UN genocide exhibit dismantled after Turkey complains

April 10, 2007
Source: International Herald Tribune

By Warren Hoge

UNITED NATIONS, New York: The United Nations dismantled an exhibit on the Rwandan genocide and postponed its scheduled opening by the UN secretary general, Ban Ki Moon, after the Turkish mission objected to references to the Armenian genocide in Turkey at the time of World War I.

The panels of graphics, photos and statements had been installed in the visitors lobby Thursday by the Aegis Trust, of Britain.

The trust campaigns for the prevention of genocide and runs a center in Kigali, the Rwandan capital, memorializing the 500,000 victims of the massacres there 13 years ago.

Hours after the show was assembled, however, a Turkish diplomat spotted offending words in a section entitled "What is genocide?" and raised objections.

The passage said that "following World War I, during which one million Armenians were murdered in Turkey," Raphael Lemkin, a Polish lawyer credited with coining the word genocide, "urged the League of Nations to recognize crimes of barbarity as international crimes."

James Smith, the chief executive of Aegis, said he was told by the UN on Saturday that the sentence would have to be eliminated or the exhibition would be struck.

Armen Martirosyan, the Armenian ambassador to the UN, said he sought out Kiyotaka Akasaka, the UN under secretary general for public information, and thought he had reached an agreement to let the show go forward by omitting the words "in Turkey."
But Akasaka said, "That was his suggestion, and I agreed only to take it into account in finding the final wording."

Baki Ilkin, the Turkish ambassador to the UN, said, "We just expressed our discomfort over the text's making references to the Armenian issue and drawing parallels with the genocide in Rwanda."
There were widespread killings of Armenians by Ottoman Turks during several years beginning in 1915 in which an estimated 1.5 million died, but Turkey has always vehemently rejected claims of genocide.

Smith said he was "very disappointed because this was supposed to talk about the lessons drawn from Rwanda and point up that what is happening in Darfur is the cost of inaction."