Time to recognise the Armenian genocide

The Armenian ambassador to Britain on why he believes, nearly a century on, Turkey should admit to a

Throughout the twentieth century to the present day there has not been any substantiated doubt about the character of the mass deportations, expropriation, abduction, torture, starvation and killings of millions of Armenians throughout Ottoman Turkey that started on a large scale in 1915 and carried onto 1923.

Centrally planned by the government of the day and meticulously executed by the huge machine of the state bureaucracy, army, police, hired gangs and - specially released for that purpose - criminals from prisons, the campaign had one clear aim expressly stated by the government in secret directives: to rid Anatolia of its indigenous Armenian population and settle the so –called ‘Armenian question’ for good.

An entire nation and its Christian culture were eliminated to secure a homogenous Turkish state on territories where Armenians had lived for many centuries.

Terms such as “genocide” or “ethnic cleansing” were not in circulation then, so Winston Churchill later referred to the 1915 massacre of 1.5 million Armenians as an “administrative holocaust”.

The Turkish authorities made no secret of the aim once it was achieved and other governments and nations have known the truth since. One of the early accounts of Armenian Genocide was published in 1916 in Britain.

The British Government at the time commissioned James Bryce and Arnold Toynbee to compile evidence on the events in Armenia. The subsequent report was printed in the British Parliamentary Blue Book series “The Treatment of Armenians in the Ottoman Empire, 1915-1916”. The report leaves no doubt about what was taking place.

In 1915, thirty-three years before UN Genocide Convention was adopted, the Armenian Genocide was condemned by the international community as a crime against humanity. It is well acknowledged that Polish jurist Raphael Lemkin, when he coined the term genocide in 1944, cited the Turkish extermination of the Armenians and the Nazi extermination of the Jews as defining examples of what he meant by genocide.

Amidst huge international pressure, the Turkish Government succeeding the Young Turks had not only to recognize the scale and vehemence of the atrocities but also to try the perpetrators in military tribunals and sentence the leaders to death.

However, the sentences were not carried out and with the passage of time moods changed not only in Turkey but also in some countries, such as the UK, where Turkey is nowadays seen as a key alley. Still, even in countries that have not yet for some reason recognized the Genocide scholars have no doubts about the character of the events: they point out that there is no scholarly issue, only one of political expediency.

Armenians throughout the world insist that there be an international recognition and condemnation of what is often called the first genocide of the twentieth century. We are past the stage of scholarly discussion since a very few challenge the fact. To dispel any doubt, 126 leading scholars of the Holocaust placed a statement in the New York Times in June 2000 declaring the "incontestable fact of the Armenian Genocide" and urging western democracies to acknowledge it.

In 2005 the International Association of Genocide Scholars addressed an open letter to Turkey’s Prime Minister R. Erdogan calling upon him to recognize the truth. The evidence is so overwhelming that the only question remaining is how to help the two nations close that shameful page of the history, reconcile and move forward.

However, despite the affirmation of the Armenian Genocide by the overwhelming majority of historians, academic institutions on Holocaust and Genocide Studies, increasingly more parliaments and governments around the world, and by more and more Turkish scholars and intellectuals, the Turkish government still actively denies the fact. So long as they do that, Armenians have no choice but to struggle for wider international recognition.

This is however not an end in itself. It is important that Turkey recognizes the Genocide, apologizes and condemns it. When the Germans have apologized for the sufferings they had caused to the Jews, the British for slavery, the Americans for their treatment of native Americans etc, Turkey’s continuing denial, moreover, increasing efforts and resources spent on the denial are alarming signs, aggravated by their insistence not to establish diplomatic relations with neighbouring Armenia and by maintaining a blockade on all ground communication. Armenia does not even set the recognition of the Genocide as a prerequisite for normalizing relations and calls for establishing diplomatic relations and opening of the border without any preconditions.

As the killing this January of Hrant Dink, the Turkish-Armenian editor of the Agos bilingual periodical demonstrates, international community cannot stand aside and watch. Hrant was persecuted under the infamous 301 article for “insulting Turkish identity” and the hysteria around someone daring to speak the truth created the fertile soil for the hatred that killed him. His case was shamefully still open even after his assassination and in a demonstration of absolute absence of morality, Turkish courts yesterday sentenced Hrant’s son, as well as another of Agos’s current staff to a year of imprisonment under the same accusations, for simply daring to re-print Hrant’s words.

This is why the world should not yield to Turkish threats that are outright blackmailing. The resolutions in various legislatures across the world, and recently in the US House of Representative Foreign Relations Committee are not merely the result of Armenian Diaspora’s – which by the way, was created in the first place because of the genocide in Turkey - influence. It is because there are more people who believe in values and in putting the wrongs right.

A number of British MPs have tabled an EDM (Early Day Motion), to raise the awareness about the Armenian Genocide and calling on British Government to recognize it as such. Currently, around 170 MPs across the party lines have signed an EDM which reads “That this House believes that the killing of over a million Armenians in 1915 was an act of genocide; calls upon the UK Government to recognize it as such; and believes that it would be in Turkey's long-term interests to do the same.”

Their number grows steadily. It is time the British Government followed many others and re-affirmed the UK’s place among the standard-bearers of democracy and human rights.

It is worth repeating that international recognition of the Genocide cannot do harm to Turkish-Armenian relations since they simply do not exist. It does not prevent a dialogue, on the contrary, creates the necessary conditions to start a frank one. By recognizing the historic truth and helping open the last closed border in Europe, the international community can facilitate long-lasting stability and prosperity in our region. And it is also probably time to show that the human race’s evolution into the 21st century is evolution of ideals, principles and a code of behaviour that should take precedence over political expediency or sheer commercial interest.

Vahe Gabrielyan
Armenia’s Ambassador to the Court of St. James’s