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Ottawa’s diplomats shocked by assassination of Russia’s ambassador to Turkey Andrei Karlov

By Abbas Rana, Chelsea Nash      

Conservative MP Peter Kent, a member of the House Foreign Affairs Committee, called the assassination 'barbaric,' and 'cowardly.'

Melvut Mert Altintas, 22, the gunman pictured after shooting Andrei Karlov, Russia’s ambassador to Turkey. Photograph courtesy of Turkish Radio and Television
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OTTAWA—Ottawa’s diplomatic corps reacted with shock at Monday’s news that Andrei Karlov, Russia’s ambassador to Turkey, had been shot dead at a photo exhibition sponsored by the Russian embassy at Ankara’s modern art centre.

Mr. Karlov was killed by a Turkish police officer standing calmly behind Mr. Karlov, who shouted in Turkish, “Allahu Akbar” in reference to the ongoing war in Syria. The entire chilling scene was broadcast around the world. The man, identified as Melvut Mert Altintas, 22, who used his police ID to bypass metal detectors at the entrance to the gallery, was later killed by police, The Telegraph reported. 

Diplomats around the world and in Ottawa often attend events such as the photo exhibition Mr. Karlov had been attending when he was shot and killed.

The Russian embassy in Ottawa said it was in shock after the shooting, during which the gunman, a member of the Turkish riot police, shouted in Turkish: “Don’t forget Aleppo. Don’t forget Syria. Unless our towns are secure, you won’t enjoy security. Only death can take me from here. Everyone who is involved in this suffering will pay a price,” according to The Guardian. The man also shouted in Arabic: “We are the one who pledged allegiance to Muhammad, to wage jihad.”

While it said it was not available for interviews, the embassy released a statement on its Twitter page late Monday afternoon. “This savage act is aimed to drive wedge between Russia & Turkey, undermine Syria peace process & intl efforts against evil of terrorism,” it read.

A statement directly from the Russian President Vladimir Putin called for increased security of Turkey’s diplomatic missions in Russia, and vice versa.

“I ask you to make the agreed proposals to enhance the security of Russian diplomatic missions abroad,” it read.

Canada’s chief of protocol Roy Norton told The Hill Times it was a “bit premature” for his office to be thinking of how this attack might alter future operations.

“It seems to be that this relates to Russian collaboration with the Syrian government on Aleppo. There are four million refugees in Turkey who are there against their preference, presumably. This is not the case in Canada. I’m not going to offer a comment until the RCMP tell us that they have some reason to believe that the level of security threat is greater, and that security should be enhanced. They assess this all the time taking into account current developments and circumstances,” the chief diplomat said in a phone interview with The Hill Times on Monday.

Turkish Ambassador Selçuk Ünal said Turkish people “know how it feels when a representative of your country is assassinated.” Turkey has previously lost a diplomat in Ottawa, when its military attache to Canada was shot and killed by a member of an Armenian militant group. There was another attack on the Turkish embassy in 1985, though the only life lost was that of a security guard.

Mr. Unal said there was “no doubt” that the feeling in Turkey right now was “very sad.”

“We are extremely saddened for such a brutal attack,” Mr. Unal added, pointing out that Russia, as Turkey’s neighbour, is a “key partner in our bilateral relations.”

“We have started to redevelop our relationship, and of course, at such a time, having such an attack is so sad. We utterly condemn this terror attack, and of course we are really sorry for what happened,” he said. Turkey and Russia agreed to advance its relationship this past August, according to multiple media reports at the time. Previously, a wedge between the two countries took form after Turkey shot down a Russian fighter jet in Nov., 2015.

Leaders of both countries reacted Monday to the shooting. Russian President Vladimir Putin said the attack was a deliberate attempt to cause problems in Turkish-Russian relations.

Turkish Ambassador Selçuk Ünal delivers remarks at a memorial in Ottawa for fallen Turkish diplomat Colonel Atilla Altikat, in front of the Fallen Diplomats Memorial. The Hill Times photograph by Sam Garcia

Latvian Ambassador Karlis Eihenbaums said he’s never seen anything like it.

“Diplomats, whether they think about it each day or not, the term ‘corps diplomatique’ in French, it means something. It’s something you feel personally when the life of another diplomat is taken,” he said via a spokesperson at the embassy.

In an email, Mr. Eihenbaums expressed sorrow for the loss of a fellow diplomat, and urged for “a solution in the region” to be found. “We should stop this violence which is claiming the lives of innocent people.”

Canadian politicians extend their condolences

Liberal MP Bob Nault (Kenora, Ont.), chair of the House Foreign Affairs Committees, said he watched the news, but didn’t know all the details about the assassination of the Russian ambassador, and was waiting a briefing from the Global Affairs Department.

He said the briefing would likely happen today on the phone as he was in the riding because of the Christmas break. In the meantime, he said, he wants to offer his condolences to the people of Russia for the loss of their top diplomat in Turkey.

“I extend my total condolences to the people of Turkey and the people of Russia for the loss of their ambassador,” Mr. Nault told The Hill Times.

NDP MP Helène Laverdière (Laurier-Sainte-Marie, Que.), her party’s foreign affairs critic, said she was “shocked” by the attack. “We all feel frustration and powerlessness in the face of the disaster in Aleppo—but violence is never the solution,” she said in a written response to questions.

“The international community must work much harder to find a diplomatic solution to the crisis in Syria,” she added.

Conservative MP Peter Kent, right, pictured in this file photo with Gerald Butts, principal secretary to Prime Minister Justin Trudeau. The Hill Times photograph by Jake Wright

Conservative MP Peter Kent (Thornhill, Ont.), his party’s critic for foreign affairs and a member on the House Foreign Affairs Committee, said he condemns the assassination of Russia’s ambassador to Turkey. He described this as a “barbaric” and “cowardly act.”

“It’s unacceptable, Canada has to condemn,” said Mr. Kent. “We must condemn the assassination of a diplomat particularly under these circumstances, it was a cowardly act and Canadians’ thoughts and prayers should be with the family and friends of the ambassador.

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau and Foreign Affairs Minister Stéphane Dion, pictured in this file photo at the National Press Theatre. The Hill Times photograph by Jake Wright

Foreign Affairs Minister Stéphane Dion (Saint-Laurent, Que.) released a statement yesterday saying Canada “condemns” the attack and Prime Minister Justin Trudeau (Papineau, Que.) condemned the assassination of the Russian ambassador in Turkey in an interview with The Canadian Press.

“This is something of concern for the entire diplomatic community,” Mr. Trudeau told CP. “I hope and I pray that Canadians will be safe and diplomats will be safe over the holiday season.”

Mr. Putin, in televised statements, described the killing as a “provocation” at damaging relations between Moscow and Ankara.

“The crime that was committed is without doubt a provocation aimed at disrupting the normalization of Russia-Turkish relations and disrupting the peace process in Syria that is being actively advanced by Russia, Turkey, and Iran,” Mr. Putin said in televised comments.

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