A former British ambassador to Armenia has emphatically welcomed a U.S. congressional draft resolution recognizing the mass killings of Armenians in Ottoman Turkey as genocide, defying a long-established policy of UK governments.
David Miller also said Turkish warnings that its passage by the full House of Representatives would seriously harm Turkey’s strategic relationship with the United States and set back its rapprochement with Armenia should not be taken seriously.
“I am delighted that for once the House of Representatives has refused to be bullied either by Turkey or by the U.S. administration,” he told a panel discussion at the London School of Economics (LSE) late last week. “I think it is absolutely splendid news.”
Miller, who served as Britain’s first resident ambassador in Yerevan in the mid-1990s, dismissed retaliatory measures threatened by the Turkish government. “The Turks, of course, will make a terrific fuss, as they always do when this sort of thing happens, but that’s the reaction of a bully,” he said. “We went through this with the French recognition.
“There was a tremendous hoo-ha: withdrawal of ambassador and cancelled defense contracts … This lasted for about three or four weeks before they got back to normal.”
“I should be very interested to see whether Turkey is serious about its threats to eject U.S. troops from Turkey, not to play the game in Afghanistan and so on and so forth,” added the retired diplomat. “Personally I think they will bluster, they will threaten and in the end nothing will happen.”
The comments flew in the face of British governments’ long-running refusal to term the slaughter of more than one million Armenian subjects of the Ottoman Empire genocide. British Foreign Office documents disclosed by a renowned UK lawyer, Geoffrey Robertson, recently shed more light on this stance.
One such document, cited by the “The Guardian” newspaper in December, advised British ministers in 1999 to bear in mind “the importance of our relations with Turkey”. “Recognizing the genocide would provide no practical benefit to the UK,” it said.
Another memo drawn up in 1995 urged Douglas Hogg, then a Foreign Office minister, not to attend a memorial service for the Armenian genocide victims, and sought to promote the idea that historians disagree on what happened in 1915-1918. Accordingly, the British government excluded Armenians from official ceremonies marking Britain’s Holocaust Memorial Day.
Robertson, who served as first president of the UN war crimes court for Sierra Leone, condemned that policy in a report released last December. “Parliament has been routinely misinformed by ministers who have recited [Foreign Office] briefs without questioning their accuracy,” said the report.
“There is no doubt that in 1915 the Ottoman government ordered the deportation of up to 2 million Armenians … hundreds of thousands died en route from starvation, disease, and armed attack,” it added.
As part of that policy, one of Miller’s successors as ambassador to Armenia, Thorda Abbott-Watt, publicly stated in 2004 in Yerevan that the Armenian massacres did not constitute genocide. The statement provoked a storm of protests in Armenia and its Diaspora, leading the Armenian Foreign Ministry to send a diplomatic note to London.
Miller spoke at the LSE panel discussion, also featuring a member of the U.S. House of Lords and a British-Armenian historian, following the screening of a documentary on the British government’s 1916 Blue Book that detailed the mass killings and deportations of Ottoman Armenians.
The 700-page book has been a major source of reference in the decades-long Armenian campaign for international recognition of the genocide. The Armenian Genocide Museum in Yerevan has a special plaque dedicated to its main author, Lord James Bryce.
Turkey reportedly asked the British parliament in 2005 to declare the Blue Book “invalid and baseless as a historic document.”