Should the UK Recognise the Armenian Genocide?

EVENT TRANSCRIPT: Should the UK Recognise the Armenian Genocide?

DATE: April 13th, 2022 (3-4pm)

VENUE: Zoom meeting, Henry Jackson Society

SPEAKERS: Dr. Seyhan Bayraktar, Geoffrey Robertson QC, Tim Loughton MP, Dr. Dirk Moses

MODERATOR: Isabel Sawkins



Isabel Sawkins  00:14

Good afternoon everybody. We’re gonna give you a few minutes to let everyone filter into the event and so we’ll probably start around two minutes or maybe three past the hour so feel free to go and make yourself comfortable get a drink of some sort of some tea or some coffee and we will start imminently.

Okay, we will get started, we seem to have lost one of our speakers, I don’t know where she’s gone. So, we might have to switch orders up a little bit, but we will try and do our best. So good afternoon. Good morning. Good evening, depending on which corner of the globe you’re in. My name is Isabel Sawkins. I’m an associate research fellow here at the Henry Jackson society. And it is my absolute honour and privilege to welcome you to today’s event, which is entitled should the UK recognise the Armenian Genocide, which is a particularly pertinent topic, given some of the things that one of our speakers Tim Loughton, in particular will take us through today. But also the fact that Armenian Genocide Remembrance Day is celebrated in certain countries across the world on the 24th of April. So we’re in a sort of a particularly important moment of time. So I’m honoured to be joined by four absolutely brilliant speakers today, and who will each take to the floor for around seven to 10 minutes. To sort of talk about specific things to do with this topic. We will then open up to a question and answer from the audience. So I’d like to invite you all to use the q&a function, which is on zoom here, and put any questions you might have in there at any point. Don’t feel like you need to sit and wait to do this. Feel free to do this, even from the very beginning of today’s conversation. What we will then do is we will then open up into questions, questions and answers. And we’ll get some of our panellists thoughts on your questions. So without further ado, I’d like to introduce our first speaker. So Dr. Seyhan Bayraktar is research associate and head of the PhD programme at the Zurich University of Applied Sciences, School of Management and law. She received her PhD in political science, from the University of Constance in 2009. And her research areas include the politics of memory and apology, in particular, the denial politics of Turkey with regard to the Armenian Genocide. Seyhan,  thank you so much for joining us today. I’ll pass the floor over to you now.

