Community Urges Administration to Correct Policy on Genocide
LOS ANGELES–Over 10,000 people demonstrated at the Turkish Consulate in Los Angeles on April 24, demanding an end to Turkey’s ongoing denial of the Armenian Genocide and voicing sharp disappointment at US President Barack Obama for breaking his campaign pledge to properly recognize the crime against humanity in his address to the Armenian-American community.
The demonstration, organized annually by the Armenian Youth Federation (AYF), is a symbolic focal point for the community and represents its year-long struggle to gain proper recognition and justice for the deliberate annihilation of 1.5 million Armenians by the Turkish Ottoman Empire between 1915 and 1923.
Photo by Emin Atur Bassavand
But today, the President broke his promise to bring change to the White House on the issue of Genocide, said one demonstrator, holding a sign that asked why Obama retreated from his pledge. The President’s failure to accurately characterize the Genocide after having spoken forcefully about ending the Genocide in Darfur will undermine his credibility when speaking about the issue of genocide.
Many at the demonstration shared this disappointment, angered by the fact that Turkey was again able to coax the United States of America into silence.
Obama’s failure to speak truth to power angered many Armenians this year, who had begun their day optimistic that he would rectify the wrongs of previous administrations, according to Avo Shanlian, who served as a monitor at the demonstration.
For decades, the government of Turkey has been engaged in a pro-active, relentless, and shameless campaign to deny the horrors it committed during the Genocide. In the last thirty years, Turkey has redoubled its efforts to erase history, leveraging high-level contacts in the defense industry; enticing support from journalists who propagate Turkey’s importance as a key ally; and hiring professional lobby firms and such high profile former congressman as Dick Ghephardt, Bob Livingston, and Denis Hastert to bribe US representatives and leaders into staying silent.
Photo by Emin Atur Bassavand
Turkey’s threats to retaliate against us for speaking against genocide tells us more about Turkey and its own domestic problems than it does about the Armenian Genocide, which we all know to be an established fact of history, said Saro Haroun, a spokesperson for the AYF, who spoke to reporters covering the demonstration about Turkey’s annual attempts to prevent the US from reaffirming its record on the Genocide.
Another demonstrator, Ileen Izekelian, said America’s stand against genocide must be driven by moral values, not political interests. Turkish officials, from the President to the Foreign Minister, had repeatedly warned President Obama to steer clear of the issue or face retaliation by Turkey. Ankara threatened to sabotage US efforts to leave Iraq and break off negotiations with Armenia over the establishment of diplomatic relations and the lifting of its illegal blockade.
Ankara has been using its talks with Yerevan to scuttle international recognition of the Armenian genocide, explained Sarkis Semerjian. Throughout the entire process, Turkey has been placing preconditions on Armenia, demanding Yerevan drop efforts to recognize the Genocide and agree to establish a historical commission to ostensibly examine the events of 1915-1923.
Such a commission seeks to question the veracity of the Genocide–a crime widely accepted by historians as a settled and indisputable fact.
Photo by Sanan Shirinian
Last Friday’s protest came two days after the Armenian and Turkish Foreign Ministries issued a joint statement announcing the two governments had agreed on a roadmap for normalizing bilateral relations. The cryptic statement is seen as a tacit green light to Obama to not recognize the Genocide, a move most in Armenia and its worldwide diaspora have categorically condemned as a diplomatic blunder.
Given its past practice and the obvious timing of this agreement just prior to April 24th, Turkey’s motive is absolutely clear–to defer, delay, and defeat U.S. recognition of the Genocide, exclaimed Arek Santikian, another spokesperson of the AYF.
I am skeptical of Turkey’s willingness to sincerely engage in meaningful dialogue. It’s hard to believe that Turkey has in any meaningful way altered its longstanding belligerence toward Armenians, which it oppresses within its own country by making it a crime to discuss the Genocide, he said, expressing disappointment both with Obama and Armenian President Serzh Sarkisian. The release of the statement on the eve of the 94th anniversary of the Genocide and right before Obama was expected to recognize the Genocide is a blow to Armenia, the Armenian people and worldwide efforts to end the genocide in Darfur.
Many at the event described Obama’s April 24 statement as a retreat from American values and a setback to the vital change he promised to bring to Washington during his campaign.
Photo by Emin Atur Bassavand
Hilton Sorkazian likened the President’s handling of the situation with how the Bush administration tiptoed around the issue every April 24. George Bush repeatedly reneged on his campaign pledge to recognize the Genocide. Placating Turkish interests, Bush personally lobbied members of Congress in 2007 to prevent them from passing a resolution reaffirming the US record on the Armenian Genocide.
