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Chair of British-Armenian all-party group to represent UK at Armenian Genocide centennial commemoration

John Whittingdale, Chairman of the British-Armenian all-party group, will represent the United Kingdom at the Armenian Genocide centennial commemoration in Yerevan on April 24, UK Minister for Europe David Lidington said at the adjournment debate on the Armenian Genocide centennial held at the House of Commons on March 23.

“It was on 24 April 1915 that about 250 leading members of the Armenian community in Istanbul were arrested. This marked the beginning of a campaign of forced deportations directed against the Ottoman Armenian community. From 1915 to 1916 during the course of the deportations to the Syrian desert, it is estimated that well over 1 million Ottoman Armenians lost their lives as a result of massacres by soldiers or irregulars, forced marches, starvation and disease. A number of other minorities, such as the Assyrians, also suffered,” Mr. Lidington said.

“The British Government of that time robustly condemned the forced deportations, massacres and other crimes. We continue to endorse that view. British charities, as we look back, played a major part then in humanitarian relief operations. The deaths of more than 1 million Armenians in the Ottoman Empire was an appalling civilian loss of life against the backdrop of the First World War, a conflict which itself broke new ground in developing international warfare on an industrial scale,” the Minister added.

“Today, the centenary of those terrible events has huge significance for the people of Armenia and for the worldwide Armenian diaspora. As an inseparable part of the tragedy of First World War, it is entirely appropriate that we in this country include this tragedy in our remembrance of the First World War to honor the dead, and to draw lessons from history and hope for a better future. The British Government’s commemorations this year have focused on how the First World War shaped society and touched lives and communities. The deportation and massacres of the Ottoman Armenians, and the role played by the UK and other allies in reporting the atrocities and helping the survivors, are an indivisible part of that story. The events and commemorative activities, which the Armenian community in the UK will organize on24 April and over the course of this year, will help to illuminate further that period of history for British people, some of whom may be hearing about it for the first time,” David Lidington stated.

“The appalling nature of the events of 1915-16 were brought home vividly to me when I visited the Tsitsernakaberd memorial museum in Yerevan during my first ministerial visit to Armenia in 2012. When I went back to Armenia last year, I laid a wreath at the memorial to pay my respects to those who had died and those who had suffered. In this centenary year my hon. Friend the Member for Maldon, John Whittingdale as chair of the British-Armenian all-party group, and our ambassador to Yerevan will be present at the Armenian Government’s commemorations on 24 April in the Armenian capital,” the UK Minister for Europe informed.

He added that on 24 April, His Royal Highness the Prince of Wales will attend a ceremony in Gallipoli to honour the memory of all those who died during the campaign, including soldiers from Britain, Ireland, France, Australia, New Zealand, the Indian subcontinent, Canada and Sri Lanka, as well as the Ottoman soldiers who died defending the peninsula.

“Those sombre commemorations in both Gallipoli and Yerevan should be used to honour the memory of those who lost their lives, whether soldiers or civilians, and to reflect carefully on the painful lessons we have learnt from history and how to prevent such events from happening again,” Lidington noted.

Speaking about the UK Government’s policy on the recognition of the 1915 events as genocide,” the Minister said:  “The Government’s policy, indeed the policy of successive Governments, has not changed since 1988 when this matter was reviewed. We take the view that genocide is not simply an expression of a political judgment. It is now a crime, and the British Government recognize as genocide only those events found to be so by international courts—for example, the holocaust and the massacres in Srebrenica and Rwanda. We do not exercise a political judgment in ascribing the term “genocide” to a set of events, whether in Armenia, the Holodomor in Ukraine or the massacres of the Kurds by Saddam Hussein in 1998.”

“In honoring and reflecting upon the past, it is vital that we look to the future. The peoples and Governments of Turkey and Armenia need to find a way to face their joint history together and forge a new, more constructive relationship, and part of the role the UK seeks for itself is to support them in finding this path forward. I will not pretend that we from London can provide instant answers, but we are doing what we can practically to foster people-to-people exchanges and links between the two countries to break down stereotypes and barriers. For example, we have just completed a successful exchange of Turkish and Armenian Chevening alumni who visited each other’s countries for the first time,” he noted.

According to David Lidington, “the Governments of Armenia and Turkey must take the lead in forging and delivering that new relationship.” “For that reason, the UK Government strongly supported the imaginative diplomacy that led to the Turkish-Armenia protocols in 2009. The protocols envisaged opening the border and initiating diplomatic relations without any preconditions, and it is a matter of great regret that the ratification process for those protocols has not moved forward. I hope that both sides will continue to consider creative ways to re-set their relations and open up new channels for dialogue and co-operation.”

“This year, we will reflect with sadness on the nature and horrific scale of the deportations, massacres and other crimes in 1915-16 and on the importance of this centenary for Armenia and Armenians worldwide, but we will also renew our commitment this year to promote reconciliation between Armenia and Turkey. A genuine step forward along that path to reconciliation would take us towards a more peaceful and secure future for everyone living in the region. I continue to hope that both Turkey and Armenia can find a way to look together towards a brighter future.”

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