India marks 100th anniversary of Amritsar massacre

The Amritsar massacre, 100 years ago this April 13 in which British troops opened fire on thousands of unarmed protesters, remains one of the darkest hours of British colonial rule in India. (AFP)
Updated 13 April 2019

India marks 100th anniversary of Amritsar massacre

  • The Jallianwala Bagh massacre saw British troops fire on thousands of unarmed people in the northern city of Amritsar on the afternoon of April 13, 1919
  • Even 100 years on, Britain has still made no official apology

AMRITSAR: Britain’s high commissioner to India laid a wreath on Saturday on the 100th anniversary of the Amritsar massacre, one of the worst atrocities of colonial rule for which London is still to apologize.
The Jallianwala Bagh massacre, as it is known in India, saw British troops fire on thousands of unarmed people in the northern city of Amritsar on the afternoon of April 13, 1919.
The number of casualties from the event, which hardened opposition to colonial rule, is unclear, with colonial-era records showing about 400 deaths, while Indian figures put the number of fatalities closer to 1,000.
Even 100 years on, Britain has still made no official apology and Dominic Asquith, high commissioner, on Saturday followed suit at the Jallianwala Bagh walled garden where the massacre happened and where bullet marks are still visible.
“You might want to re-write history, as the Queen said, but you can’t,” Asquith said.
“What you can do, as the Queen said, is to learn the lessons of history. I believe strongly we are. There is no question that we will always remember this. We will never forget what happened here.”
Former British prime minister David Cameron described what happened as “deeply shameful” during a 2013 visit but stopped short of an apology.
In 1997, Queen Elizabeth II laid a wreath at the site but her gaffe-prone husband Prince Philip stole the headlines by reportedly saying that Indian estimates for the death count were “vastly exaggerated.”
On Wednesday, British Prime Minister Theresa May told the House of Commons that the massacre was “a shameful scar on British Indian history.”
“We deeply regret what happened and the suffering caused,” May said, but she, too, avoided saying she was sorry.
Amarinder Singh, chief minister of Punjab state, said May’s words were not enough.
He said “an unequivocal official apology” is needed for the “monumental barbarity.” Singh made his comments on Twitter, where pictures showed him greeting opposition Congress party leader Rahul Gandhi in Amritsar on the eve of the centenary.
Singh said thousands attended a candlelight march Friday in memory of the victims ahead of a commemoration ceremony later on Saturday.

Around 10,000 unarmed men, women and children had gathered in the Jallianwala Bagh walled public garden in Amritsar on the afternoon of April 13, 1919.
Many were angry about the recent extension of repressive measures and the arrest of two local leaders that had sparked violent protests three days before.
The 13th of April was also a big spring festival, and the crowd — estimated by some at 20,000 — included pilgrims visiting the nearby Golden Temple sacred to Sikhs.
Brig. Gen. Reginald Edward Harry Dyer arrived with dozens of troops, sealed off the exit and without warning ordered the soldiers to open fire.
Many tried to escape by scaling the high walls surrounding the area. Others jumped into a deep, open well at the site as the troops fired.
One of several eyewitness accounts compiled by two historians and published in the Indian Express newspaper this week described the horror.
“Heaps of dead bodies lay there, some on their backs and some with their faces upturned. A number of them were poor innocent children. I shall never forget the sight,” said Ratan Devi, whose husband was killed.

“I was all alone the whole night in that solitary jungle. Nothing but the barking of dogs, or the braying of donkeys was audible. Amidst hundreds of corpses, I passed my night, crying and watching,” she said.
Dyer, dubbed “The Butcher of Amritsar,” said later it was a necessary measure, and that the firing was “not to disperse the meeting but to punish the Indians for disobedience.”
Indian newspapers this week repeated their calls for an apology for a massacre that Winston Churchill, then secretary of state for war, called “monstrous.”
“Over the years, there has been a growing demand from many, including several British historians, and parliamentarians, and Indian political parties, for the British government to formally apologize in parliament and commemorate the Jallianwala Bagh massacre with a memorial day,” the Hindustan Times said in an editorial.
“But even in the centenary year of the massacre, Britain has refused to... take that important step,” it said. May’s statement was “perhaps qualitatively a notch stronger... but is far from enough.”


