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Lord Monson: My Lords, the revelations of the noble Lord, Lord Avebury, are extremely interesting and of course I cannot possibly dispute them. However, does he not agree that all these events occurred under the Ottoman empire and not under the Turkish Republic
Lord Avebury: My Lords, I invite the noble Lord to consider the parallel of modern German governments who acknowledge the evils that were perpetrated by Hitler even though they are not responsible for them.
Lord Moynihan: My Lords, I congratulate my noble friend Lady Cox on securing this debate tonight. Her commitment and dedication to the important causes which she espouses have few parallels. As my noble friend has said, today's debate is tragically timely. A debate over whether a crime warrants the heinous definition of genocide will always be a matter of the utmost gravity in your Lordships' House. But current events emphasise its importance all the more. In the twilight of the 20th century we are witnesses to atrocities, massacres, suffering and grief barely dissimilar to those which scarred its opening years. We continue to be plagued by the same question: have the intervening eight decades which have seen the loss of so many innocent lives really taught us very little, and are we nearer to bringing about an end to man's inhumanity to man? For when we look at what is happening in Kosovo this year it seems that few lessons have been learnt to ensure that past crimes against humanity can serve to prevent future ones.
Wide-ranging discussions and constructive debate on this issue are so important. As Armenians across the world prepare to observe the annual Armenian Remembrance Day no one should deny that--as my noble friend Lord Biffen said--the Armenian people suffered a tragedy of epic proportions in the years from 1915 to 1923. There is no doubt that the events which began in the spring of 1915 represent a crime against humanity by any standards, when, in the city of Constantinople, more than 200 Armenian civic, political and intellectual leaders were arrested, deported and subsequently executed. The senseless deportations and the slaughter of untold thousands of Armenians in the Ottoman empire which followed still today mark one of this century's darkest chapters. As we have heard, estimates of those Armenians who died in the massacres range from between 600,000 to one and a half million.
However, to decide the case for recognition by the British Government of these events as genocide, three key questions must be answered. First, is there evidence that the Armenian massacres constituted what we today would understand as genocide? Secondly, were the deaths of the Armenians part of a systematic and officially sanctioned policy of the Ottoman rulers? Thirdly, to what extent should the British Government in 1999 take steps to reassess events of 1915, and what practical purpose would be served by such a step?
My noble friend Lady Cox has referred to the most widely accepted definition of genocide, that which is contained in Article II of the Convention on the Prevention and Punishment of the Crime of Genocide approved by the General Assembly of the United
My noble friend Lady Cox has described the deeply disturbing events of 1915 and the violent and inhumane treatment of so many Armenian victims in deportations, in death marches without food or shelter, in concentration camps, when it is estimated that perhaps half the Armenian population were forcibly deported from their homelands in the north east of the Ottoman empire. My noble friend put her case for the recognition of the action against the Armenian people in 1915 as genocide with all her customary eloquence and sincerity. No stranger to persuasive arguments, she and other noble Lords referred to the number of international and national bodies which have done so, including in particular the European Parliament, the General Assembly of the Council of Churches, and a number of other parliamentary bodies. My noble friend was well aware of the position of the previous government. It is appropriate now that the present Government should be required to explain and justify their policy.
The position taken by my predecessors echoed that of past British governments which have always condemned the 1915 massacres. We have always taken pride in our close ties with the Armenian people, a bond which was forged when Gladstone took up their cause during the massacres of the 1890s and which was strengthened when the British government in 1916 issued in a Blue Book the data available for a "full and authentic record" of what had occurred in 1915.
However, in preparing for this debate I have noted that past British government decisions not to recognise the events of 1915 as a genocide have rested on the absence of evidence that the Turkish government of the day took a specific decision to eliminate the Armenians under their control. Indeed we have heard from the noble Lord, Lord Avebury, that this remains the view of the noble Baroness, Lady Symons. Can the Minister therefore confirm that it would require new evidence to come to light in order to change this position?
From these Benches we are of course sympathetic to the symbolism that international recognition of this eight decade old tragedy as genocide would constitute for the Armenian people. But all governments have a duty to assess carefully events of the past to determine what today requires official action. Britain's credentials as the
I believe that it would be of considerable benefit, therefore, to learn the extent to which the Minister accepts the argument posed by a number of your Lordships tonight, that there can be no basis for complete forgiveness and reconciliation between Armenia and Turkey without a recognition of the massacre as state-sponsored genocide from Turkey, on the basis that Turkey is living a lie and that Armenia still suffers an unresolved hurt.