 Dr. Seyhan Bayraktar  04:40

Thanks very much, Isabelle. Thanks very much for the invitation. I’m very happy to be here with you and to have the opportunity to share my thoughts with you. But before I start, I need to say I have major technical issues. So if the connectivity is lost somehow I’m sorry for that in advance. I hope you and it will make the next 10 minutes that it will have or have a good connection in the next 10 minutes. Sorry for that. Yes, as you may already my research area is the denial politics of Turkey with regard to the Armenian Genocide, and I covered this topic from the 1970s until the early 2000s. And just to give you a small context of what I’m going to say about the topic today, I just want to say a few words to my research on the denial. In this time span from the 1970s onwards until the present so to say the genocide turned from a rather marginal and neglected topic in Turkish public discourse to a highly visible one. This accelerated dynamics and increase of critical remembering on the level of civil society, particularly as the Kurdish political movement was influential here is, however, accompanied by a sophisticated politics of denial by a Turkish state. Turkey managed to engage in a notable democratisation process as a response to EU conditionality in the beginning of the 2000s. And at the same time to maintain its gentle genocide denial by diverting to new strategies such as signalling openness towards the Armenian Republic, preserving cultural artefacts and so on. So that’s the context of my talk today. So that’s a bigger context of the denial politics of Turkey. In the context of today’s main question, should the UK recognise the Armenian Genocide I want to talk about mainly what lagging behind in recognising the Armenian Genocide meant historically, and what kind of consequences nonrecognition has had and still has for the Armenians and other minorities in contemporary turkey. Since it is no new set, the Armenian Genocide has been ignored, neglected and denied by Turkey ever since its foundation in 1923. Turkey however, was in good company, the international community to was silent about the genocide for decades. Also, it had first-hand and abundant knowledge about the destruction of the arenas during World War One. On 24th of May 1915, the Entente  made a joint declaration in which they announced to punish I quote all members of the Ottoman government and those of their agents, who are implicated in the crimes against humanity and civilization, end quote. Legal proceedings by international tribunal on the League of Nations are also part of the plant punishment. However, with the successful nationalist resistance movement of the Kemalist in Anatolia, these plans came to a halt in 1923. In contrast to the previous peace treaty, the Treaty of Lausanne, the founding document of modern Turkey does not raise the issue of mass killings of the Armenians anymore, let alone the issue of restoring justice. The British Empire did not insist on the setup of international trials, nor on making the perpetrators accountable for crimes against humanity. This reluctance of the international community to follow through and punish the perpetrators, as promised, had long-time effects on Turkey stance towards the Armenian Genocide, letting the perpetrators go despite abundant knowledge and contrary to express views effectively. So goes my argument enables the denial politics of Turkey in the following decades. The founders of the Republic, who consisted of the same young Turkish elites responsible for the genocide could even continue with their anti Armenian and anti minority policies well into the Republic, as historians recently documented. Non Turks and non Muslims along with Armenians, Jews and Greeks. This very much includes the Allawi’s and the Kurds, have been perceived as a threat to the Turkish nation so that forced displacement assimilation this possession of kill, it became a recurring pattern in the history of the Turkish Republic, without any or very rare, having to deal with consequences. Given the events about the genocide at the time, the fact that it fell into oblivion in international relation and turn to the Forgotten genocide is not only highly striking, but it also shows how successful the Turkish states denial politics have been. Using its geostrategic importance as an important NATO ally and to complete it to the international community by being violent, Turkey was also able to prevent formal genocide acknowledgement for most of the 20th century. It was only due to the relentless memory work of Armenian survivors and successive generations. Their search for justice and struggle against forgetting that we talk about the genocide of 1915 today, and last 20 years historical research on the genocide has well advanced beyond the question whether 1915 constitutes a genocide or no not. In the UK there is also an active Armenian community [unintelligible] for example, the founder of the Commodus Institute in London edited for Blue Book by Price or Kasparian. These are the names that I know on working on diaspora topics. So that is all the more surprising, to put it mildly that we have no Armenian representation today here amongst us. By the 100th anniversary of the genocide in 2015, the quest of the Armenian community for recognition reached the peak so we had a great international awareness about it a massive rail light rallies worldwide are accompanied by numerous formal acknowledgement by heads of state Parliament’s and outstanding public authorities like Pope Francis, acknowledging the destruction of Armenians as genocide. And also a remarkable number of Armenian descendants choose to commemorate the genocide in Turkey together with civil society activists from Turkey, which shows that Armenian Turkish relations on this level of have also advanced. Particular progress towards reconciliation have been made in today’s Turkish Kurdish regions and by Kurdish actors in the Kurdish region to regions and formerly Western Armenia where the genocide actually took place. Kurdish political actors have been very active in reconciliation efforts, restoring cultural artefacts reaching out to the Armenian diaspora, inviting them and recognising the Armenian Genocide. This substantial contribution of Kurdish actors to take into genocide but overlooked until recently except by [unintelligible] who is writing about that and has written about that 10 years ago. Meanwhile, political realities in Turkey for dealing with the past have fundamentally changed. What looked promising has since 2015, ended in an authoritarian and repressive system that has in many ways reversed positive steps towards reconciliation with the Armenians and other suppressed groups of Turkey. I’m going to close with a recent tweet by an Armenian journalist. It’s highly challenging in terms of the interfaith, the why nots of Turkey’s genocidal past denial and its ongoing or recurring politics of repression. The tweet, in 2015, I participated in the centennial commemoration of the Armenian Genocide along with Armenians, Assyrians, and Kurds embracing their views. Everyone who facilitated that visit has since been jailed, excised, or assassinated, end quote. So yes, if it had not become clear by now, the UK should recognise the genocide. Of course, it should. I mean, that’s the most basic thing to do, given the records of the Federal Records itself. But as to become more than cheap talk only such an acknowledgement must be seen as a starting point for calling and pressuring turkey for following feud, taking responsibility and starting to address justice, interested to restitution if, after 107 years possible at all. Thank you.

Isabel Sawkins  14:06

Thank you so much, for that very comprehensive introduction and insight into how this topic is spoken about in Turkey. Thank you. I’m now going to pass on to our second speaker, who is Geoffrey Robertson QC. Geoffrey is founder and joint head of the Doughty Street Chambers, and has had a distinguished career as a trial and appellate counsel, an international judge and author of leading textbooks. And I guess pertinent to today’s discussion is his book, which is entitled An Inconvenient genocide, who now remembers the Armenians. Geoffrey, thank you so much for joining us. I will pass over to you now.

