Letters: Defining genocide

Revisionists trying to change meaning of genocide
Click to follow
The Independent Online

Peter Balakian and Robert Fisk express their outrage at those who strive to deny the Armenian Holocaust ("Obama falls short on Armenian pledge", 28 April). Rebuttal of these revisionists ought not to proceed from breaking a historical consensus, but from their attempt to alter the meaning of genocide.

The word was invented in 1943 by the lawyer-linguist Raphael Lemkin. He explicitly meant the sort of national extirpation that had been inflicted on the Anatolian Armenians in 1915, which he recognised as the same sort of ethno-religious crime he had just escaped from in Poland. We may note that Lemkin did not need to know what had been decided at Wannsee to pin responsibility on the Third Reich, any more than he doubted the criminal responsibility of the Young Turk government of 1915.

The main evidence in either case lies in the viciously coherent means by which these crimes of ethnic expungement were perpetrated. It is therefore incumbent on Professors Lewis, Lewy, McCarthy, Stone, and the rest, to tell us why do they now want to restrict the 1948 legal definition of genocide so that it cannot be on the charge sheet if the similar sort of thing that was done to the Armenians is done again to other people?

Why, for that matter, does anyone want to exonerate the Young Turk genocidaires? They had led the Ottoman Empire into a disastrous, unprovoked war of territorial aggression against the Russian and Persian Empires, bringing untold misery to the kaleidoscope of nations that inhabit Eastern Anatolia and the Caucasus, as well as to the Turks themselves. Some were later executed for trying to murder Kemal Ataturk.



A road that led to an oil-palm desert

In 1967, I was working for the Sarawak Marine Department as marine officer, 4th and 5th Divisions ("Victims of the oil rush", 1 May). Within my area were the port towns of Miri and Bintulu, about 120 miles apart, and about half-way between them was the River Niah. At the time, the entire coastal area and hinterland was covered by pristine primary jungle.

I was told to survey the Niah river to find out how far we could bring up landing-craft laden with road-building equipment to set up a camp for building a road from Miri to Bintulu. I established that the head of navigation would be at Kuala Skaloh, a beautiful spot graced by two Dayak longhouses.

In due course, the landing-craft were sent up and all the equipment, Caterpillar tractors, graders, diggers and so on, together with the men and their camping paraphernalia, was put ashore. That site is now an enormous bus station with all sorts of shops and a market.

All the forest between Miri and Bintulu has disappeared to be replaced with a 120-mile long area of oil palm. I am sure that it is good for the taxable revenue of the country, but it has become a stinking ecological desert.

A R Boddy

Harwich, Essex

We are confronted by the screaming headline, "How British shoppers are razing these rainforests", implying that British shoppers are directly responsible for the destruction of the rainforests.

Yet you state that palm oil is contained in a myriad of products, including famous household names which most people have been using for generations, even before the advent of palm oil . Also you suggest that a lot of oil from unsustainable sources is not traceable. If you could publish a list of products which do not use palm oil or oil from sustainable sources then, maybe, you could hold the British shopper to account.

In fact, it is obvious that the big companies will use any way to maximise their profits, and the consumer has no choice but to buy the essentials on offer. The supermarkets decide what is available to the customer.

John Weston

Cheltenham, Gloucestershire

Your sensational and eye-catching headline about the report on the Duchy of Cornwall bears no relation to the copy below.

In reality, only five out of 200 Duchy products contain minimal amounts of palm oil. They are also taking positive action on even these, as your reporter notes.

Geoff Parry

Old, Northamptonshire

Lib Dem threat to our ancient laws

Graham Watson MEP is wrong to say we do not support EU co-operation in fighting crime (letters, 24 April). We fully support both EU and international co-operation, but we believe it should be both practical and effective. The Liberal Democrats' doctrinaire support for harmonised measures across the EU would threaten our centuries-old common-law system and import alien legal traditions which would undermine those we have striven to uphold down the years.

Take for example the European Arrest Warrant which Mr Watson himself drove through the European Parliament as rapporteur. It was criticised by his own Home Affairs spokesman, Chris Huhne (who also supported it when he was an MEP), when it was used to extradite Frederick Toben. Despite having hideous views, Toben had committed no crime in the UK.

Conservatives in Brussels and Westminster warned at the time that scrapping dual criminality would cause problems but our concerns were brushed aside by Mr Watson. We do need strong measures to combat organised crime and terrorism but the Lib Dems' European Arrest Warrant has led to several potential injustices. The ancient precepts of British law such as habeas corpus are there to protect our freedoms.

Timothy Kirkhope MEP

Conservative leader in the European Parliament, Brussels

Buy opium, save Afghanistan

One word is conspicuous by its absence in the article by David Davis (1 May) on Afghanistan: economics. For the Afghan farmer wanting money to educate his children, build a new house or bore a water-hole, the opium poppy is the ideal crop. It is light, thus easily transportable and is high-value.

No one has come up with an alternative crop, with similar advantages. Even if the whole crop were destroyed, other countries would grow it. One possible approach has been mooted: the west should buy the opium crop and continue to do so. That would sideline the crooks and win the hearts and minds of the country. Only then will peace have a chance.