What assessment has the Minister made of fears that if the Government acceded to requests to declare the activities of the Moslem Ottoman government against the Christian Armenians to have been genocide, while perhaps an accurate description of what was done and a proper use of the word, it would open the sores of an old wound and bring to life an 84 year-old tragedy. If so, what consequences do the Government believe would take place in those circumstances? The people concerned were denied their dream of independence in 1923, sacrificed on an altar of realpolitik and expediency. Nevertheless, over the decades of this century Armenians from across the globe have kept alive the vision of an independent Armenia and, in 1991, that vision became a reality. Today Armenia is a free and sovereign state, a living monument to the memory of those who died 84 years ago and a lasting pledge that such a tragedy will never again occur.
I seek an assurance from the Minister this evening that the United Kingdom will continue to place the highest priority upon efforts to preserve the historic establishment of a free Armenia, by redoubling our commitment to peace and stability in the Caucasus region and by playing our full part, together with the international community, in the quest for a just and lasting resolution to the conflict between Azerbaijan and Armenia over Nagorno-Karabakh, to which we have returned on a number of occasions over the past few years.
For it is incumbent on the international community to support reform, democracy, economic development and integration in the Caucasus region, to strengthen modern political and economic institutions and to assist in energy development, in the creation of an east-west transport corridor, and, most importantly, to help in conflict resolution in this still volatile region. Therefore the legacy of this tragedy, and a fitting monument to those who died in 1915, must be our recognition that crimes against humanity must not be tolerated and that evil must never be allowed to conquer.
Baroness Ramsay of Cartvale: My Lords, I thank the noble Baroness, Lady Cox, for initiating this debate, and I echo the sentiments of the noble Lord, Lord Moynihan, and other noble Lords tonight who have spoken in praise of her vigour in pursuing the causes she believes in. The noble Baroness is well known, both in this House and beyond, as a tireless campaigner for several causes and not least that of the Armenian people.
With others of your Lordships who have spoken tonight, I heard her speak passionately in support of the Armenians of Nagorno-Karabakh in the debate of 17th March, which was introduced by the noble Viscount, Lord Waverley. She and other noble Lords, including the noble Lord, Lord Avebury, have regularly written to Ministers on the issue of the shocking killings and deportations of Armenians in eastern Anatolia during the First World War. The noble Baroness has outlined some of these grim details tonight, and they have been echoed in some of the contributions from other speakers.
The position of Her Majesty's Government, which the noble Baroness has asked us to review, is, I believe, well known and understood, but it certainly bears repeating here tonight. The British Government condemned the massacres of 1915-16 at the time and viewed the sufferings of the Armenian people then as a tragedy of historic proportions. The British Government of today, like their predecessors, in no way dissent in any form from that view. Nor do we seek to deny or to play down the extent of that tragedy. It was a gruesome, horrifying tragedy, as the noble Earl, Lord Shannon, and other noble Lords have echoed tonight. I assure them that we are in no way dissenting from that analysis of what happened, but in the absence of unequivocal evidence to show that the Ottoman administration took a specific decision to eliminate the Armenians under their control at the time, British governments have not recognised the events of 1915 and 1916 as "genocide".
Many other governments--and here I have to say to your Lordships, in spite of some of the statements that have been made tonight, the vast majority of other governments--are in a similar position. Very few of them have officially attributed the name "genocide" to these tragic events. In our opinion that is rightly so, because we do not believe it is the business of governments today to review events of over 80 years ago with a view to pronouncing on them.
The noble Baroness, the noble Earl, Lord Shannon, and the noble Lords, Lord Avebury and Lord Moynihan, referred to the codification of the concept of genocide in international law, which did not happen until the Convention on the Prevention and Punishment of the Crime of Genocide of 1948, which entered into force on 12th January 1951. It has not been established whether the terms of that convention can be applied retroactively, and I would at this point say to the noble Earl, Lord Shannon, that the trials at Nuremberg were for crimes related to the Holocaust: the trials were for war crimes or crimes against humanity. It was the evidence of the Holocaust which emerged during and after the Second World War and through the work of the Nuremberg tribunal which led to the codification of genocide in international law.
