Tuesday, 11 May 2021
Ceisteanna Eile - Other Questions
56. To ask the Minister for Foreign Affairs and Trade if the Government will formally recognise that genocide was committed against the people of Armenia during World War 1 by the Ottoman Turkish Government. [24131/21]
105. To ask the Minister for Foreign Affairs and Trade his views on whether the events that befell Armenia and the Armenian people in 1915 merit the description of genocide; his views on the statement issued by the President of the United States on 24 April 2021 in relation to same; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [23940/21]
Will the Minister follow the lead that was taken by the US President, Joe Biden, on 24 April 2021 to formally recognise that genocide was committed against the people of Armenia during the First World War by the Ottoman Turkish Government?
The Government views the terrible events which saw the deaths of a large number of the Armenian population in the Ottoman Empire as a tragedy. We have previously expressed deepest sympathy for the enormous suffering of the Armenian people during this period and I do so again here this evening. The Government has not taken a stance on whether those terrible events should be described as a genocide because we believe we are not in a position to adjudicate on this matter. To reach a conclusion that any events amount to genocide involves the consideration and determination of a number of complex legal issues, and an assessment of the actions and intentions of many parties. Ireland is not in a position to do this with regard to these events.
As I said in one of my previous answers, Ireland follows the practice of recognising genocide only where this has been established by a judgment of an appropriate international court, or where there is international consensus on the matter. There is no such consensus on this issue. I am aware of the positions of other countries on the matter, including the recent statement released by the United States. However, neither the EU nor the UN has adopted a position on this question and there is no international consensus on whether these events amount to genocide. I wish to be clear that our position on the description of these events does not diminish our recognition of the terrible and shocking nature of what occurred to the Armenian people between 1915 and 1917. We continue to carefully monitor developments on this issue and will keep our position under regular review.
The massacre of over 1.5 million Armenians certainly was an act of genocide and the campaign of genocidal massacre that was inflicted on the people of Armenia was a crime against humanity also.
I hear that the Minister is saying we are not in a position to adjudicate on the matter. However, I have made reference to the US. I will make reference to numerous other countries that have taken a stand also. It least another 30 nations have described it as genocide, including 16 EU members. I note the Vatican has also taken a strong position on it. The fact is the State was not in existence in 1915. There are not too many lawmakers that were in existence in 1915 either. We should take the lead from other countries that have formed a position on it using the information they have to hand and make a formal declaration as well.
It is important to point out that the massacre of the Armenians in 1915 and 1916 is not only a matter of historical interest. It also is, notwithstanding its antiquity, an issue that requires a political response. That is why, I suppose, I put down this question. We recently saw a political response from the new President of the United States who, on 24 April, which is the date upon which Armenians mark the commencement of the genocide, issued a statement on behalf of the United States indicating that they recognise it as genocide.
I note what the Minister stated but I have to ask how we can ever recognise this as being genocide if we are dependent upon awaiting the outcome of an international court decision or international consensus. There will not be any international court decision in respect of this. Notwithstanding that, there are significant commentaries from journalists and contemporary observers of the genocide who have written tracts on the evidence of it. That needs to be taken into account by the Government.
We regularly review this issue. It might be helpful to outline why it is a difficult question to answer. In December 1948, the UN Convention on the Prevention and Punishment of the Crime of Genocide described genocide as carrying out acts intended "to destroy, in whole or in part, a national, ethnical, racial or religious group". The dispute about whether these events were genocide centres on the question of premeditation - on the degree to which the killings were orchestrated. Some histories believe that in this case they were but there are many who offer the other argument also. The 1948 UN Convention sets out a clear definition of genocide and the legal process to be followed if disputes arise. There has been no ruling in regard to this matter by an international court and neither the EU nor the UN has recognised these events as genocide. In the absence of such a ruling, the Government does not feel Ireland is in a position to determine whether these events were genocide.
I thank the Minister. I hear what he is saying. Six million Jews perished at the hands of the Nazis in the Second World War and the latter half of the 20th century witnessed further genocidal campaigns in places such as Cambodia, East Timor, Bosnia and Rwanda. It is important that we learn from the past to ensure that genocide is called out as it is and that we try to ensure that acts of genocide will not happen in the future. I call on the Minister to look at the issue again, follow the lead of America and 30 other nations that have done the same, including 16 European nations, do the right thing and take the lead. We have a position on the UN Security Council and it would be a poignant important step to take to recognise it as it is.
When President Biden was making his statement on 24 April, he said the reason American policy had changed was not for the purpose of trying to cast blame but in order to ensure this would not happen again.
We need to recognise that regrettably, there will be efforts at genocide again in this century as there were in the last century. The purpose here is not to try to hold any country to account. In fairness, there is no country today that represents the Ottoman Empire of the past and nobody is suggesting that a country should be held liable. However, if acts of genocide happened in the previous century, no matter how far back, it is important that we as a State face up to our responsibility to assess it and figure out whether it was genocide. We should look at it again. If we are going to just leave it there and say that we will not come back to it until there is a ruling by an international court, we are not going to face up to the fact that this is an injustice that needs to be responded to, notwithstanding its antiquity.
I would make the point that we call out international crime for what it is for the same reason we call out domestic crime for what it is. It is not just to punish or as an act of retribution but also to deter its recurrence. We should recall that in the week before Poland was invaded in 1939, the German Chancellor, Adolf Hitler said "Who, after all, speaks today of the annihilation of the Armenians?" These things recur until they are dealt with, which buttresses the points made by the previous speakers. It is also relevant to what is happening in China, of course.
My Department examines this question on a regular basis. What we see from the available data is that there continues to be no consensus and little clarity on this. The tragedy of the Armenian people was recognised as genocide by parliaments of over 20 countries, including 16 EU member state legislatures and by the European Parliament but recognition at the level of government amounts to a much smaller number. As I mentioned in my reply, the Department's briefing notes on this are simply about trying to be consistent. When we are assessing something as serious as genocide at an international level, we have to apply a methodology in terms of how we make that assessment. That methodology at the moment is based on Ireland following a practice of recognising genocide only where it has been established by a judgment of an international court or where there is international consensus on the matter. That said, I take on board what members have said.