Exeter, Devon UK • Apr 24, 2024 • VOL XII

Exeter, Devon UK • [date-today] • VOL XII
Home CommentColumnists Why the UK should recognise the Armenian Genocide

Why the UK should recognise the Armenian Genocide

Elliot Laver urges the UK to recognise the Armenian Genocide as he argues what it would mean to Armenia and that recognising historical fact is just.
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Mt. Ararat in Armenia via Wikicommons

Over the Summer I had the pleasure of travelling to the South Caucuses – a region nestled between Turkey, Russia and Iran. When I went to the Caucasian country of Armenia, I mostly enjoyed its old monasteries, mountain lakes and cheap wine, yet I also found myself moved by its tragic history.  

Armenian as a culture has existed for thousands of years, it was the world’s first Christian state, has its own language and has the most chess grandmasters per capita. But one specific event tends to dominate historical conversations about this nation, the genocide the nation faced between 1915 and 1922.  

Map via Wikicommons

Of the 1.5 million Armenians living in the Ottoman Empire in 1915, up to 1.2 million died in this genocide and many others fled as refugees to Europe and the US. However, this event and its impact on the Armenians is denied by the Republic of Turkey.

Armenians were split between the Russian and Ottoman empires at the start of the 20th century and faced persecution from each, with the Ottoman Empire being the more severe. Armenians were foreign Christians at the edge of the Ottoman Empire and were therefore found to be an easy scapegoat for issues the sick man of Europe faced. Several massacres occurred throughout the 19th century as a result of this. Armenians were particularly seen as a threat by Turkish nationalists within the Ottoman Empire, who wanted a nation for Turks. This group found control of the state when the Young Turks seized power of the nation in 1908. When The Ottomans found themselves struggling against the Russian Empire in WW1, the state blamed Armenians as traitors and sought to systematically destroy the Armenians. Mass killings and deportations into the desert began in 1915 and continued until 1923 when the Ottoman Empire ceased to exist, and the Republic of Turkey replaced it. 

A poster I saw in Armenia shows what they recognise as Armenia’s historic borders prior to the genocide – today Armenia only controls 2 of these provinces.

Of the 1.5 million Armenians living in the Ottoman Empire in 1915, up to 1.2 million died in this genocide and many others fled as refugees to Europe and the US. However, this event and its impact on the Armenians is denied by the Republic of Turkey. For it was led by Turkish nationalists – and partly undermines Turkish sovereignty of its western border – but also because in the establishment of the Turkish state after WW1, Turkey took large provinces of Western Armenian. Most notably Turkey controls Mount Ararat, a mountain which is meant to be the resting place of Noah’s Ark and is the national symbol of Armenia, in a similar way to how important Mount Fuji is to Japan.  

Armenia via Wikicommons

So, whilst Turkey has reasons for unjustly denying this atrocity, it seems strange at first why most other nations don’t recognise what happens as genocide. Only 34 countries recognise it as a genocide as they choose to use softer language. A genocide, according to the UN, is a “crime committed with the intent to destroy a national, ethnic, racial or religious group, in whole or in part”, which was the aim of the young Turks. This becomes a further absurdity when considering that this very definition came from the UN using Armenia as an example of genocide. The man who came up with the word, a Jewish Pole named Raphael Lemkin once said “First to the Armenians then after the Armenians, Hitler took action.” 

It’s for the same reason as most of NATO: the strategic importance of Turkey.

One asks, why specifically does the UK take this odd stance? Our government calls it a “terrible event”. It’s for the same reason as most of NATO: the strategic importance of Turkey. Turkey is a large NATO nation of 80 million situated near Russia. They have NATO airbases, historically hosted US nuclear missiles and critically hold the Bosphorus straights (where all commerce into and out of the black sea must cross). Not wishing to upset this important ally has had priority over recognition.  

However, even if one were to claim that placing the wishes of an ally above recognising historical fact is just – and I don’t believe that to be true – it still does not justify the UK’s position. The US themselves have now recognised the Armenian genocide when Joe Biden in 2021 used the word genocide in an official presidential statement. Yes, the Turkish government were upset and claimed the US were wrong, that they were rewriting history and this was for political motives, yet that hasn’t meaningfully altered their relations with the US. The European Parliament has voted for motions that call this massacre a genocide, yet Turkey is still desperate to join the European Union. Fundamentally the NATO-Turkish position is beneficial to both sides, and we have the ability to change our position. Even the devolved governments of Wales and Scotland have found the time to take the just position. 

We should take our stance not only because it would not threaten Turkish action, but also because it would mean the world to Armenia.

We should take our stance not only because it would not threaten Turkish action, but also because it would mean the world to Armenia. The nation is between Turkey and now Azerbaijan, whom it has a land dispute and an ongoing conflict with. (And also, is a Turkic nation which denies the genocide). It was aligned with Russia throughout the last 20 years not out of ideology, but because no one else gave them any support. However, with Russia’s war in Ukraine and its unwillingness to support Armenia against Azerbaijan, the nation has now found itself more willing to realign its politics. The EU seeks to resolve the conflict and ensure Armenia is in a stable position to develop. Bluntly, Western nations showing this important olive branch to Armenia could make a difference in denying autocrats and allies and could help the country to liberalise and develop, clearly benefiting us and Armenia at the cost of Russia. Georgia seems keen to become as Western as possible from the EU flags you see around Tbilisi, so why not Armenia as well? They are a nation in need of support and recognising the injustice their people faced would mean something real, at no cost to us. There is currently a bill in the UK Parliament to address this, sponsored by Labour’s John Spellar, and hopefully, it will reach a successful vote.

The UK’s position is one of weakness and a lack of compassion, but also one which does not understand the changing politics of the South Caucuses. We should help Armenia and do what is right. Speak up for Armenia, speak up for the victims of the Armenian Genocide, and recognise it as such. 

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