Geoffrey Robertson QC 14:57

Right, let me start By apologising for being a lawyer, and I want to remind you what genocide actually means, it means in the Convention, which was ratified by Ronald Reagan. So it’s an important convention, America doesn’t sign all that many. But it means the intention, you have to prove it to destroy for racial or religious reasons, a group, and there are various ways of destroying a group. One of them in the convention, is killing, of course, and the other is deliberately inflicting on the group, conditions of life calculated to bring about its physical destruction in a whole park. And that is precisely what the Ottomans did to the Armenians in 115. That is beyond any reasonable doubt. And that is why the definition of genocide would came into the convention in 1948, is applicable to the behaviour of the Ottomans. But genocide is a word that’s bandied about very loosely, President Biden said yesterday that it was being committed in Ukraine, there wasn’t the intention of Mr. Putin is to not to destroy a but to subjugate the Ukrainians, he’s guilty of the crime of aggression, by all means, and he’s guilty is the commander responsible for the war crimes. But he’s not guilty of genocide. I don’t think that China is guilty of genocide in relation to the Uyghurs. It’s not destroying them, it is persecuting them. And that, too, is a crime. But genocide is the worst crime of all, which is what worse crime against humanity. And that’s why I think it’s important to keep it within its terms for the very worst cases. And one of those was the Armenian massacres of 1915. Now, Britain, France, and Russia in 1915, declared it a crime. And they had no doubt that it was a crime against humanity. And they promised a punishing, they had a problem. Britain, give us our dos, please, we took 67 of the Young Turk commanders  to Malta, to put them on trial and have them put in prison or even executed. But when they got them to Malta, they suddenly realise that they hadn’t committed a crime, because there was no international criminal law. They’d carried out the orders of their government, and you can not internationally prosecute people for, in those days, until Nuremberg in the 1945, you didn’t have an international law, and that is why a very brilliant legal scholar Raphael Lemkin argued throughout the 20s, throughout the 30s, that this was what Winston Churchill called a crime without a name. It needed a name. And he gave it the name genocide. And he argued from 1933, on long before Hitler’s Holocaust, that the Armenian massacres were a textbook example of genocide. And really, if you look at the evidence I have in my book, which was based on Hitler’s urging of his generals before they invade Poland, he said be as severe as possible, who knew who now remembers the Armenians? Well, we know now and get more evidence every year that what happened in 1915, in the lead up of the vilification of Armenians as subhumans, as microbes, and cockroaches and the seizure of their homes to make way for Turkish soldiers returned from Eastern European defeats and then seizing their property and setting up liquidation Commission’s to liquidate all Armenian companies, and then sending them on death marches throughout the desert, to Aleppo and other places. That was an intention to destroy them. And over a million were destroyed, some say 1.5 million, but I think it’s closer to a million. There were some 2 million communions in Turkey at the time, and that they were killed because of hatred of their race because of hatred of their Christian religion. Many of them were killed by the to the cry of Allah is great. So that I think, has no question beyond reasonable doubt. The evidence that I don’t have time to go through in detail does show that this is textbook genocide, and was the first inspiration to produce an international law Crime of Genocide. It was when first tested in the International Court of Justice. The Armenian genocide was there, Lemkin went back through history to share it, leading with the destruction of Carthage, and who knows and so on, but it was undoubtedly within that category that he defined and then most civilised countries have accepted that it was genocide when parliament passed laws. France, I think was the first and then most European countries. Australia is reluctant because the Turks have said that they won’t go  there, if they if they recognise the genocide. But states of Australia like New South Wales and others have Parliament’s which have recognized. Pope Francis described it as the first genocide of the 20th century. Well, Pope’s are not infallible. He was wrong. It was the second. The first was the German genocide of the Herero people in Namibia a few years before. But it’s very interesting actually, I did it. And comparison of the euphemisms that were used in Turkey and later in Germany during the Holocaust to explain the destruction of the people they use words like relocation, which meant sending them to concentration camps or to death in the desert. These euphemisms German commanders were involved in Turkey and I think there is a link between the Armenian Genocide and the Holocaust. Carolyn Cox, the Doughty Baroness, does raise every so often for the last 20 or 30 years, the question of the UK recognising the fact of the genocide, and for many years, there was a stock response throughout Labour ministers. They all said the evidence is not sufficiently unequivocal. Of course, that’s an oxymoron anyway, you can’t be a little bit unequivocal, but that was the pretext the British government used. But in searching under the Freedom of Information Act, for my book, I found the real reason that had been supplied by the Foreign Office to ministers for support this disingenuous response. Let me read it to you. It said, Turkey is neuralgic about the charge of genocide. neuralgic is a good word. It absolutely describes the way it reacts when anyone suggest that the Ottoman Empire which was preceded Turkey, was responsible, but here is what they advise the ministers Her Majesty’s Government is open to criticism in terms of the ethical dimension, being unethical in denying the truth. But given the importance of our relations, political, Strategic and Commercial with Turkey, the current line is the only feasible option. So there it is, constantly giving this ludicrous formula for not recognising the genocide was inconvenient. Because, well, why now? Why should we now recognise the genocide? Firstly, because it’s the truth and that’s a very simple reason for recognising it. Secondly, because if you look at the responses by Turkey, you will see that they’re quite short term, they don’t last very long. President Obama promised in his campaign, that he would recognise the genocide. And when he put to it, given the importance of Turkey, he just called it in the Armenian language[unintelligible]. The great tragedy, you wouldn’t use the word, the G word. And that, of course, invokes the Genocide Convention, right, doing his duty to intervene. So there, again, you had inconvenience? Well, I think the time has come to tell the truth. And that Turkish reaction childish, as its been, will be short term. The other reason that I think is important is that I discovered that this effort by the Foreign Office, held by a character in government called Keith Baz, was used to discourage any recognition of the genocide, for example, on Britain’s Holocaust day, Foreign Office was very anxious that it should not be referred to on Holocaust day. Very anxious that ministers of all government should not attend communion functions. And I think this is so petty and demeaning. And please, it’s really a shameful approach. And I hope that acknowledging the genocide would serve the Armenian community with proper dignity, and allow British people to bring them in as sufferers from great international crimes. But now, there’s another reason. And it’s something we’ve seen for the last two months on our screens. It’s the barbaric behaviour of Russia, in Ukraine. And I think if this is going to be a turning point, if it is going to be a lesson to governments about the future conduct, it’s time that they really did do the right thing, rather than the convenient thing. And the right thing, it seems to me is to acknowledge the truth of the Armenian Genocide is part of a world order that survives and hopefully prospers after this horrific experience. So for those reasons, I think that we should acknowledge at least the fact of the Armenian Genocide, and do that for the sake not only your history, but for the sake of law, because it is genocide.

