The call from Armenia: Canada’s response to the Armenian Genocide
The call from Armenia: Canada’s response to the Armenian Genocide –
THE CALL FROM ARMENIA: CANADA’S RESPONSE TO THE ARMENIAN GENOCIDE, BY ARAM ADJEMIAN. LORRAINE, QUEBEC, 2015. 256 PAGES. ARMENIAN GENOCIDE CENTENARY, 1915-2015.
Emerita Professor of Armenian and Immigration History
Department of History
California State University at Fresno
In my book, Like Our Mountains: a History of Armenians in Canada, I expressed the wish that my study would generate interest in the experience of Armenians in Canada and that newer, younger scholars would use my work as a foundation on which to build, deepen, and expand our knowledge of the Armenian presence in Canada. We are still waiting, for example, for someone to examine the work of the Canadian Armenian Congress using the very rich collections of two of its founding members: Yervant Pasdermajian and Kerop Bedoukian.
However, I am pleased to note that Aram Adjemian in his book, The Call from Armenia: Canada’s Response to the Armenian Genocide traces in depth the response of Canadians and the Canadian government to the plight of Armenians in the Ottoman empire during a critical period of Armenian history, from the 1880s to the 1920s. This period encompasses the Genocide (1915-1923) and intersects with Canada’s own march towards nationhood, particularly after World War I. By including aspects of Canada’s foreign and diplomatic relations, the author gives his account additional breadth that is especially useful to the reader unfamiliar with Canada’s contributions during the war and Canada’s desire for a greater voice on the international stage after the war.
Based on Adjemian’s Master’s thesis at Concordia University, The Call from Armenia has been impressively researched, carefully organized, meticulously footnoted, and clearly written; and the topics examined are intellectually interesting. To enhance the book, the author has included many reproductions of photographs, cartoons, newspaper articles, poems, and archival documents, followed by a substantial number of appendices and a bibliography.
The text is divided into seven sections, showing primarily the role of religion – Christianity – in the relationship between Canadians and Armenians. This emphasis is brought out in the links connecting Canadian Protestant missionaries stationed in the Ottoman empire, the Canadian media, Canadian academics, and Canadian relief efforts on behalf of the Armenians. As a case in point, the title of this book, The Call from Armenia, is taken directly from a highly successful campaign organized by the Toronto Globe in 1920 to raise funds for the destitute Armenians.
Adjemian adroitly shows the impact of the missionaries on spreading the news in Canada about events in Turkey. As a result, the Canadian reading public, notably the church-oriented public, became aware of the 1894-6 massacres, the 1909 atrocities, and the Genocide. This awareness inevitably led to a number of fund-raising relief campaigns on behalf of Christian brothers and sisters who were being slain, violated, abducted, and enslaved by Muslims. The author specifically refers to those campaigns initiated by the Toronto Globe which, at the time, had links to the Presbyterian church. He also draws attention to the involvement of the YWCA, YMCA, and Sunday Schools in raising money for the suffering Christian children.
Missionary contacts with the academic world, especially Queen’s College (later University) are also discussed. This, I believe, is a critical relationship, as certain Canadian colleges were moving in the same direction as a number of American institutions of higher learning: producing missionaries and encouraging mission endeavour.
The author examines protests directed by various Canadian churches at the federal government arguing that the Armenian provinces should not be returned to Turkish sovereignty. In general he gives a praiseworthy account of the role the Armenian question played in Canada’s growing sense of nationhood and of Methodist Newton Wesley Rowell’s part in it, such as the demand for more information from British authorities.
