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To encourage such a solution, Israel must stop any action, such as settlement activity and the construction of the separation barrier on Palestinian land, that is
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contrary to international law and threatens the viability of an agreed two-state solution. All final status issues—including borders—are for both parties to negotiate. The Israeli Government should not take any actions that might prejudice these negotiations.

Richard Burden: My right hon. Friend has clearly outlined well established UK policy. Given that Israel continues to build settlements and says that it will go ahead with the E1 plan, what, in practical terms, can Britain and the international community do to try to ensure that the objectives that my right hon. Friend wants to be achieved will be achieved, rather than precluded by further settlement building, particularly in E1?

Mr. Hoon: We have continued to set out the clear view in international law as well as getting the two parties into negotiation. In the end, the history of this tragic situation demonstrates that only the Israelis and Palestinians can reach conclusions. They might have help, assistance and guidance from the international community, but only if they sit down together and negotiate the issues—including the question of settlements—can there be real and lasting progress.

We believe that the Israelis should adhere to international law and we remain concerned by Israeli policies on settlements, the barrier and access to Jerusalem, all of which threaten to cut off Palestinian East Jerusalem from the west bank. Those policies will have serious economic, social and humanitarian consequences for the Palestinian people, and risk reducing the possibility of reaching a final status agreement on Jerusalem. The Government have therefore called on both parties to implement the 15 November agreement on movement and access and for Israel to take steps to improve the humanitarian and economic situation of the Palestinians, including by resuming transfers of the withheld Palestinian tax and customs revenues.

The Karni crossing is the only access point for Palestinian goods from the Gaza strip and is the major point for the import of goods. The Israel defence forces closed Karni on 26 April following a suicide bomb attempt that was foiled by Palestinian security, and reopened it on 21 May. We continue to raise the importance of crossing points with the Israeli authorities at all levels.

We remain concerned at the worsening security situation in Gaza and parts of the west bank. The Palestinian Authority must take action to stop the rocket attacks from Gaza on nearby Israeli villages. We also urge the Israeli Government to act with restraint in response to those attacks. The impact of Israel’s military operations in the occupied territories continues to cause concern. Israel, like all states, has the absolute right to defend itself against terrorism but it must respect international humanitarian law. IDF operations have resulted in Palestinian civilian deaths, including those of children. Such civilian casualties are unacceptable. In addition, the destruction of infrastructure only deepens Palestinians’ despair and hinders efforts to achieve a comprehensive settlement. The conflict cannot be solved by military means alone.

We are also concerned about the increase in intra-Palestinian violence, the effects that has on
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people’s daily lives, and the potential repercussions on the delivery of aid and on the political process. Legally constituted security services must take action to maintain law and order in the Gaza strip and the west bank.

My hon. Friend the Member for Birmingham, Northfield (Richard Burden) raised two consular cases. Tom Hurndall’s family met the Attorney-General on 5 May 2006 and will meet the Foreign Secretary shortly. We will decide on future actions once the Foreign Secretary has been able to discuss the case with the family. In relation to James Miller’s case, the Foreign Secretary met the Miller family on 11 May 2006 and is considering follow-up action in consultation with the Attorney-General.

In conclusion, the UK Government remain committed to a two-state solution to the middle east conflict and are eager to work with Israelis and Palestinians to achieve that. The only solution, as I have made clear repeatedly, remains a secure Israel and a viable, independent Palestinian state living side by side in peace and security. We are encouraged that Prime Minister Olmert and President Abbas have made commitments to negotiations and look forward to early progress. We and the international community stand ready to support them in any way we can. We also look to the Hamas-led Palestinian Government to commit to the Quartet’s three principles and thereby come into line with the international community’s views on how to make progress towards a lasting and permanent settlement.

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Genocide (Armenia and Assyria)

3.57 pm

Stephen Pound (Ealing, North) (Lab): It is a pleasure to appear before you this afternoon, Mr. Cook, and a particular honour that my right hon. Friend the Minister for Europe will be responding for the Government. Few Ministers, if any, know more about the subject and I could not have chosen a better Minister to respond.