Isabel Sawkins  29:27

Thank you for that Geoffrey. Tim, I’m sure there’s a lot that you’ll be able to pick up on from that. So I will pass over to our next speaker, Tim Loughton, who is an MP and has been very active in this field as chair of the all party parliamentary group on Armenia. So Tim, I will pass it over to you to talk more about what are the current conversations going on in Parliament about this. Thank you for being here, Tim.


Tim Loughton MP   29:53

Thanks, Isabel. I feel very inadequate on such a distinguished panel of professors, doctors and distinguished QC as I’m just a humble MP but I think I’m I’m here to make up the numbers in my capacity as chair of the all party parliamentary group for Armenia, I also chaired the all party parliamentary group for Tibet, and to give a clue as to what my response to the title will be. I’m one of seven sanctioned parliamentarians because of my name being at the forefront of the genocide amendments regarding the Uyghurs , which we’ve been trying to put forward in various pieces of legislation. I might come back to that and take issue with what Geoff has just said about the Uyghurs. And I’ve also got in Parliament at the moment the recognition of the Armenian Genocide bill. So I’ve actually got a piece of legislation which would make it very easy for the government to adopt and become the I think, 34th country to formally recognise the Armenian Genocide. So the answer to the question, should the UK recognise the Armenian Genocide? Hell yeah. And it should have done so a lot before now. I’ve also just come back from Armenia, and litigation of Parliamentarians including Caroline Cox, who Geoff just referred to, who is something of an icon in Armenia, who’s visited the country more than 90 times and there’s not much that she doesn’t know about it. So highly inadequate in terms of your panel and your audience. But why should we recognise the Armenian Genocide? You’ve heard from the previous speakers about the historical context? I went to repeat that we’ve heard about the reaching the definition criteria. I absolutely agree with that. But then there are those who say, Well, this happened over 100 years ago, between 1915 and 1923, whether it’s a million or one and a half million people who lost their lives at the hands of the Ottomans. It’s an historic injustice and hadn’t things moved on? And the trouble is, everybody knows about the Holocaust during the war, a lot of people will recognise the genocide in Rwanda. A number about Bosnia in 1995, but I’m afraid for most people Armenia is a country which they know little or where to locate it, and less do about it, history and how the many millions of Armenians occupied what’s now eastern Turkey in their fate, which has been expunged, and is still being expunged. From the from the history and culture of the great country of Turkey as any visitor to Eastern Turkey, will find out. We recently had a film called Lost maps in Parliament by a Californian filmmaker who’s also Armenian, with a Scottish explorer. Just seeing how, as we speak, the culture, the heritage, the fabric of the Armenian people, is being demolished before eyes both deliberately by Turkish authorities, and just allowing priceless churches just to collapse. names have been changed the denial about Armenians ever having been the dominant culture, for a large part of Eastern Turkey, I mean Armenians occupied lands that were three times at least the size of the currently recognised country of Armenia. And we know the problem was that the term genocide had not been invented when the Armenian genocide happened at the end of the Ottoman Empire starting the middle of the First World War. Britain has a great heritage and we set up an inquiry the blue book, parliamentary inquiry group [unintelligible] speeches by the then Archbishop of Canterbury, revealing some of the atrocities that have happened. So the UK has a particular interest and historic link with the Armenian Genocide, which makes it all the more regretful that our government has been one of the late comers to in successive governments. This isn’t a party political issue, to recognise what actually went on. Churchill recognised it the phrase that Geoffrey used about the crime without a name. And that telling phrase from Hitler, which is the subtitle of Geoffrey’s book about who remembers the Armenians. So for all those reasons, we have a duty to past and to contemporary generations to remember those historic injustices, albeit over 100 years ago, albeit in a part of the world that few people know much about about an historical trustee, which very few people actually appreciate. So I think there are two real reasons now why it’s so important that we do recognise the Armenian Genocide formula and that’s what my bill in Parliament seeks to do, which would force me to record As the genocide of the