Monday, April 16, 2007

UN dismantles a Rwandan genocide exhibit after Turkey protests

Published in April 14, 2007 Armenian Reporter

UN dismantles a Rwandan genocide exhibit after Turkey protests
* Armenia's Foreign Ministry calls the decision "shameful"
by Emil Sanamyan

WASHINGTON – A photo exhibition on genocide titled “Lessons from the Rwanda Genocide,” scheduled to open on April 9, has been dismantled and postponed because Turkey took issue with one of its sections that referred to the Armenian experience. UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon was scheduled to offer opening remarks.

The event was planned by the U.K.-based Aegis Trust, which seeks to prevent genocide worldwide. After receiving approval from the UN Secretariat, it began to install the exhibit on April 5. The Turkish mission intervened after one of its diplomats noticed the reference, which read: “Following World War I, during which one million Armenians were murdered in Turkey.”

The Armenian mission sought to prevent the postponement by negotiating a compromise language that would remove the words “in Turkey” while maintaining the reference to Armenians.

Ambassador Armen Martirossian, Armenia’s Permanent Representative to the United Nations, told the Reporter that in a meeting last week with the Undersecretary-General for Public Information, Kiyotaka Akasaka, Martirossian wanted to make sure the Rwanda exhibit goes ahead.

“We take the Rwandan Genocide, the anniversary of which is also marked in April, as our own pain. As a nation that survived the Genocide, we understand the importance of honoring the memory of the victims," Ambassador Martirossian said.

But according to Aegis chief executive Dr. James Smith, officials from the U.N Secretariat told him over the weekend that “the sentence [referring to Armenians] would have to be eliminated or the exhibition would be struck.”

“We felt as a matter of principle you can't just go around striking things out," Mr. Smith told The Associated Press. "It is a form of denial, and as an organization that deals with genocide issues, we couldn't do that on any genocide, and we can't do this."

Armenia's Foreign Ministry issued a strongly worded statement on the matter on April 10: "It is unacceptable that a UN member-state, committed to world peace, dares to export such intolerance to the United Nations. Armenia cannot accept that the history of the world, the current experiences of suffering of the people of Rwanda, of Darfur, and Armenians’ memories of injustice are subjected to such callous, cynical dismissal.”

"It is ironic and shameful that this Turkish-led postponement should befall an event which was to provide lessons on how to respect human rights and prevent genocides. Instead, the lesson here is one of total disrespect for history and memory," the Foreign Ministry statement concluded.

Ambassador Joseph Nsengimana, Rwanda’s Permanent Representative to the UN, wrote to the UN Secretary-General to express “profound regret” that the exhibit was postponed over “reasons unrelated” to the UN mandate on the Rwanda Genocide reported on April 9 (see for details).

"If we can't get this right, it undermines all the values of the UN," Mr. Smith of Aegis said. "It undermines everything the UN is meant to stand for in terms of preventing'' genocide.

He continued: ''You can't learn the lessons from history if you're going to sweep all of that history under the carpet. And what about accountability? What about ending impunity if you're going to hide part of the truth? It makes a mockery of all of this.''

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