If Britain's annual Holocaust Memorial Day is to mean anything, it should entail an ethical commitment not to shy away from other instances of genocide, past and present. The ongoing issue of official recognition of the Armenian genocide has become a litmus test for the west's new-found enthusiasm for historical commemoration, and the British government has failed that test. If this is entirely predictable given the ease with which 'principle' is invoked and discarded in international affairs, it is also entirely consistent with the history of Britain's relations to the Armenian people before and during the genocide.
From the late nineteenth century onwards, as 'the Armenian question' became a significant factor in the great imperial game in the near east, Britain involved itself as much as any power in relations between the late Ottoman state and its Armenian minority, and with no result except to exacerbate those relations and to fail to provide any protection for the Armenians. The same self-serving approach that took little account of the human cost of its policies as Armenians were being massacred in increasingly large numbers in 1895-6 and 1915-16 underpins the present-day refusal to upset the modern Republic of Turkey by calling a spade a spade.
Dr Donald Bloxham, Lecturer in Twentieth Century History, University of Edinburgh, and Author of The Great Game of Genocide - Imperialism, Nationalism and the Destruction of the Ottoman Armenians.
This book is now available at http://www.oup.co.uk/isbn/0-19-927356-1