Armenians in the period 1915 to 1923 would establish an annual commemoration to victims of the Armenian Genocide, which may be part of a wider commemoration of genocide, and it would also put the Armenian Genocide and its relevance to be acknowledged in the curriculum as well. That’s the intent and I think that is the minimum to serve some form of justice for these atrocities  in the past, but the two reasons why I think it’s so important. As I’ve just come back from Armenia, we’re down to the border with Nagorno Karabakh. In the last few weeks the Azeri forces which invaded the lands of Artsakh. Just the year before, last 90,000 ethnic Armenians were forced to flee their homes. Many aspects of Armenian culture have been destroyed. Churches, we’ve seen destroyed in the Azeri controlled enclave on the Turkish border. Virtually all traces of Armenian heritage, be at the Armenian crosses and churches have been completely expunged from those from those territories. Just two weeks ago, the gas pipeline, which services Nagorno Karabakh was blown up, and these areas wouldn’t allow people into repair it causing huge suffering. There are very military loudspeakers, threatening villages that if they do not flee their villages, they will be harmed and killed. These are chilling, violent, aggressive tactics happening now. And not surprisingly, the Armenian people and particularly those Armenians who live in the lands of Nagorno Karabakh are feeling neglected, and very vulnerable. And if the world can’t even recognise a very clear, historically documented, internationally recognised and at least 33 countries, genocide that happened over 100 years ago, to the ancestors of those same Armenian people, then they are entirely justified in feeling very vulnerable, that they are at risk of having their culture and their lives taken away from them, just as the Ottomans did, over 100 years ago. So I think it’s really important that we acknowledge what’s happened in the past, in order to reinforce the position of the Armenian people, but also that the world does care, and that there is somebody who will come to their rescue, if this sort of behaviour goes on in the future from these areas, who are very close to the Turks as we know. And the second reason why I take issue with Geoffrey on this as the Uighur tribunals by Geoff , his great colleague, Geoffrey Nicer QC, gave judgments in the independent tribunal back in December, the Chinese government have waged genocide against the Uyghur people even if we take some of the definitions about the forced sterilisation. So they’re happening to Muslim women there. I’ve been pressing that case, along with many parliamentary colleagues, Parliament’s voted that China has committed genocide. It’s not a binding vote and the government has yet to adopt that parliamentary knowledge. And I hope it will do and I think we’re making progress there. But you don’t bolster the case of genocide in the contemporary world by conveniently ignoring and side-lining clear past genocides that have happened in history. So whether it’s applying it to the Chinese government now in Xinxiang, and arguably what’s been going on in, in Tibet and other parts of Chinese territory as well, and also potentially what the international community may need to do against Russia. For the aggression, which may well turn out to be genocide, as I suspect and others I think we’d like to see that definition, be used sooner rather than later. And I just think it’s really important that we don’t try to shovel up under the carpet an inconvenient historical injustice, just because it happened so long ago in a part of the world that people know little about. So for all those those reasons. Absolutely. The UK needs to recognise the Armenian Genocide, it was important to do so 100 years ago, it’s just as important if not more important now, because of the big clear and powerful message it sends up to those who would still commit genocide whatever part of the world in the year 2022.

Isabel Sawkins  39:37

Thank you for that Tim. And it’s empowering to hear the conversations that are going on in parliament. What you’ve just said ties in with one of the questions we’ve actually got from Baroness Cox, which I will turn to, after we have our final speech from Professor Dirk Moses, who I have to say I am such a big fan of because as a holocaust scholar, I have followed Dirk’s work very closely over the last few years. So it is an absolute honour to have Professor Moses with us today. So for those of you who, who are not quite so, sort of clued up on Dirk’s work, Professor Moses is a frank Porter Graham, Distinguished Professor of global human rights history at the University of North Carolina, at Chapel Hill. So Dirk, I will pass over to you to give your comments on this. And then we will open up to q&a for the audience. Thank you for being here.

