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Armenian Massacre, 1915

5.30 p.m.

Baroness Cox rose to ask Her Majesty's Government whether they will reconsider their refusal to recognise as genocide the action against the Armenian people by Turkey in 1915.

The noble Baroness said: My Lords, I am very grateful to all noble Lords speaking in this debate on a topic which is tragically timely. The noble Baroness, Lady Symons, has kindly explained why she is unable to reply, and I would like to thank the noble Baroness, Lady Ramsay, for kindly taking her place.

The United Nations Convention on the Prevention and Punishment of the Crime of Genocide, adopted in 1948, is the most widely accepted definition of genocide. Article 2 specifies five criteria. Genocide means any of the following acts committed with intent to destroy, in whole or in part, a national, ethnic, racial or religious group as such; killing members of the group; causing serious bodily or mental harm to members of the group; deliberately inflicting on the group conditions of life calculated to bring about its physical destruction in whole or in part; imposing measures intended to prevent births within the group; and forcibly transferring children of one group to another group.

The massive, systematic assaults upon the Armenian people in Turkey in 1915 are widely recognised and historically irrefutable. I will mention a little later some examples of ways in which the first criteria were met. The fifth criterion was also met by the policy of taking young Armenian babies and young children and placing them in Turkish state-run orphanages, with the declared aim of Turkification.

Those who wish to defend Turkey offer diverse excuses. For example, while recognising that massacres of Armenians did occur, they suggest that these were

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not official policy. But historical evidence shows that the systematic mass killings of 1915 and 1916 were more than just massacres or atrocities. They were a premeditated state crime, involving the army, the police force, regional and local authorities and criminals specially released from prison to carry out the killings.

The genocide started with systematic ethnic "decapitation", in the form of the arrest, torture and deportation of the intellectual and political leaders of the Armenian community in Constantinople; they were deported to the interior of the country, where most were killed. Leading Armenians in provincial capitals were similarly eliminated. Other policies included the transfer of Armenians serving in the Ottoman army to unarmed so-called labour units, where many died from maltreatment and starvation in policies similar to the Nazis' method of annihilation by labour; those still surviving were subsequently killed.

Systematic deportations of remaining civilians continued from March until the autumn of 1915, with different policies for men compared with women and children. Men were usually separated and slaughtered; women, children and elderly people were forced to undertake long marches through desolate and mountainous terrain; marches designed to kill. Those who survived and reached Aleppo were forced onwards into the deserts of Mesopotamia, where the final stages of annihilation were achieved--some dying in concentration camps, where tens of thousands were kept without food or adequate shelter, or others driven into caves containing petroleum which were ignited, burning the trapped Armenians alive.

Numerous eye-witness accounts describe in great detail the systematic suffering inflicted on the Armenians. Time permits only one reference. The German Ambassador, Wangenheim, who was well-known for his anti-Armenian sentiments, admitted in a report to the German Foreign Office in a letter of 7th July 1915 that the so-called deportations of the Armenians could not longer be justified by military necessities, but were caused by the genocidal intentions of the ruling Young Turks. He wrote:


    "The very fact and the way in which the deportation is carried out prove that the Government is indeed intending to annihilate the Armenian race in the Turkish Empire". Estimates of numbers of Armenians who died vary from conservative British estimates of 800,000 to German Embassy figures of 1.5 million. As the Germans, as Turkey's allies, had the most access to information in the Ottoman Empire, their estimates are probably the more accurate.

Many of the methods of extermination bear striking resemblances to those subsequently used in the Holocaust. They included medical experiments, usually carried out on Armenian men, generally soldiers; the first experiment with a gas chamber, disguised as a disinfection room, in the city of Trabzon to kill Armenian children; and the torture, rape and subsequent slaughter of women, often en masse. In many towns, bands were engaged by the authorities to play music louder than the screams of victims in torture chambers.

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Another striking parallel with the subsequent Holocaust was the transport of many victims in wagons designed for animals. Armenians from Central Anatolia were forced into wagons designed for sheep, which allowed only a stooping position.

