Hagop Bessos

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City leader sparks row by backing claim of genocide

The Scotsman
16 Aug 05

COUNCIL leader Donald Anderson has become embroiled in an international row over whether the deaths of 1.5 million Armenians during the First World War was genocide.

Armenia has called for an international investigation into whether the massacre was ordered by the Ottoman Empire which ruled Turkey in 1915.

Turkey has always insisted the people died during civil unrest while its authorities attempted to deport them.

Councillor Anderson first became involved in the issue when the Capital hosted a Holocaust Memorial Day in 2003.

But now, the city leader plans to go one step further and put forward a motion to the council in October recognising that "it was indeed genocide".

The proposed motion has been welcomed by Armenians in the Capital.

But the move has raised the ire of the Turkish community in Edinburgh and Councillor Anderson has also received complaints from the Turkish ambassador, who has pointed to the fact that history accepts many Turkish people died at Armenian hands.

In a letter to the ambassador, Cllr Anderson said: "Having researched this issue, I am in no doubt that the Armenian community suffered a genocide at the hands of the Ottoman regime.

"There are substantial eyewitness accounts that are well documented and there is, I believe, wide support for the view that the historical evidence is robust and compelling for genocide.

"You mention in your letter that atrocities were carried out against Turks by the Armenian side and undoubtedly this is true. There were atrocities on all sides of what was an extremely bitter period of ethnic conflict. However, this was not genocide and was not state-sponsored."

He added: "As council leader I have to advise you that I am convinced of the need to support recognition for what I believe was genocide.

"I would encourage you as ambassador for a great and dynamic country to reconsider your position."

The council leader was asked earlier by the Armenian community if the city would host a commemoration service to mark the 90th anniversary of the deaths, which was held on April 24.

Armenian Dr Hagop Bessos, 55, of Marchmont Road, Edinburgh, today said Edinburgh's recognition that genocide took place would be a "significant" step.

Dr Bessos, who is chairman of the Scottish branch of UK organisation the Campaign for Recognition of Armenian Genocide said: "It would be very important for Edinburgh City Council to recognise what happened was genocide."

Dr Bessos, whose parents survived the massacre, added: "Many countries across the world already have done. The UK and the US are the principal ones which have not."

A total of 15 nations, including Switzerland, Russia and Argentina, classify the killings as genocide. France, which has a large Armenian population, passed a law officially recognising the events as genocide in 2001, cooling relations with Turkey and scuppering a major arms deal.

The disagreement is also seen as the biggest stumbling block facing Turkey as it attempts to join the European Union.

But far from backing down, Turkey has remained defiant.

Murat Toruntay, chairman of the Turkish Association, said: "There are two sides to the story and I am pleased Cllr Anderson is prepared to listen to both. I was in Turkey recently and it was being talked about. The government does not accept that it was genocide."