LEICESTER, United Kingdom – Christian leaders in Britain have asked the UK Government to formally recognize the deaths of Armenians during World War I as a “genocide.”

Armenia and Turkey are still bitterly divided over the memory of events that led to the death of somewhere between 1 million and 1.5 million people between 1915 and 1918.

In a letter to Prime Minster Rishi Sunak, Church heads said such an official recognition is not merely symbolic “but serves as a powerful statement against atrocities and a step toward preventing future acts of genocide.”

The massacre of Armenians in by what was then the Ottoman Empire at the end of World War I is formally recognized as a “genocide” by 22 countries around the world, including Uruguay, Cyprus, Russia, Germany, Argentina, France, Italy, and Venezuela. The U.S. Congress has recognized the genocide, but no U.S. president has formally recognize the congressional vote.

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On April 24, Armenians worldwide commemorate the genocide, which Church leaders say profoundly impacted millions and continues to resonate in their collective memory.

“The United Kingdom has always been at the forefront of defending human rights and justice on the global stage. Historical figures such as former Prime Ministers David Lloyd George and Sir Winston Churchill have openly spoken about the massacres of Armenians from 1915 to 1923, referring to them as ‘the holocausts of 1915’ and the ‘clearance of the Armenian race from Asia-Minor,’ respectively,” the letter says.

“These acknowledgements from your predecessors underscore the significance of the events that transpired and the importance of formally recognising them. In recent years, the global community has made significant strides in acknowledging historical injustices, including key allies such as the United States and several European nations formally recognising the Armenian Genocide,” the Church leaders continue.

The head writer of the document was Armenian Bishop Hovakim Manukyan, but it included several Orthodox and Anglican bishops, as well as a Catholic member of the House of Lords.

The letter mentioned the ongoing conflict between Armenia and Azerbaijan in Nagorno-Karabakh.

A full-scale war between two countries began in the early 1990s following the dissolution of the Soviet Union. The Armenians won the first part of the conflict, occupying a region inhabited by Armenians but formally ruled by Azerbaijan. However in 2020, a large-scale Second Nagorno-Karabakh War erupted and led to a resulted in a significant Azerbaijani victory, with over 7,000 people being killed in the last four years.

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The letter from the British church leaders said the latest conflict has “repeated” the century-old conflict in the Ottoman Empire.

“Following the 44-day devastating war in Artsakh in the autumn of 2020, in September 2023, Azerbaijan launched a campaign which Raphael Lemkin, who coined the term ‘genocide,’ defined as ‘a coordinated plan of different actions aiming at the destruction of essential foundations of the life of national groups, with the aim of annihilating the groups themselves’,” the Church leaders wrote the prime minister.

“The nine-month blockade of Artsakh – known as Nagorno Karabakh – was the beginning of such a genocidal policy, culminating with a military atrocity that resulted in the ethnic cleansing of Armenians from their ancestral homeland,” the statement says.

“Prime Minister, the Armenian diaspora was formed not as a result of natural migration but because our people were forced to flee their historical homeland; our people were killed, raped, sent on death marches to the Syrian deserts, and our churches and homes were burnt and totally destroyed. The same is happening now,” the statement continues.

“Today, the Azerbaijani government, backed by Turkey, continues to threaten Armenia, and exerts pressure to gain control over more territories within the sovereign territory of Armenia,” the leaders told Sunak.

The statement went on to add that while ongoing conflicts and challenges to international law and human rights continue, the role of historical truth in fostering peace and justice has never been more critical.

“The United Kingdom’s formal recognition of the Armenian Genocide would send a strong message to the world about our commitment to historical truth and justice, transcending political and economic interests,” the Church leaders say.

“Such an act of recognition would not only honour the memory of those who suffered and affirm justice but would also reaffirm the UK’s commitment to upholding human rights. Recognition of the Armenian Genocide by the UK would also send a clear message to Turkey and Azerbaijan to cease their aggression against Armenia,” the statement continues.

The Church leaders also claim there is a “high risk” that the actions in the new conflict would result in a new war breaking out, adding a third conflict to a world already beset with global uncertainty and wars in Ukraine and the Middle East.

Armenia and Azerbaijan have pledged to work toward signing a peace treaty over the past many months, but no visible progress has been made, and tensions have continued to rise amid mutual distrust.

Follow Charles Collins on X: @CharlesinRome