Armenia pushes Liberals to fulfil election ‘promise,’ open embassy

Armenia pushes Liberals to fulfil election ‘promise,’ open embassy –

Mélanie Joly ‘strongly committed to promoting the establishment of a Canadian Embassy in Armenia.’


The Hill Times

Armenia’s ambassador to Canada is pressing the Liberal government to make good on what he says was an election promise to the politically influential Armenian-Canadian community to establish a Canadian Embassy in Armenia.
“This was a political promise during the election campaign,” said Armen Yeganian in an interview with The Hill Times. “But I’m sure that as we’ve seen already with other political promises, such as refugees, this current government is very keen to stick to their promises. So I hope that this one also will be implemented very soon.”
During last fall’s federal election campaign, representatives of all three major political parties committed to Armenian-Canadians to bolster Canada’s diplomatic presence in Armenia, a country of about three million people neighbouring Turkey, Azerbaijan, Georgia, and Iran.
While the Armenian community in Canada is not huge, relative to other diaspora groups—just under 56,000 Canadians stated Armenian origins in the government’s 2011 National Household Survey—it’s well organized, which gives it political sway. Several community centres, churches, and newspapers serve the population, which is centred in Quebec and Ontario.
The Armenian-Canadian community shows its organizational strength yearly on April 24, when hundreds flock to Parliament Hill to mark what they call Armenian Genocide Remembrance Day.
The crowd Sunday blocked traffic in one direction in downtown Ottawa as participants walked with flying red, blue, and orange Armenian flags to the Turkish Embassy in lowertown.
Armenians say about 1.5 million people were killed by Ottoman authorities starting April 24, 1915. The Armenian government and others, including the Canadian government, say what happened was genocide, while the Turkish government denies the deaths amounted to genocide and disputes the number of people who died.
While Armenian community leaders have been pleased with the Canadian government and Parliament’s genocide recognition, another of their top priorities, a Canadian Embassy in Armenia’s capital, Yerevan, has long eluded them. Currently, an honorary consul represents Canada in Armenia and Canada’s ambassador for Armenia is in Moscow, Russia.
An online petition active last fall urging the Canadian government to open an embassy office in Yerevan garnered 1,351 supporters.
As the election campaign heated up, the Conservatives promised Armenians that “a re-elected Conservative government will establish a new trade and consular office in Armenia,” according to the website of the party’s multicultural point-man, Jason Kenney (Calgary Midnapore, Alta.).
Maria Mourani, the New Democratic Party candidate for Ahuntsic-Cartierville, promised the same thing if she were elected to represent the Montreal borough, home to one of the largest populations of Armenians in the city, according to the Armenian General Benevolent Union in Montreal.
Ms. Mourani, though, lost the riding by more than 9,000 votes to Liberal Mélanie Joly, now the heritage minister. Ms. Joly, after a formal dinner during the campaign with members of the Armenian National Committee of Quebec, released a statement Sept. 26 noting, in French, that she was “strongly committed to promoting the establishment of a Canadian Embassy in Armenia,” and that “Canada needs to have an embassy in Armenia.”
Though Ms. Joly’s statement doesn’t explicitly say the Liberals would, if elected, establish an embassy, Mr. Yeganian said: “I think what the Liberal party was promising was an embassy, and that’s what we read in Hon. Mélanie Joly’s statement.”
It was music to his ears, but he hasn’t seen any result.
“All these parties made a promise, including Liberals who came to power, and I understand it was a political promise,” Mr. Yeganian said. “In my opinion and in the opinion of many of my colleagues, there is an imbalance in terms of representation.”
Mr. Yeganian said he brought up the establishment of an embassy with Ms. Joly as part an April 22 meeting with her.
“[Ms. Joly] answered me in general terms that they will do their best, they will stick to all their promises that they made,” said the ambassador in a follow-up interview. “She said it was up to the minister of foreign affairs, but the Liberal party is in power now and we will stick to all the promises we made.”
When asked about the establishment of a Canadian Embassy in Armenia, foreign ministry spokesperson Tania Assaly said in an emailed response that the department reviews its diplomatic network on an ongoing basis.
“The department takes several factors into consideration including Canada’s foreign policy and trade interests, development priorities, and budgetary implications,” she said.
Asked this week to explain her Montreal meeting with the Armenian community last September and her subsequent statement, Ms. Joly’s press secretary, Pierre-Olivier Herbert, referred in an emailed response to the “official position” provided by the foreign ministry.
Canada’s Moscow-based ambassador to Armenia, John Kur, travels to Armenia often and is actively working on Canadian-Armenian relations, Mr. Yeganian said.
The lack of an embassy “cannot impact our very good friendly relations with Canada” said Mr. Yeganian, and Mr. Kur is “incredibly well prepared.” But he suggested an embassy would boost the level of quality of ties, in terms of politics, trade, and culture.
Given the sizable ethnic population that has a strong interest in Armenia, Canada’s intention to set up an embassy in Armenia can’t be doubted, said University of Toronto international relations professor Aurel Braun in a phone interview, though he stressed that it was hard to speculate and he couldn’t speak on the government’s behalf.
Girair Basmadjian, president of the Armenian National Committee of Canada, said that not having an embassy is problematic for Armenians in Armenia and Canadians visiting Armenia.
If someone wanted to deal with Canada’s embassy “the only embassy that they can deal with is in Moscow. That’s quite silly.”
He added that there’s a considerable Canadian-Armenian community living in Armenia. “There are quite a sizable number from Ontario, and some even from Quebec. And for them to have a Canadian Embassy is the proper thing.”
The Armenian Embassy in Ottawa opened in January 1995, according to the embassy’s website.
“I know that it takes time to open an embassy and it’s not overnight, but because the promise was made with such a serious level, I’m asking my friends in the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, ‘What’s happening with your promise?’” said Mr. Yeganian.

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