Dr. Dirk Moses 40:29

Thanks very much. This is perfect to be here and also on this panel with this distinguished colleagues. Now, the thing about parliamentary debates is that they can find discussion to start choices for or against the motion. Stock choices are appropriate for the political domain where decisions need to be made policies set laws changed. It’s less appropriate in the academic domain where the complexity of situations can be studied, precisely because decisions don’t need to be made, because academics don’t set policy and enact legislation. And some will think Well, that’s, that’s pretty good, but it’s that way. Now as a result, we can ask different kinds of questions and hopefully advance general understanding of important issues. And that is one of the social utilities of universities. Now given that we’re not in the House of Commons, we can ask different kinds of questions. Instead of taking genocide recognition, as our motion does for granted as a naturally occurring political phenomena, we can ask what is its political meaning and function? What are we not talking about instead? What are we not recognising? Now, let me place on the record immediately that I do think that the Ottoman treatment of its Armenian population during the First World War qualifies as genocide, if you want to play that recognition game, in the journal, I edit the Journal of genocide research, we published many articles on the subject, and we teach it as well in the course on genocide that I am offering right now. And a bunch of my students are actually logged into this to this podcast or this discussion because it coincides exactly with the 10am class here on the East Coast of the US now, but as a scholar, I think we can go further than engage in sort of mere categorization. Is it genocide? Is it not genocide? I want to know why genocide is considered the crime of crimes, the recognition of which imparts a certain consolation for Descendants of victims and members of their people, on the one hand and on the other stigmatic aura, for the descendants of perpetrators, and members of their people. What does official recognition even mean? And why is it felt to be so important? What are the rules of the recognition game? And who gets to decide who wins the game? clues to the answer lie in history, because motions like the one before us now are usually part of an ongoing campaign, with phases stretching back decades, and with local and international precedence. Studying them can help us decide or answer rather our questions so we can better understand what we are doing here right now. This is what I see when zooming out in time and in space. I see genocides, a criminal category, which it clearly is , as Geoffrey said, but as applied to a nation’s history in non legal terms, thereby effectively criminalising stigmatising poisoning, and poisoning a cultural resource that is emotionally significant for 10s of millions of people of a nation. And naturally they will resist, as Seyhan explained in her initial presentation. But not just in Turkey alone. Any country resists an accusation that its founding moment was genocidal. Now, I also see this in this motion, that the Armenian Genocide has not been recognised by the UK whereas it has been in 33 or so other countries, executives and Parliament’s. Now why is that? Well, we heard a bit from, from Tim and Geoffrey about that. To answer this question, I also studied the website of the Holocaust Memorial Day Trust, which seems to be where these things are decided in the UK. It’s detected the UK recognises the Holocaust and Nazi persecution, then it skips 30 years to the Cambodian genocide in the second half of the 1970s, then to Rwanda nearly 10 years later, in 94, then Bosnia 95 And then finally to Darfur in 2003. The site does not really give an answer as to only as to why only genocide since the Holocaust to recognize it does acknowledge, however, that there is a deeper history here, though, without retrospectively applying the genocide label. So the website does mention, for example, atrocities committed against the Armenians in the early 20th century sort of as a precursor atrocities but not yet genocide. Somehow that only occurs since the second half of the 20th century. Of course, it makes no historical sense for the UN Genocide Convention was passed in 1948 after the Holocaust, meaning that the retrospective logic would exclude it to. Now anticipating this objection, the Trust says that the Holocaust shocked humanity’s conscience leading to the convention and a general consciousness of genocide as a global problem. Well, that’s only partially true. The Armenian Genocide did shock people at the time, as we heard from Tim, and so did the First World War as a whole, which led to an international treaty to outlaw war in 1928. And ultimately, the principal indictment of the Nuremberg trials, namely crimes against peace. And, you know, many people outside Europe were in constant shock about their treatment at the hands of British and Europe, other European imperial authorities, and they tried to reform the international system in the 1920s and 30s. That was called decolonization through national liberation movements. What’s more, the trust’s list that I mentioned before is partial even for the second half of the 20th century. What about the Nigerian Civil War from 1967 to 1970? The secession of East Pakistan from Pakistan to found Bangladesh, in 1971? In both cases, millions of people died. And genocide was alleged at the time. And in both cases, Britain back to the perpetrator government. There were big demonstrations denouncing genocide on the streets of London back then. But that seems to be all forgotten by the trust and public memory. Why is that? The Holocaust Memorial Trust that is guided by international recognition of you know, which genocides get it and which don’t the rules of the game, because un tribunals and the ICC, the International Criminal Court have designated the five that it mentions. Well, we all know how political that game is, and what’s recognised as a shocking and what’s not recognised as particularly shocking. I mean, I think of other shocking events, at least for me, like the Russian destruction of Grozny in the reconquest of Chechnya, in the 90s, the Russian supported Syrian Government’s destruction of its own cities, the Saudi led and Western back, including Britain, destruction of Yemeni cities, which is going on right now. But we don’t have a motion before us, do we? The large scale destruction of civilian populations, let’s admit it has been a constant feature of the international system since the Second World War, consider the millions killed by US bombing in North Korea and Vietnam in the 50s and 60s, and now, the Russians in Ukraine. But this does not fit, as Geoffrey quite rightly pointed out, does not fit the very, very narrow legal category of genocide, or at least it’s difficult, and therefore, does not quite shock the conscience of mankind, to use this antiquated phrase which we see recurring and humanitarian documents. Now we’re in the book I’ve just published the problems of genocide, I argued that this wilful blindness is in fact, not an accident.