Numerous reports confirm the details of the horrors associated with the genocide of the Armenians. They include contemporary diplomatic sources of France, Austria-Hungary and Britain, as well as eye-witness accounts of humanitarian mission organisations in Turkey. There are also innumerable gruesome, first-hand accounts by those Armenians who managed to survive. And perhaps especially significant are accounts by courageous Turkish scholars who protest against the official Turkish crime of silence and demand Turkey's recognition of this genocide.

Many national and international bodies have recognised the genocide, often despite massive Turkish protests. They include the General Assembly of the Council of Churches, in 1983; the UN Human Rights Commission, which, despite Turkish protest, adopted in 1985 a revised study on the prevention and punishment of genocide crimes of this century, mentioning Armenia as one of these genocides; and the European Parliament, which adopted a Resolution on the Political Solution of the Armenian Question in 1987. The resolution maintains that Turkey can become a member of the European Community only under two conditions: recognition of the historical fact of the Armenian genocide and observation of the human rights of minority groups in Turkey, particularly the Kurds.

Many parliamentary bodies have also acknowledged the Armenian genocide, including such bodies in Argentina; the Russian Federation--the State Duma; the Republic of Cyprus; Greece; and Belgium; and the French National Assembly--although the French Senate refused to put the motion on its agenda following threats by Turkey to cancel large commercial contracts.

Some people argue that it is neither important nor helpful to dwell on the past; that it is better just to look ahead. I believe this argument is fundamentally misconceived. It is of the utmost importance that this genocide be recognised--important for the Armenians, for the Turks themselves and for Britain.

First, for the Armenians: a nation which suffered the first genocide of this century has also had to suffer the hurt and insult of the denial of the enormity of its agony, denied both by Turkey and by too many members of the international community. Moreover, Armenia's fight for recognition and the energy which has had to be used to counter Turkey's attempts to rewrite history dissipate energy and resources from imminent priorities. And there can be no basis for forgiveness and reconciliation without Turkey's willingness to admit this historical reality.

It is also important for Turkey to recognise the genocide. Taner Adcam, the first Turkish scholar to approach historical truth, rightly said that the Turkish republic is built on the corpses of murdered Armenians. The taboo which prevents mention of this crime is a hindrance to the healthy development of Turkish

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domestic and foreign policies. To free itself from the curse of the past and to grow in democracy, Turkey must acknowledge the Armenian genocide.

In foreign relations, that would bring international respect and confidence-building measures of enormous benefit to Turkey and its neighbours. I have already mentioned that conditions for Turkish entry to the European Union stipulate this recognition. Recognition would also encourage trust, co-operation and political stability with neighbouring countries. For example, Armenians in Armenia and Nagorno-Karabakh might be reassured that they are less likely to become victims of renewed Turkish-Azeri policies of aggressive pan-Turkism.

It must be in the interests of all who live in the region to seek economic co-operation and political stability. These cannot be achieved while Turks continue to live a lie and while Armenians continue to suffer an unresolved hurt.

Turkey should also understand the damage to many of its own people by continuing denial of historical truth. Some years ago I had the pleasure of visiting Turkey to give a series of lectures on nursing and healthcare. I found many of my colleagues, who became great friends, were fully aware of the genocide, freely admitted it and expressed their wish that their government would do so, so that they could live honestly with themselves as Turkish citizens and build good relations based on reconciliation with their Armenian neighbours. Until the truth is recognised, many decent, honest and principled people in Turkey have to endure a schizophrenic existence to their own discomfort and at the cost of international peace and justice.

It is very important for the Government of the UK to recognise this genocide, as this would prove that the Government are honouring their commitment to human rights and to an ethically-based foreign policy. Also, the Government would be following the good example of those who have already recognised the genocide. Otherwise, the UK remains stigmatised in the shameful category of those who consistently and over many years have allowed other interests to distort commitment to truth and justice.

This has been the century of genocides, starting with German war crimes in south-west Africa and culminating in Rwanda and the Balkans, with Kosovo presenting a hideous contemporary example. If nations are allowed to commit genocide with impunity, to hide their guilt in a camouflage of lies and denials, there is a real danger that other brutal regimes will be encouraged to attempt genocides. During the recent debate on Azerbaijan's attempted ethnic cleansing of the Armenians from their historic land of Nagorno-Karabakh, I referred to Hitler's monstrous rhetorical question before he embarked upon his genocidal policies against Jews and Poles in Poland:


    "Who speaks today about the Armenians?"