I start with a minor point. The subject of this Adjournment debate appears on the Order Paper as “Genocide in Armenia and Assyria”. I am not seeking to apportion blame, but that is not the title that was submitted. The original title was “Recognition of the genocide of Armenians and Assyrians”. It would be obvious to you, Mr. Cook, and to many people, that to talk about genocide in Armenia, a country that has existed in its present form for a comparatively short time, and Assyria, a country that might have a millennia-old history but is not recognised in international boundaries, would be superfluous.

I wish to speak about the incidents in the then Ottoman empire, particularly in the spring of and throughout 1915, that led, I hope indisputably, to the planned, calculated genocide of the Christian community, which consisted principally of Armenians, Assyrians and Greeks. I shall seek to persuade my right hon. Friend that the time has finally come for Her Majesty’s Government to join so many other countries, Parliaments and legislatures in recognising the genocide that occurred in that year.

I hope that it will be comparatively uncontentious to state a few basic facts. One and a half million Armenian residents of the former Ottoman empire died between 1915 and 1923 as a result of calculated genocide. I hope that it is not contentious to say that 3.5 million of the historic Christian population of Assyrians, Armenians and Greeks then living in the Ottoman empire had been murdered—starved to death or slaughtered—or exiled by 1923. I hope that those are not contentious points. I hope that no one would seek to deny that the process started on 24 April 1915 in Constantinople, where 1,000 Armenians were identified, taken from their homes and murdered. I hope that it is not contentious to reaffirm that 300,000 Armenian males were then conscripted into the Turkish army, unarmed and then murdered, and that death marches into the Syrian desert took place.

Mr. Andrew Dismore (Hendon) (Lab): I do not wish to contest what my hon. Friend says, but I point out that the oppression of the Armenians started much earlier, in the 19th century, particularly under the reign of Sultan Hamid, who was one of the really evil people in this history.

Stephen Pound: Were I to attempt to address the history of the Armenian and Assyrian peoples, I would require far longer than the time that Mr. Speaker and you, Mr. Cook, have allocated to me. I shall refer later to the Caliph Sultan Abdul Hamid. For the record, I confirm that my hon. Friend is correct—massacres took place in 1895 and 1909, and throughout this period—but I am concentrating on 1915, because it is
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the first example of ethnic cleansing and genocide in the 20th century. For that reason, it is vital that we identify the full horror of what occurred.

I say that the events are uncontentious, yet Turkey’s greatest living writer, Orhan Pamuk, is currently the subject of attack and vilification, and even a court order, for stating that the Armenian and Assyrian genocides took place. The modern Turkish Government, of whom I am no enemy and who are not entirely responsible for their precursor Ottoman empire, deny to this day that genocide took place.

Mr. Dismore: The real problem is that article 301 of the Turkish penal code makes it an offence to insult Turkishness, and that is what Orhan Pamuk has been charged with. During the past year, 29 other journalists have been charged under that article, and eight have been convicted. Article 305 talks of acts against the fundamental national interest—

Frank Cook (in the Chair): Briefly.

Mr. Dismore: It applies in respect of the Armenian genocide and, of course, advocating troops going out of Cyprus. Article 318 is being used to oppress journalists in a similar fashion.

Stephen Pound: I freely and publicly admit that there are few in the House who have a deeper knowledge of the Turkish penal code than my hon. Friend. He is absolutely correct. To deny genocide is bad enough, but for a state to structure within its legal framework a formal legalistic denial of it seems to be taking us into another area.

I said earlier that I hoped that what I was saying was not contentious, but we have heard that it is. I put to the House the simple question, “Did it happen?” There are those in modern Turkey who would say that there was no genocide—that there was inter-communal fighting, and that a movement of people chose of their own free will to march into the desert and die; and that the decision was freely taken by people in the eastern Ottoman empire to leave their homes, in which their families had lived for hundreds of years, and to move away from their livelihoods and their ancestral lands and to choose instead a lonely death.

