By Warren Hoge
The United Nations dismantled an exhibit on the Rwandan genocide and postponed its scheduled opening by Secretary General Ban Ki-moon on Monday after the Turkish mission objected to references to the Armenian genocide in Turkey at the time of World War I.
The panels of graphics, photos and statements had been installed in the visitors lobby on Thursday by the British-based Aegis Trust. The trust campaigns for the prevention of genocide and runs a center in Kigali, the Rwandan capital, memorializing the 500,000 victims of the massacres there 13 years ago.
Hours after the show was assembled, however, a Turkish diplomat spotted offending words in a section entitled “What is genocide?” and raised objections.
The passage said that “following World War I, during which one million Armenians were murdered in Turkey,” Raphael Lemkin, a Polish lawyer credited with coining the word genocide, “urged the League of Nations to recognize crimes of barbarity as international crimes.”
James Smith, the chief executive of Aegis, said he was told by the United Nations on Saturday night that the sentence would have to be eliminated or the exhibition would be struck.
Armen Martirosyan, the Armenian ambassador, said he sought out Kiyotaka Akasaka, the United Nations under secretary general for public information, and thought he had reached an agreement to let the show go forward by omitting the words “in Turkey.”
But Mr. Akasaka said, “That was his suggestion, and I agreed only to take it into account in finding the final wording.”
Baki Ilkin, the ambassador of Turkey, said, “We just expressed our discomfort over the text's making references to the Armenian issue and drawing parallels with the genocide in Rwanda.”
There were widespread killings of Armenians by Ottoman Turks during several years beginning in 1915 in which an estimated 1.5 million died, but Turkey has always vehemently denied claims of genocide.
Mr. Smith said he was “very disappointed because this was supposed to talk about the lessons drawn from Rwanda and point up that what is happening in Darfur is the cost of inaction.”
Source: “New York Times“, 10 April 2007?(subscription)
Editorial by “New York Times”, 13 April 2007?
Turkey and the U.N.?s Cover-Up
More than 90 years ago, when Turkey was still part of the Ottoman Empire, Turkish nationalists launched an extermination campaign there that killed 1.5 million Armenians. It was the 20th century?s first genocide. The world noticed, but did nothing, setting an example that surely emboldened such later practitioners as Hitler, the Hutu leaders of Rwanda in 1994 and today?s Sudanese president, Omar Hassan al-Bashir.
Turkey has long tried to deny the Armenian genocide. Even in the modern-day Turkish republic, which was not a party to the killings, using the word genocide in reference to these events is prosecuted as a serious crime. Which makes it all the more disgraceful that United Nations officials are bowing to Turkey?s demands and blocking this week?s scheduled opening of an exhibit at U.N. headquarters commemorating the 13th anniversary of the Rwandan genocide because it mentions the mass murder of the Armenians.
Ankara was offended by a sentence that explained how genocide came to be recognized as a crime under international law: ?Following World War I, during which one million Armenians were murdered in Turkey, Polish lawyer Raphael Lemkin urged the League of Nations to recognize crimes of barbarity as international crimes.? The exhibit?s organizer, a British-based antigenocide group, was willing to omit the words ?in Turkey.? But that was not enough for the U.N.?s craven new leadership, and the exhibit has been indefinitely postponed.
It?s odd that Turkey?s leaders have not figured out by now that every time they try to censor discussion of the Armenian genocide, they only bring wider attention to the subject and link today?s democratic Turkey with the now distant crime. As for Secretary General Ban Ki-moon and his inexperienced new leadership team, they have once again shown how much they have to learn if they are to honorably and effectively serve the United Nations, which is supposed to be the embodiment of international law and a leading voice against genocide.
Click here to read a letter (PDF format) written by the Chairman of Zoryan Institute addressed to the Secretary General of the United Nations, Ban Kim-Moon, dated, April 13th, 2007, in response to the closure of a Rwandan Genocide commemorative exhibit that was supposed to be set up in the lobby of the UN General Assembly last week. It was cancelled because the Turkish Permanent Representative to the UN protested that, in a panel addressing the founding of the Genocide Convention, the following lines were present: ?Following World War I, during which one million Armenians were murdered in Turkey, Polish lawyer Raphael Lemkin urged the League of Nations to recognize crimes of barbarity as international crimes.??
Letter by James Smith, the Chief Executive of Aegis Trust explaining the embarassing situation:?
We regret to inform you that for political reasons, the United Nations has chosen to postpone tomorrow's launch of the exhibition 'Lessons from Rwanda'.?
The postponement follows objection by the Turkish UN Mission to the following sentence, which came to their attention when the exhibition was erected in situ on Thursday:
'Following World War I, during which one million Armenians were murdered in Turkey, Polish lawyer Raphael Lemkin urged the League of Nations to recognize crimes of barbarity as international crimes.'
The UN Dept of Public Information informed the Aegis Trust that the Office of the Secretary General requested the sentence be removed.
However, as a matter of principle, Aegis is resistant to removing reference to the Armenians in full.?
Why even mention the Armenians in an exhibition about the Rwandan genocide?? It makes sense that if people are learning about the Rwandan genocide, then it is helpful to know how genocide came to be defined and the background to the UN convention.? Raphael Lemkin, who coined the term “genocide” started a campaign to outlaw mass atrocities (he called these “crimes of barbarity” in the early 1930's during his early work) in part inspired by the crimes committed against the Armenians in the First World War. Therefore this passing reference to the Armenians has direct relevance to the exhibition.?
Had we been asked to remove reference of atrocities to Jews because Germans objected or to Rwandans because French or Congolese objected we would have been equally resistant.? We cannot apply one rule to some and not to others because the political wind in the UN is blowing against the Armenians.?