Unless we speak today of the Armenian genocide and unless the Government recognise this historical fact, we shall leave this century of unprecedented genocides with this blot on our conscience; we will embark upon the

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new millennium with a blemish on our national honour and integrity; and with tacit encouragement for other genocides in years to come. We therefore owe it to our own nation, to the Armenians, to the Turkish people, and to future generations, to recognise this genocide, and I hope the Government give us this assurance tonight.

5.51 p.m.

The Earl of Shannon: My Lords, I must first declare my interest as chairman of the British-Armenian parliamentary group. I intend to speak briefly. I have a slight variation on the Question raised by the noble Baroness, Lady Cox.

In an admirable speech, the noble Baroness set out the details of the horrors of 1915-18. No doubt we shall hear more about them from other noble Lords. Therefore, I shall not take time dealing with that aspect. I merely state that it is an historical fact supported by the most massive amount of evidence. There can be no argument whatever about that.

As the noble Baroness, Lady Cox, said, what took place in 1915 is similar to what is now taking place in Kosovo except that in 1915 it was taking place on a much larger scale. The real crux of the Question we are discussing is that Her Majesty's Government have for so long and so obstinately refused to acknowledge that historical fact. Perhaps it is just a matter of etymology, of the word "genocide". I concede that the word was evidently not known in 1915-18 and therefore was not applied to the circumstances at the time. However, as the noble Baroness explained, after World War II, the United Nations, in 1948, drew up a precise definition of what "genocide" meant. It is absolutely clear. Very simply, it is the intention to destroy a people and their culture.

What happened in 1915-18 fits fairly and squarely into that definition. There can be no argument about that whatever. The word is now in common usage to describe such a crime. I draw another point from the speech made by the noble Baroness. In describing the present situation in Kosovo, our own Foreign Secretary recently, in a press article, referred to that matter. Adolf Hitler, to whom the noble Baroness referred, must be and will for ever be the greatest authority on genocide. He realised that what he was going to do was exactly what had been done to the Armenians. Who are Her Majesty's Government to ignore such an authority?

We have now reached the time at which we should stop ducking and weaving about this matter. We must grasp the nettle firmly. We must stop using descriptions such as "unfortunate massacres". It was clearly genocide. What happened was clear; the definition is clear; and they both fit together exactly.

Let us not have the theory advanced sometimes that it was not the Ottoman Turkish Government who caused it; that it was the activities of a small political party. When it happened, the military, the police, paramilitaries and irregulars, mainly Kurds--who are now whingeing about what the Turks are doing to them but it is what they were made to do by the Turks to the Armenians in those days--all simultaneously took

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action. It did not occur gradually. That shows that it can only have been organised by a central government authority.

We should never have accepted at Nuremberg that the holocaust of World War II or the concentration camps and so on were the activities of a few breakaway Nazis. Most of the nation and certainly the government were involved. The same is true in this regard. There is proof. The Ottoman Turkish Government started to notify American life insurance companies that their policyholders were now dead and that payments under the policies should be made to the Turkish state. What reason do Her Majesty's Government have for defying that logic, fact and history?

5.57 p.m.

Lord Pearson of Rannoch: My Lords, I was not certain that I should be able to be here for the start of the debate, so I removed my name from the list. I wrote to the noble Lord, Lord Monson, in those terms. It may be that I shall wish to detain your Lordships for a couple of minutes in the gap. But since I withdrew my name, that means noble Lords have a few more minutes each, and I wish them luck.

5.58 p.m.

Lord Monson: My Lords, I thank the noble Lord, Lord Pearson, for explaining that. I am afraid that I did not receive his letter but I do now have a little more time.

