Expositor)

The apparent linking of the two is misleading, critics say, adding that a recent visit by representatives from the Turkish consulate in Toronto to Mayor Chris Friel's office and the cemetery hints at a political agenda.

Opponents of the plan have created an online petition to “stop the fake monument” in Brantford.

Friel said this week that the plans for a plaque have “taken a pause,” while local officials talk with representatives from the federal government.

“It's never a good idea for local government to wade in” without making the federal government aware of what is going on, he said.

“There is no desire or interest in turning this into an international incident,” Friel said.

Brant MP Phil McColeman was unavailable for comment. A call to the Turkish consulate in Toronto this week was not returned.

The small Muslim plot was created in 1912 in the northeast section of Mount Hope cemetery and was for many years referred to as the Turkish plot, although the people buried there appear not to be ethnic Turks, said local researcher Bill Darfler.

People referred to as Turks a century ago are not necessarily the same people as those referred to as Turks today, he said.

The majority of the 16 people buried in the plot are believed, by their names, to be Alevi, a relaxed form of Islam which does not require women to be veiled and which allows both sexes to be involved in religious services, Darfler said.

The first burial in the plot in 1912 was noted by The Expositor as “the first Mohammedan funeral ever held in this city.”

Records indicate the plot contains only two relatively modern tombstones (1941 and 1963), while the other 14 people there are buried in unmarked graves dating from 1912 to 1918, along with two burials in 1939.

The fact that most of the graves are unmarked may not have any significance in itself. There are untold numbers of other unmarked graves in local cemeteries, of people of varying heritage, due to families being unable to afford gravestones, people dying without family, as well as damage and marker deterioration due to the passage of time. As well, it is not known whether the placement of markers was even an accepted practice for Muslim burials a century ago.

Then comes the second half of the story.

In November 1914, days after the declaration of war between Great Britain and Turkey, Brantford police received orders from Ottawa to detain all local Turks (largely factory workers), resulting in a roundup of about 100 men who were briefly held at the jail, then at the armories before being transported by train out of the city, eventually ending up at an internment camp in Kapuskasing.

Several years ago Darfler received a grant to collect information about this historical incident and its aftermath. His work on that project eventually came to the attention of people in Turkey and elsewhere.

Fast forward to 2013 and a visit by Turkish consul general Ali Riza Guney, who toured the Mount Hope cemetery site and called on Friel.

Darfler, who was on hand during the cemetery visit, said the Turkish government was interested in the fate of early Turkish people in North America.

The result was a proposal to erect a headstone or plaque listing the names of those buried on the site, and telling the story of the 1914 internees.

“The intention is to do right by these guys,” Friel said. “It's unfortunate they've gone as long as they have in unmarked graves.”

One major problem with this is that it is impossible to prove that any of the people buried in the plot were among the individuals detained at the outset of the First World War. In fact, seven of the men are certain to have no connection as they died prior to the 1914 incident, Darfler said.

Added to all of this is concern from the Canadian-Armenian community that the sudden interest in a long-forgotten section of a Brantford cemetery is simply a politically motivated gesture by the Turkish government.

A properly labelled plaque recognizing the plot as an early Muslim burial ground would be entirely appropriate, said Toronto resident Sam Manougian, a member of the Armenian National Committee of southern Ontario.

But trying to tie the cemetery to the First World War internment incident, without any proof, is too much of a stretch, he said.

As well, a plaque or monument “identifying (those buried in the plot) with Turkey and the Turkish government would be an injustice,” Manougian said, adding that such a move would be a “slap in the face” to long-deceased Alevi who, among others including Armenians, had fled Turkey (the former Ottoman Empire) because of persecution.

The idea of having a monument endorsed by the Turkish government that incorrectly labels Alevi as though they were Turks is a “real injustice,” Manougian said.

“It would not be a correct representation,” he said.

Opponents to the plan have posted an online petition to “Stop the Fake Monument” at www.Keghart.com.

The petition states in part: “We condemn the Turkish ambassador's interference into Canadian domestic affairs . . . .and exploitation of the memory of the non-Turkish internees for Ankara's propaganda purposes. We also call for the cancellation of the fake monument's construction.”

The petition had gathered 208 signatures by Thursday afternoon.

Visit PETITION – Stop the Fake Monument

 

10 comments
  1. Thank you Heather Ibbotson of Brantford Expositor

    We, Dikran Abrahamian and Jirair Tutunjian, respectively the publisher and editor of Keghart.com would like to congratulate Heather Ibbotson for a balanced and accurate report on a complicated story which has local and international dimensions.

    The proposed cemetery monument has nothing to do with the unknown internees and has everything to do with Turkey's interference in Canadian domestic affairs, Ankara's scheme to denigrate our government as retaliation against Canada for recognizing the Genocide of Armenians, and to polish the image of Turkey.

