The British Government officially restated its position on the allegation of genocide by Armenians, issuing a press release on July 23 that calls ‘the massacres of 1915-16’ an ‘appalling tragedy’. The statement by the British Embassy in Ankara, underlined that the British government does ‘not believe the evidence demonstrates that the events should be classified as ‘genocide’, which has a specific meaning under the 1948 UN Convention on Genocide.’ The statement further emphasized the ‘loss of life on both sides’.
The British Embassy press release was issued in correction to a statement attributed to the British Ambassador to Armenia, Timothy Jones, by the Armenian press, describing the events of 1915-16 in the Ottoman Empire as ‘genocide’.
Commenting on this important development, the President of the Assembly of Turkish American Associations, Dr. Orhan Kaymakcalan, said that the British government’s position on the Armenian issue had never wavered and that in fact this latest statement includes some hitherto unmentioned new points. ‘The British government states there is not enough evidence to classify the events of 1915 as a genocide. Furthermore, the statement categorically states that both sides suffered,’ he commented. Dr. Kaymakcalan added ‘As a community we understand the sorrow of the Armenians. However, for too long the suffering of Turks and other Muslims has largely been ignored and denied by the Armenian side and their friends. Turks and Armenians have shared a long history of peaceful coexistence creating strong cultural bonds between them. We believe that the time has come for more compassionate debate on this painful part of their joint history. The approach taken by the British Government could serve as a basis to create a more constructive dialogue on this controversial issue.’
The position of the British government is of particular importance. After World War I, the British government was in total control of Istanbul as an occupying power and remained as such for a period of five years. During that time investigations were carried out into the events of 1915. After a two-year investigation, that included the incarceration of 141 Ottoman leaders on the island of Malta, not one person was convicted of any wrongdoing.
ATAA believes that a process of reconciliation between the Turkish and Armenian peoples is achievable if the perspectives of both sides are taken into account and calls on Congress, as representatives of both Turkish American and Armenian American communities, to facilitate a conciliatory approach rather than a confrontational one.
Press Release, 7/23/01
The British Embassy Ankara, Turkey
Contrary to reports, which have appeared in the Turkish press, there has been no change in the British Government position on the events of 1915-16.
In a recent press conference the British Ambassador to Armenia, Timothy Jones, responding to questions about the events of 1915-16, said:
‘What happened to the Armenian Community in the Ottoman Empire in 1915-23 is recognized in our country. We define it as a number of terrible historical events.’
The British Government of the day and successive British Governments viewed the massacres of 1915-16 as an appalling tragedy. We understand the strength of feeling on this issue given the loss of life on both sides. But we do not believe the evidence demonstrates that the events should be classified as ‘genocide’, which has a specific meaning under the 1948 UN Convention on Genocide.
Responding to a parliamentary question in February, the then Foreign and Commonwealth Office minister Baroness Scotland told the House of Lords ‘The Government, in line with previous British Governments, have judged the evidence not to be sufficiently unequivocal to persuade us that these events should be categorized as genocide as defined by the 1948 UN Convention on Genocide, a convention which is in any event not retrospective in application. The interpretation of events in Eastern Anatolia in 1915-16 is still the subject of genuine debate among historians.’