I apologise for speaking at short notice and, I fear, with minimal preparation, as will no doubt become all too obvious. I arrived back from the Alentejo late on Monday night in order to participate in yesterday's important debate. It was only when I happened late last night, accidentally, to glance at the provisional List of Speakers for this debate that I realised that there was a possible danger of this afternoon's debate being just a trifle one-sided. I say that as one who has always admired enormously the noble Baroness, Lady Cox, and, indeed, other speakers who generally take her point of view on this matter.

At the risk of over-simplification in the time available, perhaps I may try to set the scene. By the standards of most of the past 600 years, although not, of course, by the standards of the last half of the twentieth century, the Ottoman empire was generally pluralist and reasonably tolerant, more so than most of Christian Europe during most of that time.

Sephardic Jews expelled from Spain in 1492 by Ferdinand and Isabella were welcomed to the Ottoman empire in their tens of thousands. They settled in Constantinople, Salonika, and elsewhere, where they prospered hugely. Although, to some extent, in that empire non-Moslems were second class citizens (like Arabs in Israel, Jews in pre-war Poland, Roman Catholics in Ireland at one time and Protestants in Franco's Spain) they were not third or fourth-class citizens, with very few exceptions. Indeed, provided that they obeyed the rules and did not rock the boat, the Armenians and other Christians could rise to senior and well-paid positions in Government as well as making money commercially.

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In the first decade of this century, came the young Turks, who were ironically styled "progressives". Their philosophy included the idea of ethnic and cultural purity, which could clearly be achieved only by population transfers by one means or another. At the same time, the Armenians were gripped by the nationalist ideologies which were then sweeping through the world.

Then, of course, came World War II. Things went badly for the Ottoman empire. As always, scapegoats were sought. Fifth columnists were suspected everywhere--just look at what happened to bewildered Italian waiters in London in 1940 or to the unfortunate Japanese-Americans in California in 1942. Consequently, accusing fingers were pointed, above all, at the Armenians.

We all know broadly what happened next, though I must admit that I did not know things were quite as bad as have been described by the noble Baroness. What happened was indeed terrible. I do not seek to minimise the sufferings of the Armenians. However, I submit that it is not genocide as most people understand the word. It was not, for instance, comparable to the Chinese attempt totally to exterminate Tibetan identity and culture. Still less is it comparable to the Nazi attempt from 1942 onwards to exterminate the Jewish race the world over.

Perhaps I may enumerate a few of the differences. The Jews had always been good German citizens and fought bravely for Germany during World War I; indeed, many won Iron Crosses, whereas some, although not all, Armenians were indeed subversives. That was, no doubt, for understandable reasons. The Jews never retaliated against German civilians, whereas on the rare occasions when the Armenians had the upper hand--for example, following the Russian invasion of eastern Turkey towards the end of the First World War--they (again, perhaps, understandably) took reprisals upon Moslem civilians.

Most importantly, the Jews were hunted down and murdered everywhere in Germany and on the German occupied continent, even during the last days of the war in Europe, whereas atrocities against Armenians were confined largely to eastern and central Anatolia. The substantial Armenian community in and around Constantinople survived reasonably intact. I certainly had one Armenian friend whose parents lived in Constantinople through World War I.

Moreover, while the policy of the Ottoman government of forcibly deporting Armenians away from Russian frontier regions to Syria undoubtedly involved an enormous amount of suffering (in the same way as the Japanese forced marches of prisoners of war and European and Asian civilians during World War II led to terrible suffering), the deaths involved were incidental rather than the prime purpose of those marches.

Meanwhile, the murder of many thousands of Armenians by Kurdish and other civilians was not organised by the government even if--and that I concede--the government may have lost little sleep over it. Those massacres were partly fuelled by the sort of religious hatreds we have seen in the Balkans over the

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past 150 years or more--remember that orthodox Christians and catholic Christians murdered one another in Yugoslavia for making the sign of the cross in the wrong way--and partly fuelled by resentment against economically successful groups, comparable to the hatred vented periodically against the Chinese minority in those parts of south-east Asia where Moslems predominate.

