By Harut Sassounian,
I would like to dispel a few misunderstandings about the bill proposed last week in the UK House of Commons to recognize the Armenian Genocide.
Some reports accurately described the news as simply the First Reading of the proposed bill. Others misrepresented it as a full recognition of the Armenian Genocide by the UK government. Going further, some analysts wrongly concluded that the British government decided to side with Armenians on this issue in order to teach Turkey a lesson!
This is the first time in UK history that the Armenian Genocide has been introduced in the House of Commons through a Private Members’ Bill. In the past, the topic was raised through Early Daily Motions (EDMs) which are ineffective to attain recognition.
Here is the full text of the proposed bill 190 58/2, titled: “Recognition of Armenian Genocide Bill.”
“A bill to require Her Majesty’s Government formally to recognize the Armenian genocide of 1915-23; and for connected purposes.
“Be it enacted by the Queen’s most Excellent Majesty, by and with the advice and consent of the Lords Spiritual and Temporal, and Commons, in this present Parliament assembled, and by the authority of the same, as follows:
“1. Recognition of genocide: Her Majesty’s Government must formally recognize that the killings of Armenians in the Ottoman Empire and the surrounding regions during 1915-1923 were genocide.
“2. Commemoration and education: (a) There shall be an annual commemoration of victims of the Armenian Genocide, which may be part of a wider commemoration of genocides; (b) The Secretary of State must encourage education and public understanding of the facts of the Armenian Genocide and the relevance of the Armenian Genocide to modern-day crimes against humanity and war crimes.
“3. Interpretation: In this Act, ‘genocide’ has the meaning given in Article II of the Convention on the Prevention and Punishment of the Crime of Genocide and Article 6 of the Rome Statute of the International Criminal Court; ‘Crimes against humanity’ has the meaning given in Article 7 of the Rome Statute of the International Criminal Court; ‘war crimes’ has the meaning given in Article 8 of the Rome Statute of the International Criminal Court.
“4. Extent, commencement and short title: (a) This Act extends to the whole of the United Kingdom; (b) This Act comes into force on the day on which it is passed.”
The bill was introduced on November 9, 2021, under the Ten Minute Rule by a Member of Parliament. While any other Member has the right to oppose the presentation, no one did. The procedure to adopt legislation is long and complicated.
Member of Parliament Tim Loughton, who chairs the All-Party Parliamentary Group for Armenia, has no Armenians in his constituency. The Private Members’ Bill he introduced had 15 cosponsors from six different political parties: the Conservative Party, Labour party, Liberal Democrats, Scottish National Party, Democratic Unionist Party, and Plaid Cymru. In his remarks, Loughton thanked the Armenian National Committee UK and its chair Annette Moskofian “for all her help and support both for the All-Party Parliamentary Group for Armenia and in preparing the Bill.” He also thanked Varuzhan Nersesyan, Armenia’s ambassador to the UK: “I am glad to see and be able to acknowledge the presence of both of them in the Public Gallery.”
The next step is the Second Reading of the bill which may take place on March 22, 2022. However, it is not known if this bill will be taken up at that time, since it is not a government-backed bill. A similar bill is planned to be submitted in the House of Lords next year.
This bill provides an excellent opportunity to raise the Armenian Genocide issue in the UK. The Turkish government and media made no public objection to the introduction of this bill. However, the Turkish government probably will quietly lobby to block its adoption. Already, Turks and Cypriot Turks, who are the constituents of MP Iain Duncan Smith, one of the cosponsors of the bill, expressed their outrage at his support. Just days before the First Reading of the bill in the House of Commons, a fundraising dinner was held for him at a Turkish restaurant which was attended by many Turks. The event was partly sponsored by Turkish Airlines and Cyprus Paradise, “the largest tour operator to [Turkish-occupied] North Cyprus.” Members of the Turkish community said they will not back Duncan in the future.
All proposed bills have to be read three times in both houses of Parliament. Bills have to go through three stages: committee, reporting, and consideration. Once a bill crosses these stages successfully, it then goes to the Royal assent.
Contrary to the mistaken analyses of various Armenian pundits, this bill does not have the backing of the British government. It is simply the initiative of Tim Loughton and several other Members of Parliament. When the time comes to pass the bill, the British government will probably try to block it. As Loughton recalled in his remarks, in a 1999 internal memorandum, the UK Foreign Office shamefully stated: “Given the importance of our relationship (political, strategic, commercial) with Turkey… recognizing the [Armenian] genocide would provide no practical benefit to the UK.”
The British government has not changed its denialist policy regarding the Armenian Genocide. In fact, the UK has enhanced its ties with Turkey by signing a $25 billion dollar trade deal with Turkey last year.
It is hoped that the reaffirmation of the Armenian Genocide by Pres. Joe Biden earlier this year would boost the support for the UK recognition of the Armenian Genocide.
The British government, which was fully aware of the atrocities of the Armenian Genocide while they were taking place, should have been the first nation to acknowledge the Armenian Genocide, not the last. Nevertheless, it’s better late than never. All people of goodwill should pressure the British government to change its denialist policy on the Armenian Genocide. They should flood the offices of the Members of Parliament with messages urging them to support the proposed bill.