COUNCIL IN DIPLOMATIC ROW WITH TURKEY
Murdo Macleod
[email protected]

The Scotsman, UK
Sept 17 2005

IT HAS failed miserably to fix the capital's roads, has the most
notorious parking wardens in Scotland and has sky-high council
tax rates.

Now Edinburgh City Council has caused a diplomatic incident with
Turkey by proposing a motion on the Armenian genocide, angering a
close Nato ally of Britain and a would-be EU member.

Opposition politicians have accused the council of indulging in
1980s-style student politics.

The Turkish embassy in London has decided to send a diplomat to
Edinburgh in an effort to stop any motion about genocide being passed
because they believe it will damage their bid to be a member of the EU.

The matter has been reported to the Turkish government in Ankara,
and a high-ranking official is expected to arrive in Edinburgh to
discuss the matter next month.

Edinburgh council leader Donald Anderson has already enraged Turkey
by telling its ambassador in a letter: "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.

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

While the move has been welcomed in the city by members of the Armenian
community, it has puzzled and enraged Turks. The embassy did not give
any official comment, with a source saying that they hoped they could
deal with the issue by talking to the council.

The source said: "We believe that raising this issue is calculated
to damage Turkey's bid for EU membership and the country's reputation
in the West.

"We also believe that it is unhelpful to create divides between Muslims
and the West at the very time we are seeking to promote the ideal of
a modern and democratic Islam and coexistence.

"You also wonder what this has to do with a Scottish city council. I
would have thought they might have other things to deal with, like
roads and so forth."

Ian White, the Tory leader on the council, echoed these sentiments,
saying: "Whatever the view on Turkey and Armenia it is not for
councillors in this city to sort out. I would have thought they should
focus on fixing roads and making sure that our streets are clean. It
is a typical empty political gesture. One would have hoped they had
grown up and put the era of 1980s student politics behind them."

The Armenian killings occurred between 1915 and 1923. Turkey was
fighting Russia in the First World War and feared that many members
of its Armenian community would defect to the side of the Russians
because of the Orthodox religion the Russians and Armenians shared.

The rulers of the then Ottoman Empire decided to deport them.

In the following years, nearly 1.5 million Armenians reportedly died.

Turkey has claimed the deaths were the result of civil unrest at a
time of war and that Turks and Kurds also lost their lives. Armenians
believe the deaths of their ancestors and the lack of recognition they
received paved the way for the Holocaust. When talking about his plans
for the deaths of the Jews, Adolf Hitler was quoted as having said:
"Who remembers the killing of the Armenians?"

Anderson said: "Accusations of genocide are a very sensitive issue
and we are attempting to deal with it as such. The accusations are
made against the Ottoman regime and are no reflection on the modern
Turkish state or Turkish people. I have met to discuss the issue with a
range of representatives from the Turkish community and agreed to host
a seminar for them to present their view on this period of history."

Asked why it was felt necessary for the council to have a position on a
historical issue which happened abroad, he said: "Although this isn't
a particularly fashionable or high-profile issue, the council does
from time to time become involved in issues that are not recognised
as our core business. Apartheid would have lasted a lot longer if
a wide cross section of organisations, including local authorities,
had not campaigned."

An aide to Anderson said he "strongly supports" Turkish membership
of the EU.