Remarks by Mr Jef Verschoore

Vice Mayor of Ieper and Chairperson of In Flanders Fields Museum

Book Launch for Innocence Slaughtered

2 December 2015

 

Your Excellency Director-General Üzümcü,

Excellencies,

Ladies and Gentlemen,

It is always a pleasure to be a guest at the OPCW and especially the Ieper Room, named after our city, feels somewhat like home, despite the fact that it actually refers to the dreadful events that took place there now one hundred years ago.

Mr Jef Verschoore addressing the audience in the Ieper Room, OPCW

What happened all those years ago is also the reason why we are gathered here today. The book that we are launching looks back to what happened in 1915 AND to its consequences. A more appropriate place than this room to do so can not be imagined.

In 2005 In Flanders Fields Museum took the initiative to commemorate the 90th anniversary of the first gas attack by organizing an international conference “1915. Innocence slaughtered?”. It brought together not only experts on the use of gas during the First World War but also specialists dealing with the consequences of chemical warfare today. Two days of historical contributions were followed by presentations by four representatives who in one way or another have, had or were to have a direct or indirect link with the OPCW: – there was Dr. Zanders, – there was a specialist from the Belgian Army’s disposal unit, – there was the then spokesman of the OPCW and the fourth was Dr. Khateri of the Iranian Association of Victims of Chemical Warfare, who now works in this very building and is present among us.

The reason I do mention this is because it is a good example behind the philosophy of what we try to do in Ieper. The In Flanders Fields Museum is a historical museum but it does not look at history for the sake of the past. History only makes real sense if it is instrumental for making a better future. In Ieper we have within the town administration a service for peace and development who supports initiatives in that matter, with the three annual Peace Prize we encourage individuals and organisations in their endeavours for peace building and try to promote their examples. We might not be as famous as the Nobel Peace Prize, but who knows one day… We also host the chair of the NGO Mothers for Peace and the International Secretariat of the 2020 Vision Campaign of Mayors for Peace, an organisation chaired by the mayor of Hirsohima. These are just some of the initiatives linking Ieper’s terrible past to actively working for a peaceful future.

But back to the 2005 conference. From the outset, it was meant to realize a publication of the historical essays based on the presentations. Unfortunately, this process proved a slow and difficult one – not in the least because Professor Koen Koch who had chaired the conference and was to edit and co-ordinate the publication, was taken ill and eventually passed away. However, when we started preparing the centenary of the First World War some years ago, we hoped the project would be taken on. Our “saviour” came in the person of Dr Jean Pascal Zanders, a fellow Belgian who is a world leading expert in the field of disarmament and especially biological and chemical weapons related issues. Dr. Zanders eventually at our request had the volume of essays edited and wrote not only the introduction but also two chapters on respectively the 1899 The Hague declaration and the 1925 Geneva Protocol, aptly titled “the Road to The Hague” and “The Road to Geneva”. They frame the other essays that mainly focus on either the use of gas during the battles of Ieper in 1915 or the reaction to the use of gas in the same period.

I would like to extend my thanks to the authors, especially for their patience and goodwill, to publisher Uniform Press, represented here by Mr Ryan Gearing for believing in this project, and to His Excellency, the Director-General of the OPCW for his foreword and hosting this event today.

Your excellencies,

Ladies & Gentlemen,

A famous and perhaps too often repeated quote from George Santayana reads: Those who cannot  remember  the  past  are condemned to repeat it.

It is the duty of the City of Ieper to continuously bear witness of its terrible past in order to make a better future for all, and in this task it has found a partner in the Organisation of the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons. The book that is being launched today is one important step in extending that message.

Thank you.