An exercise in difficult truth-telling

An exercise in difficult truth-telling

It was an honour for new Ekklesia Associate Director Jordan Tchilingirian - who is from an Armenian background - and for me to attend the 2010 Constantinople Lecture last week.

The occasion was moving and well-attended. Harry Hagopian was kind enough to mention our support for his work at the beginning of his address ('The Armenian Genocide: A way forward?'), which is now available online here - http://www.ekklesia.co.uk/ConstantinopleLecture

To date, twenty countries and 42 US states have officially recognized the extermination and brutalisation of Armenians by the Ottoman Empire during 1915-23 as genocide, and the overwhelming majority of scholars and historians accept this to be the case too.

The Scottish, Welsh and European assemblies are among those who have offered recognition. In 2007, the Archbishop of Canterbury, Dr Rowan Williams, said on a visit to the Armenian genocide memorial at Tsitsernakaberd in Yerevan, that violence targeted against whole communities is "one of the greatest disgraces of the twentieth century" and must be utterly repudiated in the twenty-first.

However, the UK government has yet to respond to calls for recognition, and the Turkish government, successor to the Ottoman regime, is sadly still in a state of aggressive denial - continuing to threaten, harass and imprison those who speak out on the issue - including a number of brave Turks, whose contributions were generously acknowledged during the Lecture on 25 November.

In that address, Harry Hagopian not only unpacked the historical, cultural, political and human losses and costs of such denial; he also pointed towards the benefits for both Armenians and Turks of facing up to the difficult realities of the past, while also courteously urging his fellow Armenians to define their history in terms of the present and the future, rather than the other way round.

Themes of truth and reconciliation, expressed in powerfully Christian and humanitarian terms, are central to Harry's case for challenging Turkey's denial of the Genocide.

Similarly, I would want to say, the case for seeking Turkey's inclusion within the European Union ought to be about the fulfilment - not the rejection - of aspirations for human rights, alongside the recognition of human wrongs, on all sides.

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(c) Simon Barrow is Co-Director of Ekklesia. He worked with Dr Hagopian and others on the Middle East Forum of Churches Together in Britain and Ireland (CTBI) from 1996-2005.

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