What I also see in motions, like the one before us in the campaign, to which it’s connected, is that while they are understandable from the point of view of victim groups, after all, they don’t get to set the rules of the game. And if genocide recognition is the ultimate prize, then they should seek that goal. Politicians and states have their own interests. This is not directed to you, Tim, I can see your interest are extremely sincere and admirable. But more generally, politicians have electoral constituencies to replicate and you know, they want to win elections. It’s no accident that there’s a parliamentary resolution in France about the Armenian Genocide. This is a very large Armenian population there. State apparatuses are somewhat different. The Foreign policy establishment guard and during national interests, and they won’t let campaigns such as this one, get in the way. And the strategic relationship with Turkey has been mentioned here by Geoffrey and that is sincere, that is elemental. This also applies, for example, to Israel, which does not recognise the Armenian Genocide, as well, despite the efforts of Israelis, which think that their country ought to do so for a range of obvious reasons. That is one reason I think that the rules of the recognition game in the UK are set to the pre World War Two genocides being excluded, right. That way you can exclude the Armenian Genocide. The other one, though, is somewhat closer to home, which returns me to my key question about what we’re not talking about in this motion and others like it, namely British imperial crimes. Why is there no memorial to victims of British Empire in the middle of London like the one that’s now being considered for the Holocaust? Given the intense debate underway about the racist legacy of some national heroes about country houses, built with the money generated by the slave trade About monuments and statues honouring slave traders imperialists. Well, the reason seems pretty apparent to me. I am struck by the symmetry of the arguments used by Imperial apologist in the UK, mind you also in Australia, for settler colonial apologist about British history, and Turkish apologists about Ottoman history. It’s all too easy to erect monuments to genocides and crimes committed by other states. It’s hard to do so for those committed by one’s own. So I would propose an alternative motion that the UK recognise the Armenian Genocide and genocidal crimes committed by the British Empire. Thank you.

Isabel Sawkins  50:45

Thank you for that Dirk has just brought out a whole load of other questions into this right at the very end, questions that unfortunately, I don’t think we’re going to have the time to get into. That makes me think about maybe, maybe, maybe coming back to this conversation at some point in the future. So we only have about 10 minutes left for questions. So I’m just going to pick two that have stuck out to me from the q&a. So if I could ask each of you feel free to answer both of these one of them? I don’t mind but if you could keep your answers to about two minutes. So the first is one that I mentioned from Baroness Cox, who was asked, is there a serious risk that failure to recognise the Armenian Genocide will encourage further genocidal policies by Turkey and its ally, Azerbaijan, as they continue to enjoy impunity for war crimes, crimes against humanity, and genocidal crimes. The other question, which I want to ask is from an anonymous attendee, which asks, don’t you agree that given the ongoing Armenia Turkey normalisation, the UK recognition would damage the fragile environment of peacebuilding and also impact on the UK credibility in the wider region? Geoffrey, I saw you smile. So I’m coming to you first. To answer that. Sorry, I picked on you.

Geoffrey Robertson QC 52:07

Good questions, both.  I don’t think to answer the latter one, that there is sufficient movement. I mean, we’ve seen the Azeri forces in Nagorno Karabakh, or you’ve heard of the churches dating from 301, when they accepted Christianity, it’s appalling, but they have many of the been destroyed and looking at the Azeri attitude, there is no peace there. But that is the fault in a way, sad for a lot of the Armenians themselves for cozying up to Russia for accepting Russian protection, when it sells the same arms to the Azeris themselves, and so on. It’s not a guarantor of peace. And until the Armenians managed to get out of the Russian orbit, there will always be a problem. So I don’t think I’m inclined to think that if the British pound, which is, rightly or wrongly respected, in many of these quarters, actually prepared to take Turkish neuralgia on the chin and owns up to the truth, a truth that it’s done a lot to produce in 1915. With Arnold Toynbee his work with the attempt to punish the perpetrators of the genocide in Malta, we do have a fine history in this respect. So I’m inclined to think that it will, recognition would be a shot across the bows, if you like, of further misbehaviour by Turkey and Azerbaijan. And it would show that as to an extent we are showing the world in reacting to the horrors of Ukraine, it would show that we could react if the persecution in Armenia goes further. I mean, the principle that crimes against humanity, particularly, of course, the worst genocide, or unforgivable, and unforgettable would no matter how long is something that at least may trouble those who commit them in the future. And I think for that reason not alone, but because there are important support to the Armenian community we can give it. But I think for that overwhelming reason, we should acknowledge the truth.

