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Armenia: Genocide

Volume 728: debated on Thursday 16 June 2011

Question

Asked By

To ask Her Majesty’s Government what is their timetable for recognising the Armenian genocide.

My Lords, there is no doubt that the treatment of the Armenians was horrific and caused the deaths of hundreds of thousands by force of arms, starvation or disease. They should not be forgotten, but we believe that it is for the Turkish and Armenian people to work together to address their common history. We encourage any process which helps them do so in an open, honest and constructive manner, but it would not be helpful for us to pre-empt their conclusions.

My Lords, France has already recognised the genocide. One and a half million people were massacred in 1915. I have just come back from Armenia where I visited the genocide museum. I am sure that many of your Lordships have visited the Holocaust museum. This is no less upsetting, shocking and dreadful than the Holocaust museum. There is so much evidence and it was known at the time that this was happening. Every newspaper from every country had headlines about this massacre. It is out of the question for Turkey and Armenia to decide. Nobody thinks of Armenia as a country worth thinking about. It is for us to recognise—

Thank you very much everybody. You are all helping me, which is very kind. Is it not for us to recognise this crime against humanity? It is time that we did that. Turkey has ambitions—I have the Turkish Review.

We all appreciate the noble Baroness’s feelings about what was clearly an horrific event in the distant past and one that arouses exactly the feelings of shock and horror that the noble Baroness has demonstrated. The Turkish and Armenian people are trying their best through a protocol procedure to normalise their relations and establish the right nomenclature and attitudes between each other so that these two countries can live in peace with a common border and continue to work for their joint prosperity. Now that protocols have been initialled and now that other Governments—the United States, France and other key countries—all take the same view as we do, this is the right way forward. Behind this is the other worry about Nagorno-Karabakh, and all that, which is being handled by the Minsk process of Russia, the United States and France. These two things together provide hope for the future and it would not be useful or constructive for us to take an issue and raise the heat of the matter by intervening in the way suggested by the noble Baroness.

Does my noble friend agree that after a century of taboo and silence Turkish journalists and historians are at last beginning to discuss the evidence of murder, enslavement, deportation and forcible transfer, rape, persecution and other inhumane acts of a similar character directed against the Armenian population of Turkey in 1915-16? Would it not help Turkey’s application to join the European Union if Turkish politicians acknowledged the crimes of their ancestors?

I repeat that the best way forward is for Turkey and Armenia, which have initialled detailed protocols, to work to sort this out. I believe that Turkey, which is a very dynamic and an increasingly key country in both the Middle East and in European affairs, is fully aware of this and is determined to push forward with an understanding. There are many people on the Armenian side who, while fully recognising the horrors to which my noble friend has referred, also believe that this is the right way forward.

My Lords, given that, as the Minister said, there is no doubt that genocide took place and that those who were killed should not be forgotten, can he say what is the official guidance on representation at the Armenian Genocide Memorial Day? I understand that there has been some reluctance of Ministers and others to attend the commemoration.

I will write to the right reverend Prelate on the precise wording of guidance on that. Behind it, there is always the concern that it is a matter to be settled between Turkey and Armenia. They are trying their best to do so and we must be very responsible and careful about any moves or acts of recognition or acceptance that would upset a delicate but very important process. I know that it is a natural impulse to feel, as the noble Baroness, Lady Flather, indicated, that we want to express our outrage at what occurred, but the best way forward is between these two countries.

Does the Minister recognise that Armenia and Turkey, as well as Azerbaijan, all work together very constructively in the Council of Europe and, at a political level, in the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe? That body, which serves such useful purposes on so many disputes that still exist in the wider Europe, is currently being starved of money by having much less generous settlements of its already meagre budget by comparison with the settlements that are being made for the European Union budget. Will the Minister look at that and make sure that the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe and the Council of Europe, with their roles in relation to the European Court of Human Rights, are getting adequate resources to do their valuable work?

Of course I will look at that. We recognise that at this time everyone is having to trim back on the availability of resources, but I am absolutely at one with the noble Lord on this matter. The Council of Europe is a very valuable forum in which the very long-standing and difficult disputes of the area can begin to be effectively resolved.

Is the Minister aware that there is a serious risk in Turkey of prosecution for journalists and writers who use the term “Armenian genocide”—some have been prosecuted—and that much educational material for schools has been produced by the Turkish Government denying the Armenian genocide? Does the Minister agree that such censorship in public discussion and education is unacceptable for a nation that hopes to join the European Union?

I do not want to comment on the detailed internal affairs of the Turkish Republic, but of course the values of freedom of expression are very important to us. We will continue to uphold our values and assert them wherever we can—and we do. The precise internal handling of the issue that Turkey and Armenia are now proceeding to handle is one that we have to leave to them.