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A Report on Statement made by Ambassador Abbott-Watt regarding the Armenian Genocide - 10 March 2004

HE Miss Thorda Abbott-Watt, HBM Ambassador, 34 Baghramyan Avenue, Yerevan 375019, A R M E N IA

Your Excellency:

Greetings to you and your colleagues at the British Embassy in Yerevan!

Over the past week, our attention at the Campaign for Recognition of the Armenian Genocide (CRAG) was drawn to the statements that you made relating to the Armenian Genocide of 1915 during a press conference marking the first anniversary of your diplomatic posting in Armenian.

We understand that your statements qualified the Armenian genocide as 'mass killings of the [Armenian] population' and as an 'atrocity' but not as 'genocide.' You further qualified your statements by adding that the Armenian Genocide would therefore not fit into the definition of 'genocide' as provided for by the UN Convention of 1948.

We appreciate fully that your statements are nothing new since they in effect repeat the oft-stated position of the British Government. As such, there is nothing startlingly original in this discourse. However, what surprises us in the first place is your insistence to override the sensitivities of the host country in which you are serving as Ambassador and go beyond a mere refutation of facts into a deepening of the scars that have marked the Armenian people both in the Republic as much as in the Diaspora. After all, you are the British Ambassador to Armenia, a young Republic of twelve years of independence, that has included the recognition of the Armenian Genocide as one of the facets of its foreign policy.

Allow me, therefore, to make the following brief points.

CRAG has been trying to engage Her Majesty's Government for many years into a meaningful dialogue over the subject of the Armenian Genocide. However, Armenians have often been presented with formulaic responses on historical points rather than on the substantive issues. This has been deeply unsatisfactory and unhelpful for an Armenian British community that has enjoyed a loyal and uninterrupted presence in the UK for centuries. Furthermore, such denial of historical truth would exacerbate divisions between Turkey and Armenia rather than help develop bilateral relations and therefore contribute toward economic and political stability of the region.

In your press conference, you also referred to the debate amongst historians and lawyers as to whether the Armenian Genocide did take place or whether they were merely widespread "massacres". We believe that this statement in itself runs against any ethical foreign policy consideration by the British Government as a whole. We would argue that the issue of the Armenian Genocide has already been proven time and again by British and international historians and lawyers - not to add also by eminent British politicians and writers.

However, the reality of any such discourse nowadays is neither historical nor legal but simply one of political expediency. In that sense, we enclose herewith documentation demonstrating that historians on this particular area have collectively and unequivocally accepted the genocide for what it was, namely genocide, and are no longer prepared to use alternative elegant euphemisms.

There are some obvious exceptions to this overwhelming majority view, such as the views of Professor Bernard Lewis whose pronouncements were quoted some months ago in the UK by the Minister of Europe. This frankly cuts no ice with Armenians let alone with historians in general since Professor Lewis' shifting opinions and his relationship with the Turkish authorities have often disturbed US academic circles.

The argument that this matter should be left to historians is used by the Turkish government, and repeated by others who cannot bring it upon themselves to recognise for what they are the historical facts as witnessed, quoted, written or analysed by many British and other historians. The body of historians worldwide has definitively and unequivocally pronounced on this matter, led notably by British personalities and names whose integrity remains beyond reproach today.

A further point is that the arguments on historical debates deflect from the real reasons behind the refusal to recognise the Armenian Genocide. Your reasons are not documented in such a way that an ordinary Armenian British citizen could read, discuss, grasp and understand. This leads to conclusions that moral and ethical considerations have been put to one side for political and military advantage. So long as these views prevail, the British Government cannot be taken seriously as working toward an ethical foreign policy as stated by our Prime Minister himself. The non-recognition of the Armenian Genocide would leave HMG with a very unfavourable legacy that will last well beyond the point of recognition. After all, an increasing number of countries [as shown in the attached documents] are recognising the Armenian Genocide.