Isabel Sawkins  55:18

Thank you, Geoffrey. Seyhan I’m gonna come to you next, feel free to take either of these questions that I’ve just posed.

Dr. Seyhan Bayraktar 55:30

 I pass.

Isabel Sawkins  55:33

Absolutely fine. Right. Dirk, I’m going to come to you next

Dr. Dirk Moses 55:42

Given given Tim’s engagement here, I think it’d be more interesting to hear from Tim first. He knows a lot.

Tim Loughton MP  55:51

Well, I better not say pass in that case. Okay. So Caroline Cox’s of course right, it is apostasy to say anything else. But there is, as I mentioned, there’s very real fear in Armenia, about what may happen in the in the near future was the world’s attention is focused on Ukraine. As the Azeris have taken advantage of this vacuum, to be doing the things that I mentioned earlier in Nagorno Karabakh, they’ve actually been encroaching on to Armenian sovereign territory, literally in disputed lands of Nagorno Karabakh. It’s a really complicated and delicate situation at the moment where the Armenians are no great friends of the Russians, but the Russians are the peacekeepers  in the area and if they have to be withdrawn to go to Ukraine, wilderness areas, teamed up with the Turks take advantage of the situation depressor advantage more into Nagorno Karabakh, and beyond. And that’s why the Armenian Genocide recognition is just an important sign and message to the world. But to the Armenian people that no, we haven’t forgotten you. And just because you are a part of the world that people don’t know much about what happened there 100 years ago, doesn’t mean it’s any less important that we stand up for you. And so, you know, they were saying to us, why is everyone come to the aid of Ukraine, but nobody came to the aid of the Armenians in Nagorno Karabakh when they were attacked by as areas with clear Turkish support in terms of intelligence and trading everything else to go with it. And then the second question about the normalisation of relations with Turkey, I’m just quite worried about Turkey. And but again, Turkey is in a delicate situation. Turkey is the Eastern Flank of NATO, we need to have Turkey within NATO, we need to have it on the right side against the Russians and what’s going on in Ukraine at the moment, but Turkey to an extent has under Erdogan, I’m afraid is being increasingly illiberal, is going rogue on many of these things. But frankly, you need to be able to talk truth to friends, and if we are to treat Turkey as an ally, and a friend, as it must be, and must stay within NATO and within the Western alliance than we need to face some inconvenient truths and recognising something that their forefathers did 100 years ago. I think it is important part of grown up civilizations being able to do that. And for those who say that, Oh, we will be cut out of trade with Turkey, I think is the sixth largest trading partner of the UK. It is an important trading partner. When France recognise the Armenian Genocide. That was the fear.  Trade between France and Turkey is now the highest it’s ever been. So there’s some short term harrumphing and posturing and snotty letters from Turkish Government ministers, as I’ve heard from the Turkish ambassador, but in the long term, it will sort itself out and hopefully we can be better allies and more truthful and honest friends to each other as we need to be. It’s  a time for, you know, asking truthful question telling. Inconvenient Truth so but isn’t one of the major differences between Ukraine and the Nagorno Karabakh situation is that Nagorno Karabakh is a region inside Azerbaijan which was an illegal occupation and international law. And the Azerbaijanis were reconquering their territory would it be like no analysis is like pushing out those fake Republic’s in the Donbass.

Tim Loughton MP  59:46

We could be here for several hours on just that one. You’re right. It doesn’t have any international recognition but it’s a much more complicated situation than that and I’m afraid the Azeris have been encroaching into sovereign Armenian territory.




Isabel Sawkins  1:00:53

Thank you so much, to all of our panellists for an incredibly thought provoking conversation. I know I will be sitting there and ruminating over them for the rest of the day. So thank you Seyhan, and thank you to Jeffrey, Tim and Dirk, for your presentations. And thank you to our audience members, those who listened to those who engaged and asked questions. Thank you for coming to this Henry Jackson society event. And we look forward to seeing you at the next one. Have a lovely afternoon, everyone. Thank you. Bye.


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