    Although no one knows for sure–including the lead researcher William Darfler–the identity of the internees, the Turkish consul general has declared the buried people as Turkish. And although there was no Turkey at the time the internees were sent to Kapuskasing (the country was called Ottoman Empire then), the Toronto Turkish consul general claims a Turkish flag was raised when the internees were buried. This is also false for the same reason as cited in the previous sentence.

    Turkey and its turkic ally petrostate Azerbaijan are placing monuments and statues all over the globe in a concerted effort to give them an unearned high profile, to flex their muscles, to assert their policies, including the denial of the Genocide of Armenians. What the Toronto Turkish consul general is proposing to do is to turn hallowed Muslim ground into a Turkish propaganda showcase.

  2. Public outcry created by Keghart’s vigilance

    I commend Keghart for its hard-hitting investigative work which exposed the Turkish government's charade and exploitation–for crass political propaganda–the suffering of Muslims buried in Brantford. If it weren't for Keghart’s investigation, subsequent articles and reader comments, the "Brantford Expositor" would not have published (Aug. 2) the above excellent report regarding the background of the proposed "Turkish" monument in that city.

    Furthermore, the public outcry created by Keghart’s vigilance made the people engineering the Turkish government's lie about the Ottoman internees' monument think twice about their next step.

    It is encouraging to read that the mayor of Brantford is having second thoughts about the Turkish government's farce.  The mayor should go further and prevent Brantford from embarrassment by eliminating any mention of the First World War internees' issue on any proposed cemetery plaque. The "Brantford Expositor" and researcher Bill Darfler have already reported that “one major problem with this is that it is impossible to prove that any of the people buried in the plot were among the individuals detained at the outset of the First World War. In fact, seven of the men are certain to have no connection as they died prior to the 1914 incident.”

    Keghart should continue its fine work re this issue which it started last May with an editorial. Keghart should not be swayed by narrow-minded and self-centred individuals who try to take credit for other people's work and try to mislead our Armenian-Canadian community by their heroics.  

    According the several sources who attended a gathering of Armenian activists last Friday (Aug. 2) in Toronto about how to combat the Turkish consul general's ploy, a person representing a prominent Armenian organization had the chutzpah to claim that he and his Toronto cohorts had been secretly working on this issue for a long time and that Keghart’s exposure of the Brantford monument conspiracy had damaged their work. I know for a fact that their knowledge and involvement started after the Keghart editorial was published. Instead of working with other concerned Armenians, organizations and the Keghart Editorial Board to stop the Turkish government's circus, this "representative" and his cabal are attempting to monopolize a vital issue of concern to our community and exclude anyone who might have meaningful contribution.  

    When will these "lobbyists" learn that the Armenian community is not a private club where they can roll the dice without consulting the community? Although not given a mandate by the community, they not only insist to represent the community but also refuse to inform that very community of the work they're doing. "We know best," is their unfortunate stance. While it's understandable that some confidentiality is advisable in lobbying efforts, leaving the community in the dark about their efforts is irresponsible and arrogant to the max.

    Aram Manouk

    1. Aram, Job well done!

      Couldn't have been said any better. Thank you Aram!

      It seems that the project of erecting a monument or a plaque will be on its way to be shelved. It's just an appearance which may leave an erroneous impression that the mission was accomplished, an illusion. The twenty or so activists who participated in the deliberations and activities to "Stop the Fake Monument" should continue their vigilance.

      Rumor has it that they essentially were labeled as "noise makers" by the said representative of the "prominent Armenian organization". In no uncertain terms they were essentially told "to pack up and go home".

      What an irony. To my knowledge these gatherings were a first in their kind. At no time in the history of Ontario Armenian community, independent activists have been successful in bringing together representatives of the three traditional parties or affiliate organizations, alongside individuals who prefer to hang around their kindred with common geographic origin, such as the "bolsahay"s and "Iranahay"s and also a representative of at least one church.

      It will be a pity if these activists get discouraged by the destructive advice of a few Torontonian leaders who are paranoid about losing their positions.
       

    2. Seven Remarks

      With great satisfaction and pleasure I read Aram Manouk’s insightful letter-comment which addressed the Turkish government's deceitful attempt to erect a sham monument in the Brantford cemetery. But with great sadness I also heard about the Armenian Community Centre representative's irresponsible and self-serving statements at a related meeting organized by Keghart. 

      I have lived in Toronto for a long time and am a supporter ("hamagir") of ARF. I liken today’s Armenian Community Centre to a glowing and tasteful apple that sometimes contains worms.

      As a concerned Armenian and an ARF hamagir, I am obliged to raise the following aspects of the centre’s activities.

      1-Substantial regression/retreat ("nahanch") of the Hye Tad agenda.

