May 1, 2007 / 2:44 AM / 12 years ago

Rwanda genocide exhibit revises words on Armenians

By Evelyn Leopold

UNITED NATIONS, April 30 (Reuters) - An exhibit on the lessons of the genocide in Rwanda opened on Monday, three weeks after Turkey forced its delay because of references to the murders of Armenians during World War One.

The language on the Armenians was changed to say "Ottoman Empire" instead of "Turkey" and does not include the number of people killed on panels in the exhibit that include photos, statements and video testimonies.

There was no immediate reaction from Turkey but Armenian envoys and sponsors of the exhibit, the British-based Aegis, said they were satisfied with the compromise.

Originally, the lettering on a panel said: "Following World War One, during which 1 million Armenians were murdered in Turkey, Polish lawyer Raphael Lemkin urged the League of Nations to recognize crimes of barbarity as international crimes," Smith said.

The new wording says: "In 1933, the lawyer Raphael Lemkin, a Polish Jew, urged the League of Nations to recognize mass atrocities against a particular group as an international crime. He cited mass killings of Armenians in the Ottoman empire in World War I and other mass killings in history. He was ignored."

Some 1.5 million Armenians perished at the hands of Ottoman Turks, according to historians. Turkey, whose diplomats had protested the exhibit, denies any systematic genocide, saying large numbers of both Christian Armenians and Muslim Turks died in a partisan conflict raging at that time.

U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon opened the exhibit in commemoration of the 13th anniversary of the Rwanda genocide, in which 800,000 people, mainly Tutsis and moderate Hutus, were massacred by militant Hutus in April 1994.

Ban recalled how he visited Rwanda last year and talk to "those who had endured one of humankind’s darkest chapters."

But Ban, in a gesture to Turkey, said the exhibit did not "attempt to make historical judgments on other issues."

He said the United Nations "has taken no position on events" that took place before World War Two "that led to the birth of the organization."

Ban also said the post of special advisor on genocide, now held by Juan Mendez of Argentina, would be elevated to a full-time rather than a part-time position.

He said governments had agreed in principle of the "responsibility to protect" civilians when their governments could or would not do so.

"Our challenge now is to give real meaning to the concept by taking steps to make it operational," Ban said. "Only then will it truly give hope to those facing genocide, war crimes, crimes against humanity and ethnic cleansing."

The exhibit was installed in the U.N. visitors lobby by the British-based Aegis Trust. The trust campaigns for the prevention of genocide and runs a center in Kigali, the Rwandan capital, memorializing the victims of the massacres.

While Ban did not mention the deaths in Sudan’s western region of Darfur, Aegis made clear that Darfur was on its agenda and that learning from the Holocaust or from Rwanda meant "had practical implications for the world today."

"Genocide never happens by chance. It takes time to plan and organize. The warning signs are always there," one of the panels in the exhibit said.

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