W R Haines

Shrewsbury, Shropshire

What heritage sites really need

Simon Usborne's article on World Heritage Sites ("Here come the hordes", 29 April) ascribes great promotional value to the WHS tag. But there is no hard evidence to suggest that mere inscription has any significant long-lasting impact on visitor numbers to these sites.

Yes, there may be a blip of excitement when an unusual site gets nominated and yes, there are a few heritage anoraks who want to tick a list, but most visitors are unaware of the World Heritage Site "brand", and there are few, if any, sites that can claim sudden influxes after gaining WHS status.

Those sites overrun by "hordes" are international icons and would attract large numbers, whether or not they had WHS status, through general knowledge and active promotion. Having worked with, and talked to, many WHS site operators, the evidence suggests that the real benefit comes from the requirement to bring together interested parties to agree on the heritage value of a site and how it should be conserved and managed.

In tourism terms, the best-managed sites do not look to increase numbers but to improve the quality of the experience and hence be in a position to attract longer visits and greater spend. This places far greater importance on the latter issue in the article; the serious lack of resources that are committed to manage and maintain our heritage to the highest standards.

Chris Evans

Director, The Tourism Company, London SE1

Delights of bed with the lovely Lumley

I had the great pleasure of sharing a bed with the delightful, delectable Joanna Lumley, once nightly on Mondays, Tuesdays, Thursdays and Fridays, twice nightly on Wednesdays and Saturdays. Unfortunately, the opportunity was rather spoiled because Alfred Marks was on the other side of the bed and the whole affair was being witnessed by about 700 people, laughing uproariously, at London's Garrick theatre.

The farce? Don't Just Lie There, Say Something! not It's Awfully Bad For Your Eyes, Darling as recounted by Paul Vallely in his splendid article on Joanna (Saturday Profile, 2 May), headed "The avenger".

I presented and acted in more than 100 farces in the West End, on BBC television and in 12 unremarkable films, but I never once appeared in one entitled It's Awfully Bad For Your Eyes, Darling. Mind you, it's a jolly good title for a bedroom farce. I think Ray Cooney is the man to write it. Pity we're all too old to act in it.

Lord Rix (Brian Rix, as was)

London SW20

A bad spell of government

I am an ESOL teacher who helps prepare students for the "Life in the UK" citizenship test. I had my class log on to www.lifeintheuktest.gov.uk and we were confronted with something known to the Border Agency as a "Practise Test". Was this an instruction?

The irony of being tested in your knowledge of the UK (and ability to complete a test in English) by people who are citizens yet can't use the language accurately was not lost on my students.

I feel this is a damning indictment of the state of English language usage today. HM's website designers should be proficient in the most simple aspects of English.

Brid Mary Campbell

Newcastle upon Tyne

ID cards on the wrong track

Perhaps it has to be repeated several times before the government understands. We already have identity cards: they are called passports (report, 27 April). I have to show mine to take internal flights and to collect mail withheld due to insufficient postage having been paid, neither of which have anything to do with going abroad.

I'm barcoded, photographed and hologrammed. What more is an identity card going to do unless, of course, it will have a tracking device built in?

Nicholas Dixey

Rockland St Mary, Norfolk

Day to remember

David Harvey (letters, 28 April) could have mentioned a more dangerous example than year-identification of the contagiousness of American usage. Since the Twin Towers outrage (9/11) we are in danger of confusing the day with the month.

Professor Chris Barton

Stoke-on-Trent, Staffordshire

Democracy threat

At the UK handover to the US in Basra, a soldier stood beside the Memorial Wall and read out the names of the British service personnel who have been killed in Iraq. In Britain, Maya Evans was arrested and charged under our new security laws for reading out the names of British casualties at the Cenotaph. Sir Gerald Barry once cynically described democracy as that "in which you say what you like and do what you are told". In seeking to destroy Iraq's totalitarian regime, our government is increasingly adopting and imposing on its own citizens some of that regime's draconian measures.

Patrick Lavender

Taunton, Devon

Blame the media

Phil Cohen (letters, 2 May) is absolutely correct in his comments on the academic/political divide. The media (as usual) is partly to blame. I well remember the barely disguised scorn that even serious commentators, never mind cartoonists, used in referring to "Dr" John Reid, an interesting example of the erroneous, but devastating, use of punctuation.

Professor (Dr) Tom Simpson

University of Bristol

In a word, correct

It might inspire more confidence in educational standards to find that the General Secretary of the National Association of Head Teachers understood the correct use of "may" and "might' (report, 30 April). To say, "If it hadn't been for civil disobedience, women may never have got the vote", implies that we don't know whether they actually did or not.

Nigel Thomas

University of Central Lancashire

Save our pubs

Nearly 40 pubs a week are closing because of the smoking ban. This has seriously affected the quality of life for ordinary people. For generations, we have enjoyed going to the pub, for a drink and a smoke with friends. This government put a stop to that, tore the heart out of many villages, and destroyed the social fabric of the countryside. Bring back smoking-rooms, and save the British pub.

Steve Halden

Swindon, Wiltshire