However, let us look beyond the legal and historical issues. With the greatest respect to the noble Baroness, Lady Cox, I would like to put this to the House: what would be the practical outcome of a declaration by this or any other government that the events of 1915 and 1916 constituted genocide? A foreign government taking a public position on an issue as contentious and sensitive as these events of 84 years ago would severely hamper their ability, as a friend of all parties, to help the region realise its potential. And who would benefit from our taking such a position? As the noble Viscount, Lord Waverley, made clear, that is a problem. It was also referred to by the noble Lord, Lord Moynihan.
The events of 1915-16 remain a painful issue and a source of tension in relations between two states with which we enjoy excellent relations--the Republics of Armenia and of Turkey. For our part, we believe that it is better to look forward than back. We hope that these two countries will be able to overcome the historical legacy of bitterness and pursue better relations, in their own interests and in the interests of their region and the international community. We urge them to do so.
Improvement of this relationship, which I believe both sides sincerely wish, together with the resolution of the conflicts of the southern Caucasus, referred to by the noble Lord, Lord Moynihan, would transform the region, opening the way to a newly prosperous, democratic and stable area. I assure the noble Lord, Lord Moynihan, that he and the Government see this in the same light. In the debate on 17th March many noble Lords spoke of such a future for the region. As my noble friend Lady Symons made clear on that occasion, the Government want to play their part in achieving such a goal.
It is not only in this Parliament that the issue of the sufferings of the Armenian people has been raised. The noble Baroness, Lady Cox, referred to the European Parliament. Perhaps I may clarify the point about EU membership. The conditions which all applicants for membership of the EU, including Turkey, must fulfil were laid down by the Copenhagen European Council in 1993. These criteria include stable institutions guaranteeing democracy, the rule of law, human rights and respect for and protection of minorities. In its report of November 1998 on Turkey's application for membership, the European Commission concluded that significant shortcomings remained in those areas. But the Council has not laid down any additional conditions relating to recognition of an Armenian genocide. The European Parliament would need to give its assent to Turkey's accession to the EU, but there are no set criteria on which it could base a decision to grant or withhold its consent. That would be a matter for the European Parliament at the time. I hope that I have clarified that area.
The noble Baroness, Lady Cox, referred to the example of France. I think it is worth recalling the words of M. Hubert Vedrine, the Foreign Minister of France, which, like us, enjoys good relations with both Armenia and Turkey. He recently told the French Senate of his government's fears that the adoption by the Senate of a Bill recognising the events of 1916 as a genocide would serve above all the interests of those,
Let us learn from the past, as the noble Lords, Lord Biffen and Lord Avebury, correctly urged us to do, but let us not become prisoners of the past. Let us concentrate on trying to ensure that tragedies such as this and the horrors unfolding now in Kosovo--the noble Lord, Lord Moynihan, correctly drew the parallel--do not happen again. The international community is now more active than ever before in backing up words with action. The awful events in the former Yugoslavia and Rwanda during this decade have led to the establishment by the Security Council of international criminal tribunals to bring to justice those responsible. Last year the international community took the historic decision to establish a permanent international criminal court. We are proud that Britain played a leading role in bringing that about. Our hope is that this will make those intent on crimes against humanity think twice. We shall not forget past victims but we shall focus our efforts on making sure that others do not have to suffer in the same way.
With the greatest possible respect for the arguments sincerely and eloquently put forward by the noble Baroness, Lady Cox, the Government believe that the right approach--the constructive approach--to dealing with the historical legacy of atrocities against the Armenian people is for us to urge the peoples of the region to look to the future, a point made by the noble Viscount, Lord Waverley, the noble Earl, Lord Carlisle, and the noble Lord, Lord Biffen, and that we should join the peoples of the region in helping them to build their future.
We are not suggesting that we or they should deny the past or fail to learn its lessons. I do not believe that the peoples of Armenia and Turkey can do that. We should allow them the space to resolve between themselves the issues which divide them. We can and should support their efforts to do so and help in whatever way we can to build trust between them. But we could not play the role of supportive friend to both countries were we to take an essentially political position on an issue so sensitive for both.
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