I find that view unconvincing, and I cite as evidence one of the most remarkable books that I have ever read. It is by Viscount Bryce and Arnold Toynbee. That book was published during the first world war at the express instigation of the then Foreign Secretary in order to respond to the reports that were then reaching Her Majesty’s Government, particularly via the United States Ambassador Morgenthau, of what appeared to be a systematic programme of genocide.

Toynbee, a distinguished Oxford historian, produced one of the most thoroughly researched and empirically backed volumes that I have ever read. Over and over again, it lists evidence from people who were there at the time. The original version was censored, because it did not name the witnesses. I am grateful, as is the House, to Ara Sarafian, who has published the full uncensored edition of “The Treatment of Armenians in the Ottoman Empire, 1915-1916: Documents Presented to Viscount Grey of Fallodon”, which identifies those
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who were there at the time—those who witnessed with their own eyes the horrors to which I refer.

I give credit to Lord Avebury, known to many of us as Eric Lubbock, who with me and the tireless campaigner Odette Bazil, presented a copy of the book to Downing street last year. We know that Lord Avebury is not well, and I am sure that we all send our best wishes to him. I also pay credit to Ninos Warda, whose famous book “Seyfo: the Assyrian Genocide in International Law” was recently published.

I also cite as evidence the “Blue Book”—provable, substantiated and sustained evidence. It contains 102 specific eye-witness reports by neutral or belligerent nationals—neutrals such as the United States, and belligerent nationals such as German missionaries. It also contains 10 full statements by missionaries and missionary societies and 66 reports from Armenian clergy, local residents and refugees, as well as the extraordinary documents released by the American State Department—the state papers of Edward Nathan, the US Consul in Mersina. To read his reaction to the unfolding horrors is to realise that this truly was the first genocide of the 20th century.

We have from the then Ottoman empire the evidence of the orders of the Minister of the Interior, Talaat Pasha, to the man whose position might roughly be described as analogous to that of a deportation Minister, Abdulahad Nuri, in which the Minister of the Interior orders Nuri to increase deportation and destruction finally to “solve the Eastern Question”.

Genocide did happen—3.5 million people were killed or died in the desert. Why did it happen? Armenians, Greeks and Assyrians had lived in the Ottoman empire for many hundreds of years, and some for even longer; and there was not a systematic programme or pogrom until late in the 19th century. Without doubt there were isolated incidents, but something changed, particularly during the caliphate of Sultan Abdul Hamid, and especially with the election of the Committee for Union and Progress.

Ittihadve Terakki, normally referred to now as the Young Turks, were heavily influenced by ideologues such as Via Gokalp and Behaeddin Shakir, and created an ideology of Turkification. They harked back to an earlier Turkish empire, which they wanted to see freed of those who were not Muslims and not Turkish speakers. The Christians were the obvious target.

On 12 November 1914, the sultan-caliph addressed an imperial declaration to the Turkish army and navy, demanding their participation in what he described as a “jihad”—a word that few of us knew 10 or 15 years ago, but which now sadly resonates throughout Westminster and the city. “Jihad” was the word that he used on that day. The ruling triumvirate of Talaat Pasha, Jemal Pasha and Enver Pasha were all enthusiastic supporters of the process of Turkification.

If one asks modern Turks why they still deny it, in addition to giving the theory that people willingly wandered to their deaths, they will say that the Armenians in particular were traitors. The Turks will refer to the huge Armenian community around Van lake in Van province, and the fact that some Armenians fought with General Nicolaieff, who led the Russian troops south to the Van lake and the vilayets in the area. This is an argument that constantly arises. General Nicolaieff’s fighting took
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place in July, long after the massacres had started. By May 1915, despite strong border censorship, reports were already being taken outside the Ottoman empire by travellers, missionaries and particularly employees of the Baghdad railway. Ambassador Morgenthau received a report that the River Euphrates was so choked with bodies that the water was breaking the banks and flowing beyond its course.

At that time, further evidence was identified. Previously, forced conversions to Islam had been demanded to spare people’s lives, but the rule was changed so that, to be spared, families could convert only in groups of no fewer than 100, or they would not be allowed the protection of Islam. By late May and early June, wounded orphans and widows were arriving in Aleppo, Marash, Aintab, Tarsus, Adana, Sivas, Konia and Smyrna. Refugee bodies throughout the world were begged to help those people, who were arriving in such huge numbers.