Despite the fact that what happened in 1915 is not and cannot be the fault of anyone alive in Turkey today, and despite the fact that the blame is not entirely on one side, I, too, wish that Turkish friends and acquaintances would express some sympathy with the Armenian innocents--if I may put it in that way--in public as many of them already do in private. I also wish that they would stop pretending that the Armenians were recent immigrants to Anatolia in the same way, ironically, as the Serbs pretend that the Albanians are recent immigrants to Kosovo.

However, as somebody who has been to Turkey quite a few times over the past 45 years, I can assure the House that we will never get a proud people like the Turks to modify their views by wagging an accusing finger at them, still less by branding their recent ancestors as the equivalent of Pol Pot or Hitler.

6.5 p.m.

The Earl of Carlisle: My Lords, I thank the noble Baroness, Lady Cox, for introducing this Unstarred Question. The fact that we are having the debate nearly three quarters of a century after these terrible events took place is testimony first to the fact that these islands deplore very strongly indeed the act of genocide. Secondly, it is testimony to the strong fellowship that has long existed between the British and Armenian people and our defence of them when dreadful events have happened to them. It is also a tribute to the courage and persistence of the noble Baroness and the noble Earl, Lord Shannon, who have worked tirelessly on their behalf.

I begin by stating that I admire the good qualities of the Turkish people at their best, as our worthy opponents on the Gallipoli peninsula in 1915, the year these atrocities took place; as our allies in Korea when we fought side by side with them under the UN flag; and as our partners in NATO, in which I have been proud to serve.

I should like to tell a true anecdote of the Korean war. American servicemen, British servicemen and Turkish servicemen were captured in some numbers by the Chinese. They were held in degrading and dreadful conditions. Some of them were tortured by the Chinese, their oppressors. At the end of 19 months' captivity, longer for some, they were released. Some were nervous and physical wrecks for the rest of their lives.

It was a matter of interest that the allies discovered that the Turks survived rather better than the Americans and the British. The question was asked of the Turks: why? What did they have that the British and the Americans lacked? The Turks said, "We have been better treated by the Chinese than by our own people." That, I suggest, is an example of the Turkish psyche.

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However, I certainly did not admire the conduct of some of the leaders and officials of the Turks in 1974 in Cyprus when they invaded that island, although it was not my role then to criticise them since I, too, was a serving soldier under the UN flag. Neither do I admire their recent record on human rights. We will, I trust, hear more about that from my noble friend and kinsman Lord Avebury.

I deeply respect the Armenian people. As we enter another millennium we might recall that in the third century Armenia was the first state in the world to adopt Christianity. The Armenian people are survivors. Although incorporated into the Ottoman and Soviet empires they survived, yet again, to become a free and independent nation on 21st September 1991. Let them remain so; they richly deserve it.

As the noble Baroness, Lady Cox, reminded us, the term "genocide" was coined in 1948. In that year the UN convention on the prevention of genocide came into force. I shall not ask your Lordships to recall that as we have just heard the terms. I prefer to define "genocide" as murder on a grand scale. I use the word "grand" with the deepest irony and distaste when we consider that 600,000 people, all civilians, lost their lives in 1915.

Some have argued that there was a war going on at the time and that these events, as we see yet again today, are inevitable in a war. But the events of 1915 occurred and they were genocide. Let us recognise that. Others argue that it was the first genocide of this century and it is important that we admit that we do not condone and will never forget it. But I suggest that this nation came near to practising genocide before 1915 during this century. I remind your Lordships that from February 1901 onwards, 4,000 Boer women and 16,000 children perished in 8,000 block houses (named concentration camps) in South Africa during the second Boer war. That is a stain on our record; we admit it.

The British Government of the time must share some of the responsibility for those events which were carried out by their officials in their name. It prompted the leader of my party, Sir Henry Campbell-Bannerman, to speak out and pose the question, "When is a war not a war?" He provided his own answer: "When it is carried out by methods of barbarism."

I hope that the Turkish Government, Her Majesty's Government and others recognise the events in Armenia during 1915 as genocide, even if they cannot bring themselves to say so publicly. But, as I told the Minister earlier, I prefer to look forward, not back, as we enter the new millennium and I am sure the noble Baroness will wish to do so too when she comes to the Dispatch Box.

