Memorandum submitted by Christopher J
(1) I am the author of two books on the modern
history of Armenia, one of which, entitled Armenia: the Survival
of a Nation, has been used as a textbook in the American universities
where the subject is studied. I have also written many articles
and reviews. My serious involvement with the subject began in
1971, when I won a Winston Churchill Travelling Fellowship to
write a modern history of Armenia.
(2) I have studied many aspects of the relations
both between Armenia and Great Britain, and between Armenia and
its immediate neighbours in Transcaucasia. (Relation between Armenia
and Central Asia have on the whole been unproblematic.) Within
Transcaucasia there has always been a rich and potent mixture
of ethnicities, traditions, languages and religious affiliations,
and the region's most successful times have been when this diversity
has been recognized. It is important to note, in view of current
preoccupations with fundamentalist religion, that religious traditions
count as much but no more than literary and other cultural traditions
in Transcaucasia. There is no tradition of religious extremism.
The Samuel Huntingdon thesis of the "Clash of Civilizations"
is demonstrably mistaken as far as Transcaucasia is concerned.
Christianity has never faced Islam here. Other elements have created
hate and bloodshed, as well as amity and harmony and cultural
stimulation. Religion has not been one of them, except in a very
(3) As regards the Anglo-Armenian past, the
memory of individual British people (notably Byron and Gladstone,
and a number of charitable workers) is held in high regard; and
the spirit of British fair play and parliamentary democracy is
admired; but in the main the Anglo-Armenian past is a largely
disillusioning time, since most often the British empire supported
powers hostile to Armenia. In the last century Disraeli and Queen
Victoria upheld the Ottoman empire when it persecuted and misgoverned
Armenians. Britain held off from any involvement in the 1908 Ottoman
Constitution, for fear of the introduction of constitutions in
Egypt or India, where British power rested on armed force; this
act of unconcern thereby facilitated the growth of the German-Turkish
alliance at the time of the First World War. Although Britain
documented the Armenian genocide (up to the middle of 1916) in
a Government Blue Book (Miscellaneous No. 31 (1916)), thereafter
the substance within that publication was ignored and no official
reference was made to it. During the British Military Occupation
of Transcaucasia of 1918-19 initial fairness dissolved into partiality
for Azeri landed and mineral interests in direct opposition to
the interests of Armenian villagers. The treaty of Lausanne (1923)
ignored the political rights of western Armenians; it gave no
place for any restitution to them after the losses resulting from
the Ottoman empire's war crimes of 1915-16. Even the provisions
in that treaty relating to the protection of minorities in Istanbul
(ie Armenians, Greeks and Jews) have been frequently ignored.
(4) Armenians have existed in Armenia since
ancient times: their presence is notably recorded by Xenophon
(c. 400 BC) and a host of later historians. They were the first
nation to convert to Christianity (301), and have had there own
culture and alphabet since 404. Their historic lands lay in ancient
times across the Roman-Persian imperial frontier. More recently
their people lived on both sides of the Ottoman-Russian border,
an international frontier which in our century mutated into the
Turkish-Soviet border. Since 1991 this frontier has become that
between Turkey and Armenia.
(5) A survey of Armenia's history would
reinforce the view that cultural and economic factors played major
parts in determining the good and bad times for Armenians in the
region, and not simply religion per se. Some of the most fruitful
and progressive times for Armenians were experienced under Islamic
rulers such as Shah Abbas of Persia (1586-1627). The points at
issue were the competency of the administration and culture of
the empire. It is these factors which made the eastern Armenian
experience under first Persia and then Russia far better than
the experience of the western Armenians unde Ottoman Turkey.
(6) Britain showed a spirit of generosity
to Armenia during the first world war, when a team of charitable
workers was dispatched to Yerevan in 1916 via Stockholm and Moscow
to assist with the extensive human tragedy created by the refugees
from the genocide against the Armenians perpetrated by the Ottoman
Turkish authorities. This spirit was seen more recently in Britain's
gift of a school to Gumayri (formerly Leninakan) following the
(7) In the context of Anglo-Armenian relations,
reference should also be made to the 400,000 Armenians who fought
with the Allies in the Soviet armies in the second world war,
and the 50 Soviet Armenian generals.
(8) Today the declared bases for Armenian
internal and foreign policy are furthering democracy and respect
for human rights. Good relations are sought with both the EU and
the USA. The matters of immediate concern to Armenia are the ending
of the blockades imposed by both Turkey and Azerbaijan on Armeniaostensibly
in view of Armenia's conduct during the Karabagh war, but those
with longer memories will recall the tactics of reducing communities
to submission. Two of the most keenly contested issues in Armenia
are recognition of the Armenian genocide of 1915, and support
for the majority Armenian people of Nagorno Karabagh and for resolution
of the situation there.