UAE position on Palestine in line with Arab consensus, says diplomat

Ali Abdullah Al-Ahmed. (Photo/Twitter)
Updated 8 min 34 sec ago

UAE position on Palestine in line with Arab consensus, says diplomat

  • Emirati envoy: Israel deal ‘puts two-state solution back on the table’

PARIS: French President Emmanuel Macron hailed in a tweet the “courageous decision” of the United Arab Emirates to sign a peace treaty with Israel, and expressed his wishes that it will contribute to a just and lasting peace between Israel and the Palestinians.

Ali Abdullah Al-Ahmed, the Emirati ambassador to France, told Arab News-French edition that the decision of the Israeli government to annex Palestinian territory had already been taken and had preoccupied the international community since the signing of the Oslo agreement, and until a few years ago this problem was the keystone of the two-state solution.

Al-Ahmed said: “If the Israeli government executes its plans to annex the Palestinian territories then this means that the two-state solution should be forgotten and that we will be back to the situation that prevailed 30 years ago.”

However, he added that “we are convinced that this trilateral agreement between the UAE, Israel and the US as a principal actor, especially with the strengthening of the US presence in our region, will contribute in enhancing peace, security and stability in the region.”

Regarding Israeli declarations that annexation will only be suspended and not canceled, Al-Ahmed said: “There are no relations that begin in an ideal way, yet a step was made today when the Israeli government agreed to freeze annexation. It is definitely not a final solution, we will see what will comes next.”

However, the Emirati diplomat said: “The kick off of relations between the UAE and Israel opens the gates, and what will follow will not be confined to the political level but will equally cover the economic, technological and academic levels. It is highly possible that the tempo of the development of these relations will be faster. We will see.”

For Al-Ahmed, the return of the two-state solution to the negotiating table is undoubtedly an accomplishment. With regards to the rejection by the Palestinian authority of this agreement, the ambassador said: “It would have been more feasible for the Palestinian authority to thank the Emirati diplomacy, after all the decision of the UAE is a sovereign one that was already preceded by Egypt, Jordan and the Palestinians themselves.

We are convinced that this trilateral agreement between the UAE, Israel and the US as a principal actor … will contribute in enhancing peace, security and stability in the region.

Ali Abdullah Al-Ahmed, Emirati ambassador to France

“We do not negotiate in the name of the Palestinians and it is not up to us to do so. However, our position regarding the Palestinian cause is in line with the Arab consensus regarding Jerusalem and other parameters of Arab unanimity, we adhere to them and we do not relinquish them,” the Emirati ambassador added.

On whether the Emirati embassy in Israel would be located in Jerusalem. Al-Ahmed said: “We are in the beginning of establishing diplomatic relations, however, we will see how all this will progress in the coming days. We are still in the phase of telephone contacts through which the kick off of diplomatic relations that will determine all the details depends. The UAE has put conditions on this agreement and the US has accepted to put the two-state solution back to the table of negotiations.”

On whether the agreement between the UAE and Israel means that the Arab peace plan or peace initiative of late Saudi King Abdullah bin Abdul Aziz is no longer valid, Al-Ahmed said: “Surely not, as the King Abdullah initiative is based on the two-state solution, which is the essence of the initiative.”

On whether the Emirati-Israeli agreement aims at enhancing US President Donald Trump’s re-election chances, Al-Ahmed said that US voters are unconcerned with foreign politics, and this is well known, and that had the US not been the guarantor of this agreement, it would have never been achieved.

If the agreement was aimed at confronting Iran and Turkey in the region, Al-Ahmed said that diplomatic relations between the two countries have many factors, including social, political, and cultural ones, and that the UAE is convinced that Israel can benefit a lot from Arab countries, for the UAE can benefit from relations with Israel.

“We have already cooperated on the medical scientific level regarding the coronavirus pandemic, especially between Emirati and Israeli companies in matters of pharmaceutical research.”

Regarding the Arab country that will come next, the Emirati ambassador believes that if Israel wants to live in peace in the Arab region, and if the Arab states want a prosperous economy, then there should be agreements with other Arab states which serves the interests of both parties.