      2- Monopolization of power and the family-run ("undanegan") state of affairs regarding Canadian-Armenian community issues. It echoes the "Family Compact" of Canada in the mid-19th century when a group of wealthy, influential, and interconnected families tried to run the country.

      3- Predetermined and consistent exclusion of experienced, competent, skilled, and capable individuals from leadership circles and decision-making processes.

      4- Flagrant appointment or distribution of leadership positions based on family ("khnamiyagan") ties or mutually beneficial ("shahagtsagan") basis.

      5-Policy of subjecting the young members of the centre to the whims of the dinosaur elders ("yerets chocher"). 

      6-Superficial participation in the All-Armenian Fund.

      7- Shallow interest and amateurish approach to the plight of Armenian refugees.

      Notwithstanding the above disdainful manifestations, which weaken the Toronto Armenian community, I've decided to continue to support the Armenian Community Centre because I believe that one day Raffi’s “Mad-Men” will prevail.

      ARF Supporter (Hamagir)

  3. Stop the fake monument

    Thanks to Heather Ibbotson of Brantford Expositor for accurately reflecting the views of Keghart on a highly sensitive political issue . Also thanks to Keghart for its vigilance. We are proud to loudly state that the gathering on Aug 2 in Toronto proved once more that  sincerity and wisdom achieves much needed brotherhood amongst all Armenians from everywhere and all walks of life.

    Mr. and Mrs Tom and Alvart Siraki.

  4. In the early 20th century,

    In the early 20th century, all immigrants from the Middle-East and West Asia were labelled "Turks". This included Christian Syrians, Lebanese, Palestinians, Armenians etc. This practise applied to immigrants into Canada, the USA, Mexico, Venezuela and indeed all immigrant receiving countries in South America too.

    I have in my possession a copy of the Ottawa Journal of 1915, under the heading "our casualties on the front today" labeling private Ohanas Vartanian – born in Erzerum, a "Turk". Pte Vartanian had volunteered with a Canadian regiment and had received severe head wounds to the right eye on March 15, 1915, was admitted to the General Hospital in Boulogne on the 19th, was then moved to the Red Cross Hospital in Beckenham and died of wounds there three weeks later.

  5. Not Turks but Subjects

    The non-Muslim minorities in the Ottoman Empire ruled themselves under the prevalent Millet System that gave them authority to run their  own internal affairs, have their own courts and even prisons. In the case of the Armenians, they were under the authority of the Patriarchate of Constantinople. These minorities had no rights in the imperial courts where the verdicts were rendered over the testimonies of the Muslim subjects. 

    Across the board designation of the Sultan's subjects as Turks  by their latter day claimants, such as the Turkish government representatives in Canada, is historically not correct.

     

  6. Encore une fourberie Turque

    C'est connu que la Turquie utilise tous les stratagèmes pour s'accaparer des faits historiques en sa faveur; après presque  bientôt 100 ans de faire croire au monde entier qu'il n'y a pas eu de génocide des arméniens et même à dire le contraire, que ce sont les Arméniens qui ont assassinés les Turcs, faut pas s'étonner que maintenant ils demandent une stèle de souvenir de ces soldats ou civils qui n'avaient rien à voir avec la Turquie; Ça serait bien si toutes les grandes nations cessent de verser des subventions à la Turquie dont cet argent leurs sert pour arroser avec des pots de vin quelques ministres véreux en guise de remerciement pour avoir accepté tel ou tel mensonge en passant l'éponge sur les faits réels; tôt ou tard, la Turquie sera obligée de demander pardon à tous les arméniens et de dédommager toutes les victimes et leurs descendants; Je pense que la nouvelle génération de la Turquie en a assez de trainer derrière elle les babouches ensanglantées de leurs aïeux et demandera elle-même à son gouvernement de cesser cette mascarade du reniement du génocide des arméniens ; Bravo à tous les arméniens qui luttent contre cette ‘reconnaissance’.

  7. Mount Hope Cemetery

    Our great writer, Baruyr Sevag said:
    "Justice never dies, Gets sick but then recovers."
     

  8. More Turkish Nonsense

    Turkey does not care one bit about the alleged "Turks" in this cemetery. Turkey is playing its ongoing game in which it depicts Turks as the real victims. Indeed, since these alleged "Turks" might have been internees in Canada due to "security threats", Turkey can also claim that "we Turks too were victims of a country's considering us to be a security threat, and yet, unlike Armenians, we don't complain. We, Turks, merely wish for the dead to be remembered, and that's all that Armenians should do too."

    This reminds me of the denialist conference recently held in the Republic of Georgia by Turks and their friends. The conference was, at least, partly about nationalisms in the Caucasus before and during WWI.  How is this denialist? Because the Turks claim that there was no Armenian Genocide but simply a "clash of nationalisms" in which different ethnic groups died. Voila, no Armenian Genocide, just a "civil war within a global war." Turkey always has an angle, a crude angle.

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