Population statistics are sometimes a useful guide. Today 3.7 million Armenians are living in freedom in their homeland; 5.3 million Armenians, part of the diaspora, live abroad, all in freedom. We are fortunate that 10,000 of those 5.3 million live and work in our homeland in freedom in London, Manchester and elsewhere. They serve our community as doctors, lawyers and businessmen. We are grateful for all that they do and I ask the Minister, now that Armenia is free

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and independent again, to return the compliment that those 10,000 pay us by doing more for the people of Armenia.

I put forward some proposals the noble Baroness may wish to consider. First, will we consider carefully and act promptly in response to any request from the Armenian Government to assist them in remaining independent and in enhancing their recently re-acquired democratic system? We will then show their neighbours that we will not tolerate the events that took place earlier this century ever happening again.

Secondly, will Her Majesty's Government use their influence through the OSCE to seek a just and lasting peace over the dispute involving Nagorno-Karabakh which has festered and made that region insecure? Thirdly, cannot we immediately establish a British Council office in Yerevan? Why has it taken eight years to do that? Fourthly, to mark the millennium, will the Government consider assisting Friends of Armenia in Britain who wish to establish a chair of Armenian studies at the LSE or the School of Oriental and African Studies at London University?

Finally, we have sent £7 million worth of goods to Armenia and received a certain amount back. We are shortly to enter a new millennium. The noble Baroness may not wish to reconsider the Government's refusal to accept as genocide the action by Turkey against the Armenian people in 1915. If so, I regret that. However, the Minister and the Foreign Office may wish to be reminded of a famous story in the Bible. It concerns a woman caught in adultery. Christ was invited to censure her for her conduct--or should I say misconduct? Instead he told her to go away and sin no more. I hope that when the Minister comes to the Dispatch Box this evening, she will say loudly and clearly to the Turkish Government and other nations who persecute or have committed genocide against their neighbours--for example, the former Soviet Union in the Baltic states, Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania--"Never do that again"!

6.14 p.m.

Viscount Waverley: My Lords, put simply, I would not encourage the Government to entertain such a measure. Where would recognition of past ill-doing in the world end? There was widespread suffering of cataclysmic proportions borne by all sides during those war years.

Of course, I recognise that Armenians suffered. But official recognition would establish a less than useful and controversial precedent, serving only to exacerbate an already volatile situation. We should remember, in addition, that history is generally invariably interpreted in a partisan manner and is therefore unreliable and inconsistent.

The world is a far different place now, but a world nevertheless still in turmoil. Armenia needs friends and this measure would serve only to alienate neighbours. Mercifully, we are moving to an era of regionalism; that of shared resources and shared responsibilities. Therein lies the best hope for the future.

A more relevant question, to my mind, could include when we are going to have clear guidelines on the contradiction between the perceived right to

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self-determination and territorial integrity and the contentious issue of intervention. That, I submit, is an issue we should be tackling in a new world order.

6.16 p.m.

Lord Biffen: My Lords, like the noble Earl, Lord Shannon, I am a member of the Anglo-Armenian Association and am pleased to be so because of the deep affection I have for the Armenian people, their history and their witness to Christian values. In that context I was delighted by the nature of the speech of my noble friend Lady Cox. She set out a catalogue of the suffering of the Armenian people in the first war which was compelling and which must be a reminder to consciences the world over.

I should like to use the short period that I have available not to recapitulate the arguments about the suffering of the Armenian people but to say that in this Chamber we live with the echoes of the past. We live with a deep British concern about the authority and the rapaciousness of the competing nations in the Balkan countries. We live with Gladstone, the Midlothian campaign, the Bashi Bazouks and the deep anxiety about the nature of Turkish domination in the south-east Europe of that age. This is an occasion just to remind ourselves of that, because if we do not live with our history, if we are not fuelled by a sense of the methods it provides, then we are lacking in a major contribution that should be made to the public debate.

The truth is that genocide, mass slaughter or savagery are characteristic of this part of Europe and Asia and have been for decades. I do not say that in any complacent sense but as a recognition of the anger and concern that Gladstone and his generation felt about that part of the world. It was not just about British access to the routes to India. In fact, it is a timely message, when we are considering a moral capacity in foreign policy and in the action that has to sustain that foreign policy, that at the end of the day all those who practise ethnic cleansing or genocide have to be recognised in a world of realpolitik, because we cannot live in a world of perpetual revolution, reconciliation and argument.

