Select Committee on Foreign Affairs Appendices to the Minutes of Evidence


Memorandum from Christopher Walker


  My name is Christopher J Walker. I am the author of two books on the history of Armenia, as well as co-author of the report for the Minority Rights Group on Armenians.

  The issue which strikes me most strongly, in considering the possibility of the accession to the EU of Turkey, is the need that Turkey's rulers appear to feel for enforcing one view on Armenian matters, particularly on the Armenian Genocide of 1915, and their consequent refusal to allow an informed discussion on Armenian topics. A number of ordinary people in Turkey do dissent from the official viewpoints, but at some risk. Not many years ago a publisher was jailed for publishing a book which claimed correctly that there had been an Armenian state in Cilicia (south-east Turkey today) 800 years ago. Today Turkey spends millions of dollars on denying, in Turkey and in the United States, that the Ottoman Turkish authorities in 1915 executed a genocide on the Armenian people in Anatolia, even though all foreign eye-witnesses at that time concur in agreeing that genocidal acts everywhere took place.

  What is particularly disturbing today is the use of scholarship by Turkey as an extension of foreign policy. It is no exaggeration to say that in this regard Turkey today resembles the old Soviet Union. There, if you declared that the Polish officers in Katyn Forest had been killed by Soviets rather than by Nazis, you ran a risk. Intellect was not free. The same occurs in Turkey today as regards the Armenians, Armenian history, and particularly the Armenian Genocide of 1915. The standards that Turkey observes concerning intellectual freedom and the impartial search for truth are very far from those expected from a European state. Turkey is more controlling of its own history today than a number of third-world dictatorships, and the fact that some European professors, lecturers and others are inclined to support the Turkish government viewpoint does not alter this fact.

  Turkey in general appears to harbour a grudge that Armenia exists at all. The blockade that it has imposed on Armenia since the early 1990s is reminiscent of the worst acts of the early 1920s, and is motivated by little more than sheer spite. At the same time Turkish government representatives have been known to complain that Armenia is blockading the Nakhichevan province of Azerbaijan, even though the border with that district is open to both Iran and Turkey. (See a map). The limited capacity that Turkey has in dealing with minorities is shown in Turkey's treatment of its own Armenian community—who of course heartily say that they have full civil and religious rights, until you actually spend some time with them, and discover, inter alia, that building permits for their community buildings are still severely restricted by racist laws of 1936.

  If Turkey were to exhibit a true spirit of democracy and not appear, in the realm of the intellect, as a relic of dictatorship, there would be a greater show of support for her accession to the EU. As it is, Turkey's poor standards of directed knowledge, and its threats to those who dissent, are in opposition to the spirit of free enquiry which is the hallmark of the European tradition.

Christopher Walker

February 2002

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