Tuesday, 27 February 2007

Report on The Ambassadorial meeting - House of Commons - 20 February 2007

An invitation was extended on 20 February to Peers, MPs and members of the public to meet the HE Vahe Gabrielyan, the Ambassador of the Republic of Armenia, in Westminster following two Early Day Motions in the House of Commons concerning the Turkish blockade of Armenia (EDM 344) and the Turkish denial of the Armenian Genocide (EDM 357).The meeting was organised by Armenia Solidarity in conjunction with the British Armenian All Party Parliamentary Group and Nor Serount Publications.

The ambassador gave the views of the Armenian Government to the two EDMs both of which were welcomed by the Republic. Armenia supported the application of Turkey as a prospective candidate to joining the European Union in the expectation that its international obligations and its standards of foreign policy would be raised to Western standards. To do so, it would have to open its border with Armenia, the only closed border in Europe and an illegal act according to international law, and recognise the Armenian Genocide. President Kocharian had just reiterated his 2005 response to the Turkish proposal for a commission of historians to examine the events of 1915. This issue was a political matter that had to be dealt with an inter-governmental commission. Turkey should first establish diplomatic relations with Armenia without any pre-conditions from either side as a necessary step to resolving significant long-standing regional issues.

These positions were given support by members of both Houses of Parliament: Baroness Cox, Lord Avebury, Bob Spink, Quentin Davies, Nia Griffith, Andrew Dismore and Paddy Tipping. Other MPs in attendance were Phil Mulholland, John Leech, Mark Hunter and Helen Goodman. Baroness Cox expressed the desire that the local recognitions on Wales and Scotland would translate into a national one for the whole of the UK. Lord Avebury described the efforts of British parliamentarians to engage in two way dialogue with the Turkish Grand National Assembly both sides after the Turkish parliament had asked in 2005 that the contents of the Blue Book be repudiated. There has been no response to collective or individual letters to each of their parliamentarians which contrasts with the publicised aim of the Turkish government to engage in such discussions.

Ways and means were discussed to persuade the British government to a more constructive approach to resolving these issues. The UK's stance of uncritical support for the Turkish position needs to change to enhance Turkey's prospects of joining the EU. In particular it is in a strong position to persuade Turkey that its policy towards diplomatic relations with Armenia, its blockade of Armenia with damage to a developing nation, and its refusal to recognise the Armenian Genocide now accepted by all independent historians, is damaging its reputation and its prospects of being accepted into Europe. There has been some movement recently: Geoff Hoon, the Minister of Europe in a recent letter to a MP through the request of a constituent accepts that "over a million ethnic Armenian citizens were killed" but then reverted back to the traditional line of defence to explain this tragedy. However it is not at all clear which historians the government consulted to arrive at this conclusion. Nor is it known when, by what means and by whom such a decision was made. It would be particularly helpful if the government replaced its current secretiveness with transparency on this matter so that its conclusions are challenged.

The meeting received advice from Andrew Dismore who tabled the original Early Day Motion that eventually led to the implementation of the UK Holocaust Memorial Day as well as from Nia Griffith. MP's awareness of this event needs to be raised as well as the general knowledge of the population at large as a pre-requisite for any progress. The Armenian community and supporters of change to British policy need to write to MPs and get them to sign the EDMs. The Turkish application to the EU is a source of leverage on Turkey and the British government. MPs need to be contacted regularly and persistently and this campaign should be extend to UK Members of the European Parliament. The arguments presented should link to the present to capture imagination. Persistence, dedication and pressure were the ways to achieve any results. In particular, constituents should encourage their MP to write to the Minister of Europe so that these issues became more of a priority in the Minister's portfolio.

The chair closed the meeting by mentioning that momentum was picking up. A further meeting in parliament is planned for 24 April, the symbolic date of commemoration for the victims of the genocide. Before then, a delegation will lobby the Liberal Democrat Spring Conference as had already been done with the Labour Party.

For further information contact eilian@nant.wanadoo.co.uk, Armenia Solidarity, The Temple of Peace, Cardiff.

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