There is realpolitik at the end of this and I am delighted that this debate indicates an understanding of the Turkish position as well as that of Armenia--Armenian ex-patriot that I am. I say that because, in this day and age, we know that sooner or later in the disputes now raging in the Balkan countries some kind of modus vivendi will have to be reached; and it is not one that will be reached using almost Crusader zeal. At the end of the day, whatever may be the halitosis from which our neighbours suffer, we will have to sit down and consider the matter in the belief that there is something better than aerial bombardment.

6.20 p.m.

Lord Pearson of Rannoch: My Lords, as threatened, I wish to take just a few minutes of your Lordships' time in the gap. I have to say that I was very impressed, as usual, by the history of this tragedy given by my noble friend Lady Cox. I thought it was generous of the

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noble Lord, Lord Monson, when he said he did not regard the Armenian genocide as "genocide" in the sense of the word that most people understand, that he was good enough to admit he was not aware of all the facts outlined by my noble friend Lady Cox.

I was a little more perplexed by the line taken by the noble Viscount, Lord Waverley, when he asked: where would recognition of past evil-doing finish if the UK Government were to recognise the truth of the Armenian genocide? I have to say to the noble Viscount that I have friends in commerce in Turkey. I cannot think of any one of them who would not prefer his government to come clean on this dreadful event. So I have to ask him, and indeed the Minister who is to reply for the Government, what is wrong with confession? Is it not always cleansing? If that were to happen, and if the Government were to encourage it, it would be a thoroughly healthy thing for the whole area.

6.22 p.m.

Lord Avebury: My Lords, the question is not whether the events of 1915-16 took place, but whether they are to be described as "genocide". We have heard a variety of answers to that question this evening, just as, in correspondence and following questions with Ministers, we have been given a variety of answers. For example, the Minister in another place, Joyce Quin, said that it is not the job of today's Government to review past events with a view to pronouncing on them according to today's values and attitudes. I beg to disagree with her. She forgets Santayana's dictum that:


    "Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it". She also forgets that the genocide convention, the terms of which the noble Baroness has already outlined to your Lordships,


    "recognises that at all periods of history genocide has inflicted great losses on humanity". It is partly because we ignore or gloss over the past that I suggest we still have no effective means of stopping the genocidalists of today.

The noble Baroness, Lady Cox, and the noble Earl, Lord Shannon, quoted Hitler's infamous remark.


    "Who talks nowadays about the destruction of the Armenians"-- I emphasise the word "destruction". Hitler undoubtedly knew about the Armenian genocide and used it as a model. So it is our business to pronounce on those crimes today.

In correspondence, the noble Baroness, Lady Symons, takes a rather different line. She says that, in the absence of evidence to show that the Turkish Government took a specific decision to eliminate the Armenians under their control at the time, the British Government have never recognised the events of those years as a genocide. Well, no one had any doubts about it at the time. In the well-known government Blue Book of 1916, Viscount Bryce described the events in question as,


    "an effort to exterminate a whole nation, without distinction of age or sex, whose misfortune it was to be the subjects of a Government devoid of scruples or pity".

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    The Turks dismiss that evidence as war propaganda, but the largest part of it came from neutrals, some from the citizens of Turkey's allies, including the Germans, and most of the remainder from the survivors. The testimonies of the Blue Book were confirmed and amplified after the war by many sources, including the material that was collected for the war crimes trials that were to be held after the allied victory in 1918.

Unfortunately, Britain was partly responsible for "the holocausts of 1915", as Mr. Lloyd George acknowledged in his memoirs, using that phrase. Britain procured the withdrawal of Russian troops from Turkey's Armenian provinces in the 1878 Treaty of Berlin. The European powers had a duty of superintending the application of measures to guarantee the security of the Armenians in those provinces, but, when it came to the test--the Sassoun massacre in 1894 and the numerous pogroms which followed over the next two years--we turned our backs.