An extract from the views of Rowell, vice-chairman of Canada’s War Committee, regarding the treaty with Turkey, bears repeating:
Canadian opinion would be clearly and justifiably shocked by any proposal to again subject any portion of Armenia to Turkish rule….the undersigned suggests that the Canadian government should place itself on record as absolutely opposed to the return of any of the Armenian provinces of Turkey to Turkish rule and that this view should be communicated at once to His Majesty’s Government. (p. 75)
However, after all the effort, the influence the missionaries had on the Canadian government and the lobbying by various Protestant denominations did not match their very effective influence on Canadian public opinion. We see considerable frustration and futility, for instance, in the initiatives to promote Armenian immigration to Canada, to have Canada assume mandatory power over Armenia, and to affect international decisions about the treaty with Turkey in disallowing the Turks control over Armenians and the Armenian provinces.
There were however, some victories. Adjemian briefly mentions the Armenian Claims, a topic I cover extensively in Like Our Mountains, whereby Armenian Canadians were granted almost $300,000 as compensation for personal and property losses sustained in Turkey during the war.
He concludes his study with a short, but pertinent account of the Canadian government’s approval to bring Armenian refugee orphan children to Canada to settle on a farm/home/school near Georgetown, Ontario. This initiative, organized by the Armenian Relief Association of Canada (ARAC) and later the United Church of Canada, moved the hearts of Canadians, who donated generously to bring these survivors to Canada.
This book admirably shows the links connecting the Armenian Genocide with the foundations of Canadian humanitarianism – from missionaries, to church people, to press, to academics, to governments. It shows relief missions, fund-raising campaigns, public opinion protests, and finally, support – limited though it was – for the movement of Armenian refugees to Canada.
In 2015, Armenians commemorated the centenary of the beginning of the Genocide. Yet, as we read Adjemian’s accounts of the events that took place 100 years ago and the reaction of Canadians at the time, we are obliged to ask, what is going on in the Middle East today?
“We know that in areas under its control, Da’esh has made a systematic effort to destroy the cultural heritage of ancient communities—destroying Armenian, Syrian Orthodox, and Roman Catholic churches; blowing up monasteries and the tombs of prophets; desecrating cemeteries; and in Palmyra, even beheading the 83-year-old scholar who had spent a lifetime preserving antiquities there.” These words were spoken not 100 years ago in Turkey, but on March 17, 2016 by U.S. Secretary of State, John Kerry. The militant and fanatic Islamic group Da’esh (ISIL) has committed and continues to commit genocide against Christians, Yezidis, and Shia Muslims. Kerry referred to the militant group as “genocidal by self-proclamation, by ideology, and by actions.”
The pronouncement of the American Secretary of State comes three days after the U.S. House of Representatives unanimously condemned as genocide Da’esh’s ongoing crimes against Christians in the Middle East by adopting H.Con.Res.75.
Da’esh’s treatment of Christians harks back to events that Adjemian shows horrified Christendom 100 years ago: systematic and organized slaying, rape, abduction, enslavement, pillaging, and widespread devastation.
In a recent article in The Independent, Robert Fisk draws a parallel between those events and the current situation in the troubled region. The Americans, he writes, are justifiably blaming Da’esh for the genocide of a hundred thousand or more people while refusing to label the Armenian massacres of a million and a half souls as genocide lest it offend Da’esh’s “sinister chums in Turkey.” For many observers, the players are the same. Only the geopolitical scene has changed. The core determination to wipe out Christianity from the Middle East has not.
Nor has Canada’s commitment to humanitarianism changed. If anything, it has grown. Canada is now a respected member of the world community. Like almost thirty other countries, Canada has recognized the Armenian Genocide. And recently, amid the chaos of the Syrian civil war, the Canadian government, with the support of humanitarians throughout the country, facilitated the entry of 25,000 Syrian refugees to Canada – mostly Muslims and a much smaller number of Christians.
As Adjemian points out, humanitarian endeavour and commitment in Canada were supported 100 years ago largely, but not only, by the Christian churches. They raised money to send overseas to the suffering Armenian survivors of the Genocide and helped the admission and settlement of approximately 150 Armenian refugee orphans and adolescents. Canadian humanitarians continue to help suffering humanity abroad and to support the entry and adjustment of refugees in this country.
We have come full circle.