Taoiseach’s solidarity with Armenians on massacres’ centenary

Government declines to use the word ‘genocide’ to describe events of 100 years ago

Armenian clergy walk as they attend a commemoration ceremony for Armenians who lost their lives during mass killings under the Ottoman Empire, at the Temple complex of the Armenian Apostolic Church in Moscow. Photograph: Yuri Kotchekov/EPA

Armenian clergy walk as they attend a commemoration ceremony for Armenians who lost their lives during mass killings under the Ottoman Empire, at the Temple complex of the Armenian Apostolic Church in Moscow. Photograph: Yuri Kotchekov/EPA

 

Taoiseach Enda Kenny has expressed his sympathy to the Armenian people on the centenary of massacres which resulted in the deaths of up to 1.5 million of its people between 1915 and 1922.

Armenia and its large disaspora is marking the start of the killings. Events take place on Friday in the capital Yerevan to commemorate the centenary. Irish ambassador to Armenia John Biggar will attend.

On Thursday night the Armenian-American band System of a Down played its first concert in Armenia which was broadcast worldwide.

Turkey disputes that any genocide took place and Ireland’s Department of Foreign Affairs has declined to use the word in describing what happened to the Armenians.

Dr Paul Manook, who is involved in the Armenian Church in Ireland, wrote to the Taoiseach to invite him to the community’s remembrance service on Sunday in Taney Parish Church, Dundrum. Dr Manook lost his grandfather during the massacres.

Mr Kenny said he was unable to attend but expressed his condolences to Dr Manook and stated it was a “an example of the terrible suffering and loss which Armenians endured a century ago”.

He added: “Here in Ireland, of course, we know well how difficult it can be to come to terms with the past through a process of reconciliation. It is fitting that the Armenian community in Ireland will mark these events with a service of commemoration.”

Dr Manook said he was impressed with the tone of the Taoiseach’s letter which he described as “very sensitive and understanding”, but he urged the Irish Government to recognise the Armenian massacres as a genocide.

“I just hope Ireland will help us in this area. It is not just forgive and forget. It needs to be dealt with. Perhaps Ireland can use its diplomatic channels to influence the US, UK as well as Turkey,” he said.

Refusal to call it ‘genocide’

Officials from the Department of Foreign Affairs are likely to be called before the Joint Committee on Foreign Affairs and Trade next week to explain the rationale behind the decision not to call the Armenian massacres a genocide.

Committee chair Pat Breen said he was not happy with the four line explanation given by the Department to the effect that it did not have the necessary information one way or another to make a definitive stand on the issue. Mr Breen asked for a “comprehensive reply”.

Senator Mark Daly brought a motion before the committee seeking to have the massacres acknowledged as a genocide. He said the DFA response amounted to a “four-line reply to the deaths of 1.5 million people” and called on Ireland to follow the example of countries such as France and Canada, along with the Vatican and the European Parliament, in recognising what happened as genocide.

He added that Mustafa Kemal Ataturk, the founder of the modern Turkish state, acknowledged the events as genocide, but successive Turkish governments had chosen a different path.

A Department of Foreign Affairs statement earlier this week did not use the word genocide to describe the experiences of the Armenians.

It acknowledged the “enormous suffering of the Armenian people during that period. As we in Ireland know well, the process of reconciliation and coming to terms with the past is never easy.

“In this year of centenary commemorations, Ireland would urge Armenia and Turkey to take advantage of any opportunity to progress their bilateral relations for the good of their people, the region, and their shared future.”

The statement added that President Michael D Higgins had recently expressed the sympathy of the Irish people for the enormous suffering of Armenians in that era to Armenian president Serzh Sargsyan.

The Turkish Prime Minister Ahmet Davutoglu has responded to calls from the Armenians for Turkey to finally acknowledge that had a genocide had taken place.

Mr Davutoglu expressed a desire that Armenia and Turkey could come to an understanding over what happened 100 years ago.

“However, laying all blame - through generalisations - on the Turkish nation by reducing everything to one word and to compound this with hate speech is both morally and legally problematic.”