If the noble Lord, Lord Monson, wants to look into the history of the matter, he should not start with 1915; he should examine the precursors of the genocide which took place over many years before that time. The Sultan, Abdulhamid, was the Milosevic of his time, adept at playing off the western powers against each other and seeing just how far he could go. Sassoun was, if you like, the test of European will, like Srebrenica a century later. Most of the population of 24 villages were totally exterminated. In Geliguzan young men were bound together and burned alive, while in another village 60 women were herded into a church, gang-raped and massacred.

If one looks at the whole of the two years of the Abdulhamid massacres, it will be seen that some 200,000 Armenians were killed and that the Ottoman authorities discovered that Europeans contented themselves with expressions of indignation which never approached the threshold of intervention. The massacres of 1894-96 were therefore a dress rehearsal for the genocide of two decades later, just as the atrocities in Bosnia led inexorably to the genocide that we are seeing in Kosovo today. Both the noble Baroness and the noble Earl, Lord Shannon, mentioned the parallel with Kosovo.

When the Ittihadists took over in 1908, the pogroms continued. In the Adana massacre of 1909, 25,000 Armenians were killed. The new government then reactivated the "Special Organisation"--a paramilitary outfit led by regular officers--which was charged with the duty of surveillance and neutralisation of internal enemies. They began collecting secret files on the Armenian leaders who were to be murdered. As has been said, the outbreak of war provided the Ittihadists with the opportunity to implement their plans for genocide. The Germans knew what was going on, but the Kaiser gave orders to all military and diplomatic personnel to keep silent so as to avoid harming the war effort. Yet the German Ambassador Wangenheim, who has already been quoted by the noble Baroness, Lady Cox, said that,


    "the destruction of the Armenians, which has been carried out on a large scale, resulting from a policy of extermination", arose from internationally promoted attempts at reform.

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The Allies were in no doubt about who was responsible. On 24th May 1915 they issued a joint declaration condemning the,


    "connivance and often assistance of Ottoman authorities", in the massacres, and the statement continued:


    "In view of these new crimes of Turkey against humanity and civilisation, the Allied governments announce publicly that they will hold personally responsible all members of the Ottoman government and those of their agents who are implicated in these massacres". When the arrests of Armenian leaders began in April 1915, that was an act of the state. In May 1915 the Interior Ministry issued a Temporary Law of Deportation, which led to the removal from their homes of virtually the whole of the Armenian population of the Ottoman empire, not just those living in eastern Anatolia, as the noble Lord, Lord Monson thinks. That, too, was an act of the state. Armenian men of military age were all conscripted into the army. After being used in labour battalions for a while they were almost all murdered, some being compelled to dig their own graves. That too was an act of the state and of the leaders of the state.

After the war the Allies considered how the laws of humanity and the dictates of public conscience could be applied to crimes against civilian populations in wartime, and a tribunal was created to try those offences. The British arrested 118 alleged war criminals but in the meanwhile the French and Italians, who were hoping to get in on the ground floor with the Kemalists, sabotaged that international judicial process.

However, the Ittihadist leaders were tried by the Turks themselves and were condemned to death in absentia. In the key verdict, and the verdicts of tribunals sitting around the country under the control of Istanbul, the common element was the finding that the real purpose of the deportations was the extermination of the whole Armenian population of the Ottoman empire.

Your Lordships may have seen in the Observer magazine on Easter Sunday a remarkable account of the life of Thomas Buergenthal. He survived both Auschwitz and Sachsenhausen to become a distinguished lawyer in the United States. He said that giving people back their lives is not just a matter of punishing the guilty. He said,


    "A nation has to confront its past by acknowledging the wrongs that have been committed in its name". The failure to confront its past by modern Turkey not only affects the lives of the genocide survivors' grandchildren and great-grandchildren; it is one of the major problems confronting Turkey if it wants to be part of Europe and to live in peace and trust with the state of Armenia, all that is left to the Armenian people of their historic territories. By our continuing refusal to speak the whole truth of what we know about that appalling crime, and to give that crime its proper name, we ensure that its evil feeds down the generations.


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