I could not resist, taking The Trufflehound for her annual booster, enquiring of the Australian vet whether these were difficult times being an Antipodean abroad in England. “I have absolutely no idea what you are talking about!” This is called gripping an inflammatory subject and sticking it up someone’s nostrils. Take Armenia, for example.


Everyone knows that in 1915, the Turks conducted a campaign which resulted in the deaths of hundreds of thousands of Armenians. This campaign was not called ‘genocide’ at the time for the word had yet to enter our vocabulary and was not to do so until Raphael Lemkin (1900-1959), a Polish-Jewish legal scholar, coined the phrase in 1944. But by any measure, and particularly by the measure of modern Jurisprudence emanating from the International Criminal Tribunals for the Former Yugoslavia (ICTY) and Rwanda (ICTR), what the Turks did to the Armenians is beyond a peradventure “genocide” and it is utterly idle, in my opinion, to say otherwise.

Yet nearly a hundred years on it continues to be the subject of intense and abrasive controversy. On the one hand Turkey refuses, to the point of condoning the murder of those who stand up and call it ‘genocide’ and imprisoning others who have the courage to do the same, to acknowledge what was done, with the full backing of the law, by its Government at the height of the Great War. On the other hand the US Congress is engaged in an exercise of having a vote formally to declare that the events of 1915 amounted to a ‘genocide’.

A plague on both their houses, say I. Turkey is trying to get into the EU which is exclusively composed of nations that are at the least nominally Christian and yet it insists on not merely denying the facts of its anti-Christian pogrom but persecuting those who choose to exercise their right of free speech to attack such denials. This is hardly a good idea if you wish to win over the doubters in Europe who do not wish to have Turkey as a member and who will use any argument to stymie such a move.

I should add that, on membership for Turkey, I for one am not a doubter. Notwithstanding all the arguments about NATO and Turkey’s role in the Middle East, I would not have Turkey as a member of the EU at any price, not least because we cannot fit another 80 million people on this particular postage stamp. Besides Vanity Blair used to wet himself at the thought of getting Turkey in the EU: his propensity for making a through mess of foreign affairs and the EU ought to tell us that this is a BAD idea!

But it also demonstrates that Turkey does not share, in that phrase beloved of EuroNabobs, the common values of Europe. Germany at least has faced up to her shame and done what it can to persuade the world that it has repented, though it still seems to have a desire to run Europe all by itself. Turkey has demonstrated that she has not. Turkey should, if it wants to get on, either learn our values or go on its way. But it does not need a lot of formal and public breast-beating from the legislators of the world to enable us to impress them of our opinion on the matter.

There is a parallel here with the case of Japan. I would not permit Japan to have a permanent seat on the UN Security Council unless it makes a full and candid acceptance of its Crimes against Humanity between 1931 and 1945, gives a proper account to its schoolchildren of what their forefathers got up to in that time and stops its political masters from venerating Japan’s War Criminals at the Yakasuni Shrine. Japan plainly refuses to acknowledge its role in some of the most bestial acts of inhumanity that occurred in her conflicts with China and the Allies and as such must be both condemned and made to understand why it is we will not permit her a full place in public affairs. But would the US Congress pass a resolution in those terms concerning a close ally?

But in the end, what, actually does rubbing their faces in it achieve other than to intensify their sense of isolation and anger? Does engaging in gesture politics of this sort achieve anything other than making the object of its attention close ranks and unite against a common foe? Of course not. Such gestures are as ludicrous as The Church of England ‘apologising’ for slavery. They may make the progenitors of such finger-wagging enjoy even more the act of looking in the mirror every morning but humiliating whole peoples just makes them harder to deal with in the long term.

There are two curious features of the Armenian genocide which bear further thought. The first is that it marks a departure for Turkey in its treatment of religious minorities. In its former province of Bosnia, as elsewhere in its European possessions, the Ottoman Empire was tolerant of Christianity. Orthodox Serbs and Catholic Croats lived within her borders but were able to practice their religion without interruption. There was some discrimination but no sense that their rulers would one day turn round and force them to abjure their religion. Thus the Armenian Genocide marks a departure in the Ottoman’s attitude towards the Infidel.

Secondly, and this to some extent bears out my first point, the Young Turks who ran Turkey after 1908 (the year in which Austria finally absorbed Bosnia into the Austro-Hungarian Empire) were very conscious of how the Ottoman’s Christian bourgeoisie seemed to have outstripped them, they who were the of the Muslim Middle-Class, in terms of wealth and the power that wealth brings. The Young Turks, on the other hand, were all part of the State’s bureaucracy, powerful in the way of civil servants but without the affluence that brings another kind of power in its wake. Thus a gap arose between them and the Christian community and they began consciously to feel the religious nature of that divide, though they would all have accounted themselves Turkish Nationalists first. Was this a ‘sea-change’ moment in relations between Christendom and Islam?

Perhaps we should spend more time considering whether these were the first seeds of the recrudescence of Islam as a potent power, the fruits of which we are now seeing and gathering a hundred years later and thus understand better the forces that have been unleashed.

There is another feature of this desire of public bodies to wear their hearts thus on their sleeves which troubles. It is that, by so doing, they seek to make it immutable as a fact and therefore not open to contrary opinion, debate or dissent. Whilst I have stated my opinion of the events, I do not in the least begrudge anyone else putting the contrary opinion. But for a Parliament to pass a resolution saying that it was a genocide and is to be condemned implies that the contrary view is heretical and to be censored. It is but the first step to undermining free speech, just as laws which punish holocaust denial are. Given what they are subliminally trying to do, we should set our face against such effluvia.

I should add that I have no time whatsoever for the likes of David Irving, doyen of holocaust deniers, who turn history on its head, but if he wants to waste his time and energy saying that the holocaust never happened, so be it: our body politic ought to be robust enough to take such gadflies in its stride.

That this is sort of gesture politics is a pointless exercise is best exemplified by the fact that in 2002 the Welsh Assembly, a place where the exhalation of hot air is taken to be a crowning achievement, dazzled the world with its debate of overweening pomposity on the issue and its subsequent Statement of Opinion. Quite what the Welsh Assembly thought it was going to gain by this piece of flatulence is unclear, but then a lot of that which the Welsh Assembly does strikes one as being otiose: perhaps there is a particularly large and vocal Armenian community in the pretty railway village of Llanfairpwllgwyngyllgogerychwyrndrobwllllantysiliogogogoch which is bursting to be propitiated.

Advertisements