The Genocide Determination Bill sponsored by Lord David Alton was given a Second Reading in the House of Lords as peers agreed to commit it to a Committee of the whole House for further consideration.
“Next year will mark the 75th anniversary of the UN Convention on the Prevention and Punishment of the Crime of Genocide, but we are nowhere near having clear mechanisms to help us deliver on the duty contained therein to prevent the very core of the convention—“never again”—happening all over again,” Lord Alton said at the debate.
Lord Ara Darzi paid tribute to the noble Lord Alton for the passionate and determined way he has pursued this vital issue over many years.
“As the first Armenian in the British Parliament, and as a descendent of a genocide survivor, I owe him a particular debt. I was born in Iraq to Armenian parents made refugees by the 1915 genocide, in which more than 1 million ethnic Armenians were massacred by the Ottomans. I say that I am a genocide survivor, and in 33 countries around the world that description would be acknowledged, yet the country I have made my home is not one of them,” he said.
“My great-grandfather, who lived in Erzurum in what is now north-east Turkey, was executed along with his sons by the Ottoman forces. My grandmother, then just a teenager, escaped with her mother, and the two of them walked barefoot for weeks before finally finding sanctuary in Mosul in northern Iraq. They were the lucky ones. Many other women and children were sent on a death march across the desert from which they would never return. Half a century later, my family and I emigrated from Iraq to Ireland, where I studied medicine, before moving to London in the 1990s, where I have dedicated my career to the NHS,” he noted.
“As the first Armenian in this House, I was overjoyed when President Biden decided a year ago to break with his predecessors and recognize the Armenian genocide. The vote in the US House of Representatives in October 2020 was overwhelming. It was a hugely emotional moment for me and for Armenians all over the world. Most European countries—including France, Germany, Italy, the Netherlands and Sweden—have recognized the Armenian genocide, but the UK has not,” Lord Darzi stated.
He reminded that as Hitler planned the Holocaust in 1939, he asked his fellow Nazis: “Who, after all, speaks today of the annihilation of the Armenians?”
“Unless we, as members of the international community, call out genocidal violence wherever it occurs, its perpetrators will feel encouraged to continue. We should use the experience not to fuel bitterness and revenge but to set a stake in the ground and declare, “Never again”—not just for the Armenians but for people all over the world. We cannot protect the Uighurs in Xinjiang, the Rohingya in Myanmar, the Tigrayans in Ethiopia and others experiencing genocidal attacks in the 21st century without telling the truth about the past. Indeed, sacrificing the truth about the past for the convenience of the present is dangerous. In 2020, the invasion of Nagorno-Karabakh by Azerbaijan, supported,” Lord Darzi said.
He noted that the bill is not simply about addressing a historic injustice. “It is about how our understanding of the past shapes our actions in the present. It is about giving the full message of meaning when we say, “Never again”. I ask that your Lordships give the Bill your full support,” he said.
“I was very struck by the speech of the noble Lord, Lord Darzi. I have read The Forty Days of Musa Dagh by the Jewish writer, Franz Werfel. It is a novel about the experiences of the Armenians during their genocide. It is a very powerful account. It is not surprising that Adolf Hitler had that Jewish writer’s books burned, because, as the noble Lord told us, Hitler himself said, “Who now remembers the Armenians?”—effectively, “Why should we worry when nobody else seems to worry?”” Lord Alton said.
“I have been to Nagorno-Karabakh with my noble friend Lady Cox. I took my daughter with me, and said to her, “If ever you go into public life, speak up for those for whom there is no voice”. My grandfather gave me pictures that he brought back from the Holy Land during the First World War that showed executed Armenians who had been murdered as the Ottoman Turks retreated from Jerusalem. We saw those same photographs in the genocide museum in Yerevan. I was personally very taken not only by what the noble Lord, Lord Darzi, had to say but by what everyone has said in this debate,” he noted.
“This Bill should be committed to a Committee and we should have further discussion. We should thrash out the details and honor the promises that were given to me by two former Foreign Secretaries, who are also now former Prime Ministers. We should be as good as our word in politics. They said that this would be reformed. This Bill provides an opportunity for it to be reformed. I commend it to the House.,” Lord Alton said.