Speeches at the Weath-laying Commemorative Ceremony of Lord James Bryce, Grange Cemetery, Edinburgh - 27 January 2003
Dr Rostom Stepanian - Chair, Campaign for Recognition of the Armenian Genocide
Dear Friends, It is indeed a distinct privilege for me to stand here with you all at Grange Cemetery in Edinburgh today. We are here to lay a wreath at the tombstone of Lord James Bryce and to remember the heinous crimes perpetrated against Armenians during the Genocide of 1915. But Edinburgh is also commemorating today Holocaust Memorial Day 2003. I hope that those twin events for both the Scottish and Armenian peoples will come together to form yet another station - perhaps even another milestone - in the slow but sure pace that would lead toward a recognition of the Armenian Genocide.
We show today our appreciation as an Armenian community across the UK to those people who have become truthful advocates of the living reality of an Armenian Genocide that took place some eighty-five years ago. Indeed, this wreath-laying ceremony assumes additional importance since it is occurring outside the sanctioned walls of Usher Hall. Inside those walls, though, the commemorations will unfortunately not pause long enough to remember the Armenian chapter of suffering! This means that we must work together harder within our societies to ensure that this massacre, this genocide, is fully recognised. Commemoration and recognition remain vital steps toward ensuring that genocide never happens again. After all, did Hitler not highlight the banality of indifference when he said, 'Who remembers the Armenians today', whilst planning the Jewish Holocaust some thirty years after the Genocide?
Lord Bryce, when describing the Armenian Genocide through eyewitness accounts, once said that 'no crime in history was so hideous and on so large a scale'. I would tend to add that human behaviour since 1915 has proved that human beings can still outdo themselves in crime! Nonetheless, we should no longer ignore - for convenient geo-political or strategic reasons - the strength of independent evidence corroborating that such massacres tantamount to genocide took place against Armenians. Many British historians, not least James Bryce and Arnold Toynbee in their Blue Book, have testified to this gruesome reality. The UK Government, in pursuit of its ethical foreign policies, can surely no longer afford to ignore anymore that so many national and regional parliaments, including those of France, Belgium, Sweden and the European Parliament, have recognised the historical and legal realities of the genocide?
Ladies and gentlemen, what Armenians across the world have been demanding for over eight decades is not impossible to achieve by men and women of good faith and good will. Recognition of this woeful chapter in Armenian history where one and half million Armenians lost their lives through wilful brutality would provide Armenians the meagre solace that the violent deaths of their relatives did not occur in vain and that justice can triumph over injustice. I believe that Scotland alongside other regional parliaments and assemblies such as that of Wales - can point the way further. Scotland can declare once and for all that the truth cannot be hidden away forever.
As Chair of the Campaign for Recognition of the Armenian Genocide, I thank today Dr Hagop Bessos, a son of Edinburgh, who worked tirelessly with CRAG to make this event possible. Hagop lost his uncle and other relatives during the Genocide. This commemorative ceremony is as much in remembrance of his family as it is in remembrance of every Armenian man and woman who suffered loss and death. I also salute today Hagop's wife Kathleen and their two children Maureen-Eliz and Stephen-Bessilios for their solidarity with him. But I also thank the Edinburgh City Council and Scotland for articulating their opinion on a matter of profound moral significance for the whole country.
This is why I am also pleased to share with you today two announcements. The first is that the Armenian Community Council of Great Britain has resolved to found an annual 'Lord James Bryce Scholarship' that will enable a young historian from the Republic of Armenia to visit the United Kingdom for a period of two to three months in order to study within its academic institutions. The second announcement is that CRAG, the Campaign for Recognition of the Armenian Genocide, will honour the memory, integrity and dedication of Lord Bryce toward Armenians by instituting an annual 'Lord James Bryce Lecture' where world-renowned academic and political scholars would be invited to deliver a lecture in different cities of the United Kingdom - such as Edinburgh, Cardiff, Belfast or London - every year.
Friends, I am acutely aware that this Armenian commemorative ceremony is taking place outside the official ceremony planned for later this evening. This fact makes us Armenians realise that the road ahead is long, challenging and fraught with difficulties and disappointments. But I remain confident that the truth will triumph in the end, and that the world community will not shy away for much longer from recognition of the Armenian Genocide. After all, an event that has rent the moral fabric of humanity during World War One, orphaned a whole generation of Armenians and touched almost every Armenian family - man, woman and child - across the whole world, cannot be suppressed forever.
With Lord James Bryce, a corner of Armenia lies forever in Scotland. And with this wreath-laying ceremony, a part of the Armenian Genocide is also being vindicated here today in Edinburgh. Thank You!
Dr Hagop Bessos' Speech Grange Cemetery, Edinburgh
Your Grace Bishop Nathan Hovahnessian, Your Excellency Dr Karine Khoudaverdyan, Dr Rostom Stepanian, Friends and Colleagues
On this most solemn of commemorative days when the UK as a whole remembers the Holocaust and Genocides of the 20th century, we gather here to pay homage to an extraordinary and courageous man who alerted the World of the First Genocide of the 20th century. We gather here to reaffirm our undying gratitude to Lord James Bryce, a distinguished British parliamentarian and a highly respected ambassador to USA, who drew the attention of the British Parliament and the world to the genocide of Armenians and the brutal decimation of other Christian minorities by Ottoman Turkey between 1915 and 1917. His meticulous compilation of eyewitness accounts of those horrendous events led to the publication of the Blue Book that, as with many other historical accounts since then, has become an indisputable source of evidence of the Genocide.
The theme of this year's Holocaust Memorial Day events in Edinburgh focuses on children. Well my dear friends, we are children of the Armenian Genocide. I am the grand nephew of Raffi, Hovic and Hrair Mesrobian who were brutally slaughtered outside Marash just for being young Armenians. I am also the nephew of Bessilios Bessos of Edessa, who was bayoneted to death in cold blood for simply being a young Christian professor at Aintab College. And finally, I am the son of parents who were totally dispossessed of their land and possessions and forcibly exiled to Syria and Lebanon. Yes, many of us here today are children of the Armenian Genocide that, but for the gallant efforts of people like Lord Bryce, would have gone unnoticed by the world.
Almost exactly five years ago, in January 1998, I was called upon by the Armenian Vicarage in London to assist in the transfer of a clod of soil from Lord Bryce's grave to the Museum of the Armenian Genocide in Yerevan. With eager assistance from the Edinburgh Council we collected the soil and put it in a small wooden box that now lies in its rightful place in Yerevan. It lies there not only in commemoration of Lord Bryce but also as "a permanent reminder of the efforts of a representative of one small nation to stand up for the rights of another"*. Scotland and Armenia are now forever linked through Lord Bryce and the Armenian Genocide.
Friends and colleagues, Armenians and their friends in Scotland & the UK, together with the people of Armenia represented by the UK Armenian Church and UK Armenian Embassy, come to Lord Bryce to honour and remember him, and through him to honour and remember the million and a half victims of the Genocide.
Dr Hagop Bessos