I have referred to the slaughter in Van, one of the traditional Armenian centres. That was matched, if not exceeded, by the genocide that took place in Cilicia in the vilayet of Adana and sandjak of Marash. That population had already endured a massacre as recently as 1909. Despite that, the population had increased and it was a stable community that had established its own churches and schools. There was little unemployment and a strong tradition of arable land and animal husbandry. Yet that community had the great misfortune to live on a strategic route through the empire and, more than that, to be the chosen target for Muslim refugees from the Roumelian vilayets that had been ceded by Turkey in 1913 as a consequence of the Balkan war. Those refugees wanted the area around Cilicia, and they got it—over the dead bodies of the established local community.

Zeitoun was ethnically cleansed from April 1915; its inhabitants were driven into the Anatolian desert to die. Those who did not were harried to Sultania and beyond; we do not know where they ended up nor what happened to them. We have records of who they were, but none about what happened to them. We know only that they ceased to be.

It is intensely difficult even to describe what was happening in the Ottoman empire at that time. Typically, the pattern was that Turkish regular army troops—I underscore that; they were regular army troops—would surround a village or community such as Ourfa. The local community would defend itself, as Ourfa’s did for a month. Then, inevitably, through force majeure, the Turkish regulars would surround, overcome and kill.

The one exception to that horrific repetition of slaughter was in Jibal Mousa in the vilayet of Aleppo. A French naval squadron lying offshore witnessed the inhabitants’ defence of Jibal Mousa, aware of the horror—the certain death—that awaited them should the Turkish regular army manage to breach their defences. The squadron rescued the inhabitants and carried them to Port Said, where they came under British protection.

Mr. Dismore: That account was very moving. It is a pity that when the same happened in Smyrna in 1923, the navies of the world stood by and let that city burn to the ground with the slaughter of hundreds of
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thousands of its inhabitants—Greek, Armenian and other Christian minorities. Ultimately, that led to an exchange of populations. My hon. Friend mentioned an example of when something was done by the rest of the world. Since then, however, the rest of the world has stood by and allowed the Armenians to suffer.

Stephen Pound: As I said, if I took right hon. and hon. Members down every bloodstained byway of the 20th century, I would exceed the time that I am allowed, Mr. Cook. My hon. Friend mentions the sacking of Smyrna and its replacement by Izmir. That is a scar on the history of our globe and our people. We know that.

I seek recognition of the genocide that occurred in the Ottoman empire. One might think that that ideologically motivated, militarily enforced genocide was so horrific, appalling and awful that recognition would be almost an irrelevance; after all, it would not bring anyone back to life. However, the relatives of those who suffered have experienced what they see as a double death: the deaths of their relatives and the death—the pain and agony—that they feel, knowing that those deaths are denied by those responsible. When we take those feelings into account, we begin to understand why recognition is so crucial and important.

I am massively indebted to the work of people whom I am proud to call my friends, such as Dr. Harry Hagopian, Raffi Sarkissian, Ninab Lamasso, Andy Dharmoo and so many others. They tell me over and again that until there can be recognition of the genocide, there can be no peace. Only when the denial has been confronted and the reasons for it analysed, and when the modern, secular Turkish Government finally understand what their ancestor Government did, can there be peace.

The friends whom I mentioned make that demand for the sake of remembrance, recognition, respect, redemption—and, yes, recompense. How otherwise can a people move on? The Armenian and Assyrian community has now spread to France, San Francisco, Australia and to our islands, where its people provide a service as ideal, model citizens. They are hard-working decent people, whom we are proud to call British and our brothers and sisters. Every time we look them in the eye, we see reflected the pain of the denial of their history. We simply cannot allow that situation to pertain.

I understand how difficult matters diplomatic are, and how Turkey is becoming increasingly important in the European context. It is a country for which I have no enmity; I have affection and respect for modern Turkey and only hope that it can do as this country has in respect of the crimes committed by our ancestors in centuries past. I hope that modern Turkey can accept what happened in its name and bring some peace.

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