(9) Britain's documentation of the Armenian
genocide (Miscellaneous No. 31 (1916)) was made up of a
collection of accurate and impartial documents, gathered from
sources completely untainted by war propaganda, detailing the
Ottoman governmental assault on the Armenian people throughout
Ottoman Anatolia, including communities located far from the war
zones, which took place in 1915 and 1916. British government ministers
and members of both Houses of Parliament spoke in acknowledgement
of the totality of the measures against Armenians, which constituted
genocide even though the word had not yet been invented. The originals
of these documents can be seen (in files FO 96/205-212) in the
Public Record Office, where can also be found accounts of the
Armenian genocide described by participants, who later defected
to Russian forces and who were then turned over to the British
(10) What do British documents on the Armenian
genocide show? Throughout these documents, and the many German
diplomatic documents that came to light after the war, it became
clear that the assault on the Armenian people within the power
of the Ottoman empire was far more serious than a few "regrettable
massacres". In a speech in the House of Lords on 6 October
1915 Lord Bryce declared that the killings had been "absolutely
premeditated and systematic". They had constituted a single-minded
assault, well-organised (by the party in power, known as the Committee
of Union and Progress) and meticulously executed. Even semi-denationalised,
non-Armenian-speaking Armenians were taken off and murdered by
detachments of soldiers in the Ottoman countryside.
(11) Just as the intent of the killings
was genocidal in its ferocity, so too the explanation that the
condition in Ottoman Armenia constituted a state of "civil
war" is unacceptable. Imperial Turkey was fighting Imperial
Russia in 1915. There was no Armenian army until the independence
of Armenia in 1918, nor even an Armenian militia. There were Armenian
volunteer regiments which were part of the Russian army, just
as Turkey had recruited Islamic forces in Russian Transcaucasia.
The term "civil war" indicates an approximate equality
of forces. This was not the case for Armenians in 1915, where
the Turks controlled the army, the police and all the apparatus
of state, and the Armenians none of these things.
(12) The matter was an acknowledged fact
until the early 1920s. Then with the desire to accommodate the
new Turkey, and the feeling that Armenia had slipped irrevocably
into the Soviet sphere, reference to the Armenian genocide vanished.
It went off the record. The Armenian genocide became "The
Disremembered Genocide"one that had been known, and
which was then pushed aside. The word "genocide" was
not invented until 1943; but the elements which made up the Armenian
experience of 1915-16 exactly correlate to the distinctive items
connoted by the word "genocide".
(13) As regards Nagorno Karabagh several
points have to be borne in mind. The first is that for many years
this territory has held an Armenian majority. Until just under
200 years ago parts of it were governed locally by Armenian semi-princely
families known as "meliks". In the aftermath of the
First World War, when it was accounted one of the three "disputed
territories" between Armenia and Azerbaijan (the others being
Nakhichevan, today part of Azerbaijan, and Zangezur, today part
of Armenia), the Armenian population constituted 80 per cent.
During the British Military Occupation the inhabitants petitioned
the administrators to assign the territory to Armenia, on grounds
of democratic majority; but the British officers refused to do
so, appointing as governor a local Azeri landowner who was a close
associate of the Committee of Union and Progress which had recently
been in alliance with Germany and had organised the mass-killings
of Armenians throughout Anatolia. British policy on Nagorno Karabagh
was echoed two years later by Soviet policy, when despite an initial
local ruling that the territory should be awarded to Armenia,
it was over-ridden by Stalin, who as Commissar of Nationalities
awarded it to Azerbaijan. Thus the partiality of British imperial
officers for landed interests was mirrored in Stalin's antidemocratic
award of two years later.
(14) In the post-Khrushchev "thaw"
there were a number of appeals for the retrocession of the territory
of Nagorno Karabagh to Armenia. The Soviet authorities ignored
all of them.
(15) The generosity of Britain in donating
the Lord Byron school has already been mentioned. (Armenians take
education very seriously.) Another situation in which British
things have been held in high regard is the presence in Yerevan
of a branch of the Midland Bank. This British "first",
introducing Armenians to European banking, cash dispensers etc,
was very well regarded.
(16) In the more general field of international
relations, a real benefit that Britain could provide would be
to support the spirit of democracy and human rights in the region,
to encourage transparency in political dealings, and to abstain
from all arms sales to the region.
(17) The issue of the 1915 genocide is still
a burning topic, since so many families were afflicted by this
massive loss of life; Armenians realise that, since it has become
a live issue in Turkey's foreign policy, and not merely a topic
for historians, and since Turkey's policies are so closely attended
to in the west, it will be hard for them to make the truth known
about their people's experience. But they still hope that at least
the contents of the British Blue Book of 1916 will be acknowledged.
(18) Armenians have for many years had good
relations with Russia (although things were bad in the years 1903-12).
This is because relations with Turkey (whether imperial or republic)
were bad, and often intolerable. Good relations with Moscow persist
today. But at the same time Armenia is keen to open diplomatic
relations with Turkey. They want to open a dialogue. But they
have come up against a negative attitude from Turkey, which appears
driven by ethnic partiality for Azerbaijan, over and above any
support of democracy, or more general ethnic harmony, in Transcaucasia.
British support for a widening of the democratic (as opposed to
the purely ethnic) dimension in Turkey's foreign policy would
be much appreciated.
(19) Finally, Armenians regard their culture
with great respect. The fostering of cultural relations is always
appreciated. As well as the great Armenian arts of architecture
and manuscript illumination, music and the theatre are much in
demand. Shakespeare is treated almost as though he were an Armenian
dramatist. In Soviet times the Shakespeare Institute was of very
great importance. Support and exchange of cultural contacts with
Armenia today would be most beneficial.