UN genocide exhibit removed and put on hold after Turkey objects

Thursday, April 12, 2007

Mummified victims of the Rwanda genocide.
Photo by Emmanuel Cattier.

A United Nations exhibition, entitled "Lessons from Rwanda", about the 1994 Rwanda genocide, has been dismantled and postponed because Turkey raised objections to the Armenian genocide being mentioned.

The Armenian genocide was carried out by the so called Special Organization of the Young Turks, who specially elected criminals from Turkish prisons to act as escorts in the deportation of Armenians. The Armenian genocide is the second most studied case of genocide after the Holocaust Hitler himself occasionally referred to the extermination of the Armenians, or the lack of prosecution there of, in support for his plan to exterminate the Jews.

However, the Republic of Turkey has long disputed that the event constituted genocide, claiming rather that the Armenian deaths were a result of inter-ethnic strife, disease and famine during the turmoil of World War I.

The exhibit was set up in the visitors lobby on Thursday and was due to be opened on Monday by U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon. "Lessons from Rwanda" was created by Aegis Trust, an anti-genocide NGO, and approved by the U.N. Department of Public Information. The Holocaust, Cambodia, Bosnia, East Timor and Sudan were mentioned as examples of genocide. But it also included a section entitled “What is genocide?” which read:

Following World War One, during which 1 million Armenians were murdered in Turkey, Polish lawyer Raphael Lemkin urged the League of Nations to recognize crimes of barbarity as international crimes.

On Saturday, James Smith, the chief executive of Aegis, was told by the UN to remove the sentence. Aegis would not submit to the Secretary General’s request. Smith explains, "Had we been asked to remove reference of atrocities to Jews because Germany objected, we would have been equally resistant."

The suggestion by Armen Martirosyan, the Armenian ambassador to the UN, to remove the words "in Turkey" were also not acceptable. Baki Ilkin, the Turkish ambassador to the UN, said that Turkey expressed "discomfort over the text's making references to the Armenian issue and drawing parallels with the genocide in Rwanda."

On Monday, the panels in the visitor's lobby had been turned around to prevent it being seen by the public. Farhan Haq, U.N. associate spokesman, said that the review process which takes into account "all positions" had not been followed and that "the exhibition has been postponed until the regular review process is completed." Manoel de Almeida e Silva, an official in the strategic communications division, said the exhibit would take place. "We are committed to it. It is a very important issue."

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