Is it not time that Her Majesty's Government also accepts the facts that define the events of 1915 as genocide from the historical, legal, political and religious standpoints? Is it not time to seek closure for the first genocide of the 20th century? Is that not when the future becomes clearer, and when Ambassadors to Armenia do not repeat those statements time and time again?

Very Truly Yours - Raffi Sarkissian - Chair

cc: Armenia Desk, FCO


Letter to Ambassador Thorda Abbott-Watt from Mr. A. Topalian,  a British Subject:

Dear Ambassador

Three years ago, a copy of 'The Treatment of Armenians in the Ottoman Empire 1915-1916 (James Bryce and Arnold Toynbee) originally published by the British Government was provided from the UK Armenian community to your predecessor, Timothy Jones, to place in the British Embassy's library in Yerevan. The objective was to provide a reference as the Foreign Office apparently does not prepare in advance those appointed there, and to minimise the risk of ill-advised statements being made such as the ones that are attributed to you.

The Armenian Genocide has been accepted by the vast majority of genocide scholars in conference and in print, and I attach some key resolutions that were supplied to you last year. There follows a list of the statements of acceptance by government and organisations, again already in your possession. There is no real debate other than the denials of Turkish government, their historians and US professors funded by the Turkish authorities.

You could not possibly have read any of this material or given it any thought. It is presumptuous of you to question the scholarship and authority of the experts by quoting the arguments of the perpetrators of death and destruction. This makes the British look partisan by giving support to those who cannot confront their darkest moments and by revising history, an activity that one would have thought would have ceased with the demise of Soviet practices.

Fortunately at last, acceptance has reached the UK shores thanks to the Assembly and a County Council in Wales. The Royal Geographical Society's magazine in its March issue (as well as the National Geographic issue on the same month) both feature articles on Armenia, describing the events in honest terms that contrast with your sophistry. Even these pale compared to contemporaneous texts published in Britain such the Times History of the War.

Your words say more about you than they do of history, that you are prepared to seek doubt that did not exist for those in government and the diplomatic service at that time. Tell me, does the British ambassador to China feel compelled to make similar comments on the events in Nanking to assuage the sensitivities of the Japanese authorities flying in the face of what is accepted by everyone else?

You are damaging the reputation of this country and its interests by courting ridicule in the eyes of everyone apart from the Turkish authorities.

Yours faithfully - ARE Topalian


A Selection of International Resolutions concerning the Armenian Genocide

European Parliament Resolution (28 February 2002)

"reiterates in this respect the position in its resolution of 18 June 1987 recognising the genocide upon the Armenians in 1915 and calls upon Turkey to create a basis for reconciliation".

Canadian Senate Resolution (13 June 2002)

"to recognise the genocide of the Armenians and to condemn any attempt to deny or distort a historical truth as being anything less than genocide, a crime against humanity"

French Law 2001-70 (29 January 2001)

"France publicly recognises the Armenian Genocide of 1915".

Italian Chamber of Deputies (16 November 2000)

"we urge recognition of the genocide inflicted upon the Armenian minority".

Vatican (10 November 2000)

"the Armenian genocide, which began the century, was a prologue to horrors that would follow."

Swedish Parliament (29 March 2000)

"An official statement and recognition of the Genocide of the Armenians is important and necessary" and "It is of great importance that an increasing openness and historical understanding of the events of 1915 and thereafter be developed".

Belgian Senate Resolution (26 March 1998)

"that the recognition of mistakes and crimes of the past is a precondition for reconciliation between peoples and that there cannot be peace without justice"

Hellenic Parliament Resolution (25 April 1996)

"the 24th of April is defined as the day of commemoration of the genocide of Armenians by Turkey"

Russian Duma Resolution (14 April 1995)

"based on irrefutable historic facts which attest to the extermination of Armenians"

Argentina Senate (5 May 1993)

"In complete solidarity with the Armenian community, which was the victim of the first genocide of the 20th century"


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