Vaclav Havel calls Ottoman Empire killing of Armenians a "holocaust"

Former Czech president calls Ottoman Empire killing of Armenians a "holocaust".

April 26, 2006
Source: The Associated Press

PRAGUE, Czech Republic (AP) - Former Czech President Vaclav Havel on Tuesday equated the mass killings of Armenians by Turks 90 years ago to the slaughter of Jews in World War II, calling both "holocausts."

Havel made his comments at a conference of education ministers in Prague, in which he told participants that modern civilization's loss of a moral code should be blamed for mass slaughters.

"In such a situation, a holocaust, be it the holocaust of Armenians or Jews,... these big catastrophes in fact are monstrous but in a way understandable products of this... civilization," he said.

Armenia accuses Turkey of the massacre of up to 1.5 million Armenians between 1915 and 1919. Turkey claims the figures are inflated and says the Armenians were killed in civil unrest during the collapse of the Ottoman Empire.

Turkey has reacted angrily to decisions by lawmakers in some countries to classify the killings as "genocide." The Czech Republic, has not made such a decision.

Havel told the Council of Europe conference that holocausts "are not a problem of individual nations but of the whole of mankind, of modern civilization. It's a shame of this civilization."

"It is like if this world... had a weakened conscience, because conscience is something less rational, less describable by means of modern science," Havel said. "A firm and universal moral code which everybody can understand is trailing away."

Havel, a renowned writer and playwright, led Czechoslovakia from 1989 until its split in 1993, and then served as president of the Czech
Republic until 2003.

The two-day conference - "Teaching remembrance: Cultural Heritage - Yesterday, Today and Tomorrow" - brought participants to the former Jewish ghetto in Theresienstadt on its first day Monday.

Some 150,000 Jews from all over Europe were transported by Nazis to the ghetto located some 50 kilometers (31 miles) north of Prague during World War II. About 35,000 of them died there and most of the others were transported on to concentration camps such as Auschwitz.

The Czech Republic currently has only a tiny Jewish community of several thousand. Nearly 120,000 Jews lived on Czech territory before the war; 80,000 perished in the Holocaust.