Tuesday, 12 November 2019

Ceisteanna (44)

Thomas P. Broughan


44. Deputy Thomas P. Broughan asked the Tánaiste and Minister for Foreign Affairs and Trade if a motion or resolution will be brought to Dáil Éireann to recognise the 1915 genocide of Armenians living in the Ottoman empire (details supplied); and if he will make a statement on the matter. [46129/19]

Amharc ar fhreagra

Freagraí ó Béal (8 píosaí cainte) (Ceist ar Foreign)

On 29 October 2019, the US House of Representatives overwhelmingly passed a resolution to recognise the 1915-17 Armenian genocide. It has also been recognised by the United Nations Sub-Commission on the Promotion and Protection of Human Rights, the European Parliament, the Council of Europe, 16 EU member states and 32 countries worldwide. Is it not time for the Tánaiste and the Government to bring forward a motion or resolution to recognise the awful genocide in Armenia more than 100 years ago?

The Government expressed its deepest sympathy for the enormous suffering of the Armenian people during the terrible events of 1915, which resulted in the appalling deaths of large numbers of the Armenian population in the Ottoman empire.

No Government has taken a position on the recognition of the events of 1915 as genocide, believing that it is not in a position to adjudicate on this contentious matter involving the consideration of a number of legal issues and an assessment of the actions and intentions of many parties during that time. There is no international consensus on whether the events of 1915 can be considered a genocide. Ireland follows the practice of recognising genocide only where this has been established by a judgment of an international court, or where there is international consensus on the matter. Consequently, I do not propose to bring forward a motion or resolution on the matter at this time.

These terrible events continue to overshadow relations between Armenia and Turkey and the two sides maintain sharply different historical interpretations of these events. As the Irish experience demonstrates, the process of reconciliation and coming to terms with the past is never easy. Ireland urges Armenia and Turkey to take advantage of any opportunity to progress reconciliation on this matter for the good of their peoples and the wider region. I believe it is important that we do not permit current international developments in the region to influence our judgment on events that took place as far back as 1915.

I know that is not the response the Deputy was looking for. However, it is important that Ireland be consistent in its approach on such issues and I have outlined that consistency.

Should we not have a particular interest in this, given what happened to our people between 1845 and 1852, which was effectively a genocide as well? According to the 1948 UN genocide convention, the crime is defined as acts "committed with intent to destroy, in whole or part, a national, ethnical, racial or religious group". Between 1915 and 1917, after Turkey entered the First World War on the side of the central powers, the Armenians, a Christian people who played a valuable role in business and economics throughout the Ottoman empire, were targeted and identified as the enemy within. The leadership was rounded up in Constantinople in 1915 and this was followed by the deportation of hundreds of thousands of Armenians and the confiscation of their property, before they were driven into the deserts of northern Syria, which we are familiar with from recent events. There was mass shooting, burning and poisoning, and, at the end of it all, up to 1.5 million people were dead. The European Parliament has asked all member states to formally recognise this horrendous event as genocide.

Some of what the Deputy says is true but there is no international consensus on whether the events of 1915 can be considered a genocide. There has been no ruling in regard to this matter by an international court and neither the EU - that is, the European Council and the High Representative for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy - nor the UN has recognised these events as genocide. The European Parliament, it is true, adopted a resolution on 15 April 2015 on the centenary of the Armenian genocide, calling on Turkey to recognise the events of 1915 as genocide and calling on both Turkey and Armenia to work towards reconciliation and normalisation of their relations. The Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe recognised the events as genocide in a 2001 resolution. The parliaments of 15 member states have passed resolutions recognising the events of 1915 as genocide. However, Governments of ten member states have said they do not recognise the events of 1915 as genocide or have refused to take a position on the matter. Remaining member states have avoided being drawn into the issue.

The point I am making is that there is not a settled international position on this; far from it. I have outlined the basis by which Ireland would introduce a resolution on this matter and we do not have it.

All we can rely on for the past are historians.

The courts, not historians.

Historians have delved into the documentation on what happened.

For example, in July 1915 the US ambassador to the Ottoman Empire, Henry Morgenthau Snr., said "a campaign of race extermination is in progress under a pretext of reprisal against rebellion." He was referring to the horrible crimes being committed against the Armenian people. Also, in the year 2000, almost 20 years ago, 126 scholars worldwide, including renowned people such as Nobel Prize winner Elie Wiesel, historian Yehuda Bauer and sociologist Irving Horowitz, published a statement in The New York Times affirming that, from their studies, the "Armenian genocide is an incontestable historical fact". As I said, surely we should be the most conscious of this, given the behaviour of Lord John Russell and his Government and the treatment of the ancestors of those of us in this House in those seven years during which more than 1 million people were starved to death and well over 1 million had to emigrate. We are so conscious of what happened in the former Yugoslavia, the awful events and attacks on the Jewish people, what happened in the Holocaust and what happened in Rwanda. Surely we, perhaps more than most nations, should be most acutely aware of this. The Minister should bring forward such a motion. If I, or colleagues and I, brought it forward, would the Minister support it?

I am not disputing the awfulness of what happened, the number of people who were killed or the suffering involved. What I am saying is that whether it is legally categorised as a genocide is in dispute. That is the only dispute here. In fact, in 2015 the issue was debated at a meeting of the Oireachtas Joint Committee on Foreign Affairs and Trade, when Senator Mark Daly put forward the proposal that the joint committee recognise the suffering and loss of the Armenian people in the 100th anniversary of the Armenian genocide. The motion was defeated by eight to five. It is not as if we have not debated this issue. Of course I am aware of an ongoing lobby on this issue, but I think I have stated repeatedly the basis on which we will make a decision on this, that is, the legal understanding and court rulings concerning the matter.