We were open to a compromise, negotiated by the Armenian Ambassador to the UN but did not wish to delete reference altogether to Armenians; it would form part of a denial of elementary facts.?
However, we understood the matter had been referred to the Secretary General, then later on Saturday night as the situation had not been resolved, UN DPI informed Aegis that the launch on Monday 9th April had been postponed.
I am deeply sorry this has inconvenienced you at short notice and hope you will understand that Aegis had to stand by certain principles.? We will keep you informed of how this matter proceeds.?
09 April 2007
Comment by Harut Sassounian
N.Y. Times Deals a Knock Out Punch to Turkish Denialism
By Harut Sassounian – Publisher, The California Courier – 19 April 2007
The Turkish Ambassador to the United Nations must have been very proud of himself when he succeeded in temporarily shutting down a U.N. photo exhibition on the Rwandan Genocide, after discovering a single sentence that read: ?one million Armenians were murdered in Turkey.?
Little did Ambassador Baki Ilkin and his government know that the attempt to eliminate a simple reference which did not even describe the Armenian mass killings as genocide and may have been overlooked by most exhibit visitors, would blow up in their faces in a very big and unexpected way.
As stated previously in this column, Turkey, unintentionally, is the greatest publicist of the Armenian Genocide by its obsessive objections to its mention by anyone, anywhere.
The Turkish complaint against the mention of Armenian ?murders? at the Rwandan exhibition was reported by the Associated Press. The lengthy wire story, which extensively described the facts of the Armenian Genocide, was printed by newspapers around the globe. While trying to get rid of one harmless line that most people would not even have noticed, Turkish officials managed to get several paragraphs about the Armenian Genocide published in hundreds of newspapers around the world! As the AP reported: ?Historians estimate up to 1.5 million Armenians were killed by Ottoman Turks around the time of World War I, an event widely viewed by genocide scholars as the first genocide of the 20th century.?
In one thoughtless knee-jerk reaction, the Turkish government managed to reconfirm its repressive image among millions of newspaper readers, antagonize the Rwandan government, and upset the U.K.-based Aegis Trust, which had helped organize the exhibition. It also drew the ire of usually mild-mannered Armenian government officials. Foreign Minister Vartan Oskanian blasted Ankara by stating: ?It is not enough that the Government of Turkey thinks it can hide its history from its own people. Now, they have taken their campaign of cover-up and distortion to such lengths that they will prevent an exhibition on Genocide entitled ?Lessons of Rwanda.??
The New York Times also covered the Turkish objection and the controversy regarding the cancellation of the U.N. exhibition and, just like the AP, made direct references to the Armenian Genocide.
However, the biggest surprise was yet to come. On April 13, The N.Y. Times published a hard-hitting editorial that blasted Turkey?s obsessive efforts to deny the Armenian Genocide. It dealt such a devastating blow that Turkish denialism may never recover from it.
The editorial, under the headline, “Turkey and the U.N.?s Cover-Up,” stated in part: ?More than 90 years ago, when Turkey was still part of the Ottoman Empire, Turkish nationalists launched an extermination campaign there that killed 1.5 million Armenians. It was the 20th century's first genocide?. Turkey has long tried to deny the Armenian genocide. Even in the modern-day Turkish republic, which was not a party to the killings, using the word genocide in reference to these events is prosecuted as a serious crime. It's odd that Turkey's leaders have not figured out by now that every time they try to censor discussion of the Armenian genocide, they only bring wider attention to the subject and link today's democratic Turkey with the now distant crime.?
The same editorial appeared in the International Herald Tribune, under an even harsher headline: ?Abetting Turkish Denial at the United Nations.?
While U.N. officials are mulling over a face-saving way of resuming the photo exhibition, Rwandans, Armenians and all those who cherish the truth should look into the questionable role played by U.N. associate spokesman Farhan Haq, in this whole episode. He was quoted by AP last week as saying that the photo exhibit was taken down because it was not properly reviewed.
Mr. Haq has also been repeatedly quoted by Turkish denialists as having allegedly stated back in 2000 that ?the United Nations has not approved or endorsed a report labeling the Armenian experience as Genocide.? Last week, he was quoted by AP as saying: ?The U.N. hasn?t expressed any position on incidents that took place long before the United Nations was established.?
Both of those statements are absolutely untrue, as the U.N. has taken a position on the Jewish Holocaust which, just like the Armenian Genocide, occurred before the establishment of the U.N. in 1945. Furthermore, there were several extensive discussions of the Armenian Genocide at the U.N. for more than a dozen years, which culminated in a report adopted in 1985 by the U.N. Sub-Commission on Prevention of Discrimination and Protection of Minorities.
Earlier in the week, this writer spoke to Mr. Haq and asked him if he was aware that U.N human rights panels had dealt with the issue of the Armenian Genocide. He said he knew that various U.N. human rights bodies had discussed this issue and adopted reports which referred to the Armenian Genocide. Regarding the statement that Turkish denialists constantly attribute to him, he said he had simply stated that there has never been a U.N. General Assembly resolution on the Armenian Genocide.
Armenia?s Ambassador at the United Nations may now want to contact the U.N. Secretary General?s office and ask him to issue a formal statement declaring that the U.N. human rights bodies had indeed dealt with the Armenian Genocide and adopted a report in 1985 properly calling it a genocide.
There is no question that the Rwandan exhibition will be reopened at the U.N. along with the reference to the Armenian Genocide. By taking it down temporarily to get rid of that reference, Turkish officials have once again inadvertently publicized the Armenian Genocide to a worldwide audience, much beyond the four walls of the U.N.
Photo: A cemetery and memorial for the Rwandan genocide.