International conference held in Senate to discuss 1915 Armenian "genocide"

An international panel of academics and politicians met in the Czech Senate on Tuesday to discuss the mass killings of Armenian civilians in the Ottoman Empire between 1915 and 1917, which Armenia wants recognised as genocide. The parliaments of some twenty countries have passed resolutions to this effect - and several Czech politicians want the Czech parliament to do the same. Among them is the man who organised the conference, Senator Jaromir Stetina.

"This is preparing for a special declaration law in our Senate. This law is very simple - recognising the events of 1915 in Armenia as genocide."

It's 90 years since those events and they're still shrouded in controversy. Why should the Czech Republic - a small country with little connection to Armenia - become involved in this way?

"This is not a problem of the Czech Republic, it is a problem of all human beings. The problem of genocide is alive. Last century was a century of many genocides. And genocides are continuing now. There's a genocide of the Chechen people, for example. One month ago I visited Rwanda. In Kigali, I went to a museum of the 1994 genocide. There was one room about the genocide, a genocide which is almost 100 years old. And people in Kigali, in the museum, said we have to recognise all genocides, because we can stop future genocides by this."

Of course, at the heart of the matter is the definition of genocide. Turkey claims that one and half million did not die in 1915 to 1917, it was more like 300,000, and that those deaths were a consequence of the war, part of the terrible events and upheaval that the Ottoman Empire was experiencing at that time.

"Of course. For example, the attempted genocide of the Albanian people, the deportation of Kosovo Albanians, was an attempted genocide and it was during a conflict. Most genocides have their beginnings in war. It is not a play with words. We have to say exactly that crimes against humanity are not allowed in the model of community in this century."

There are some moves to force Turkey to recognise what happened in 1915 as genocide before the country is allowed to join the European Union. Do you think this approach will bear fruit?

"No, I don't think so. All the time I'm saying - "Evet, Evet, Evet" - it means "Yes, Yes, Yes" in Turkish - to Turkey's membership of the European Union without any conditions."

So you don't think the two should be linked.

"I think the European Union could help Turkey recognise its old history and evaluate it in modern terms."