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At the House of Lords - The Armenian Genocide is back on the table - 22 December 2001

Benjamin Whitaker, Lord Avebury Speak Out

LONDON-Eighty-four years after it released a book at the House of Lords telling the world about the Armenian Genocide, the British government has excluded Armenians from a commemoration of Holocaust and Genocide Day that it has planned for 27 January 2001. And, so, the House of Lords was chosen as the site for the launch of a new edition of the government's 1916 Blue Book.

"This is an enormously important work," said Lord Avebury, vice-chair of the Parliamentary Human Rights Group, as he presided over the packed event on Monday, 11 December, "and I have long felt that it should have been printed again."

Joining him was Ben Whitaker, the rapporteur on genocide for the United Nations Commission on Human Rights. Whitaker, who had made use of the Blue Book in his United Nations report, suggested that members of Parliament "organise a deputation to the Foreign Office" to ask them to reconsider their position, notwithstanding their "fear of Turkish trading threats." Lord Avebury agreed.

Even before the House of Lords launch, the release of the new edition of the 1916 Blue Book had generated media coverage in the United Kingdom. In an article in The Independent, journalist Robert Fisk accused the British government of forgetting that in 1916, "the 'British government of the day' produced a 677-page book . . . whose meticulous testimony and eye-witness accounts of Turkish mass-slaughter, organised rape and ethnic cleansing persuaded that same government to demand war-crime trials for the Turks."

The Blue Book, formally known as "The Treatment of Armenians in the Ottoman Empire, 1915-1916," was prepared for the British Government by Viscount James Bryce and Arnold Toynbee. In it, the authors carefully make the case that the destruction of Armenians throughout Ottoman Turkey was centrally planned. To support the case, they bring together scores of eyewitness accounts.

The original Blue Book was printed without names and places so as to protect the identity of the eyewitnesses and their families, but a secret key was published separately. The new edition includes those names and places so that it is an "uncensored" version and is complete in and of itself. Because of the omission of the names in the original, Turkish nationalist historians have tried to pass off the original as lies and propaganda. "That no longer is possible," said Ara Sarafian, who edited the new edition and wrote a critical introduction.

During his introduction of Sarafian, Lord Avebury said that "intent to kill whole or part of a group" constitutes genocide, and he cited the evidence prepared in the recent genocide cases in Rwanda. Asked from the floor to expand on what constitutes Genocide, Sarafian listed the five accepted criteria (under the 1948 UN Convention): killing members of the group; causing serious bodily or mental harm to members of the group; deliberately inflicting on the group conditions of life calculated to bring about its physical destruction in whole or in part; imposing measures intended to prevent births within the group; and forcibly transferring children of the group to another group. "Whereas any one of these actions constitutes genocide, what happened to the Armenians at the hands of the Ottoman Turks fits all five of these criteria," Sarafian commented.

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