Our struggle does not begin or end with one day; it does not being or end with the Turkish Consulate; and it does not begin or end with any statements by Barack Obama, exclaimed the Chairman of the AYF, Vache Thomassian, in a speech during the protest.
Thomassian honored the memory of Ghazaros Kademian, a Genocide survivor who regularly attended the demonstration until his death earlier this year at the age of 102. It is for Ghazaros’ generation as well as our future generations that we fight [for recognition and prevention].
“The community’s struggle is built on a desire for justice for the lives that were lost, the properties that were taken and the lands that have been occupied,” he continued, stressing that Turkey’s assertion that Genocide recognition will stifle reconciliation with Armenia is a hoax. “No pathetic attempt to normalize relations between Armenia and Turkey can be sincere without recognizing the Genocide.”
Photo by Emin Atur Bassavand
Speaking to Asbarez after the protest, Thomassian said the AYF, and the Armenian- American community, now look to Barack Obama to end the semantics by speaking truthfully on the issue by properly condemning and commemorating the crime. We urge our President to make a speedy and public correction to his Administration’s policy on the Armenian Genocide.
Shunt Jarchafjian, a member of the AYF Central Executive who delivered a speech at the protest in Armenian, told Asbarez he expec ts Obama to work toward the adoption of the Armenian Genocide Resolution introduced in Congress earlier in March.
The resolution has over a hundred co-sponsors now and the community should redouble its grassroots efforts to ensure that support for the bi-partisan legislation grows to secure its passage, he said. “Obama missed yet another opportunity and should now give full support to congressional efforts to recognize the Genocide.”
You can express your deep disappointment with President Obama and inform your Senate and House members of your concerns by sending a free ANCA WebMail right now. Sending an ANCA Webmail is easy. Just type in your name, address, and email and click Send Message.Click here to send WebFax
In March 1952, following pressure on West Germany to atone for Nazi crimes and pay reparations, negotiations began between Germany, the State of Israel, and the World Jewish Congress. This was despite the fact that Israel and West Germany had not yet established diplomatic relations and the latter was the successor, not the legally constituted state, of Nazi Germany. A Reparations Agreement was finally signed in September of that year, and West Germany agreed to pay Israel a sum of 3 billion marks over the next fourteen years, another 450 million marks to the World Jewish Congress, and enacted legislation providing compensation to individual victims of Nazi persecution. These individual payments amounted to more than 100 billion marks by century’s end. The payments made to Israel were invested in the country’s infrastructure and played an important role in establishing the economy of the new state.
The Japanese-American Claims Act, passed by Congress and signed by President Truman in 1948, required the US government to compensate Japanese Americans who were evacuated from their homes and forced into internment camps during World War II. In addition to $38 million in compensation that was paid to victims under the Act, the law also called on institutions to memorialize the injustice done to Japanese Americans, so as to mourn their loss publicly and prevent a similar act from recurring in the future.
In Xuncax v. Gramajo, refugee survivors of the genocide against the Indians of Guatemala in the early 1980s, sued the former Defense Minister of Guatemala, General Hector Gramajo, the chief military commander responsible for the bloody campaign. Interestingly, the plaintiffs, eight Kanjobal Indians from Guatemala, were able to bring the lawsuit forth against another foreign national (Gramajo) in US court, under the Alien Tort Claims Act of 1789. The court’s verdict found that Gramajo “devised and directed the implementation of an indiscriminate campaign of terror against civilians such as plaintiffs and their relatives.” Subsequent to this decision, the general was barred from the United States under provisions of its immigration laws but remained at large outside the US.
On September 2, 1998, the International Criminal Tribunal for Rwanda found Jean-Paul Akayesu, the former head of a small town in Rwanda, guilty of nine counts of genocide, under the 1948 UN Convention on Genocide. Two days later, Jean Kambanda, the Prime Minister of Rwanda during the 1994 killings, became the first head of state to ever be convicted of the crime of genocide. He was sentenced to life imprisonment and currently sits in jail in Mali.
In a February 2007 decision, the International Court of Justice (ICJ) found present-day Serbia guilty of violating the UN Convention on the Prevention and Punishment of Genocide during the 1992-95 war in Bosnia-Herzegovina. Although the court did not find Serbia guilty of a direct campaign of genocide in the Bosnian war, it reprimanded it for failing to do everything in its power to stop the July 1995 Srebrenica massacre of 7000 Muslims or hand over those commanders who were responsible. This was the first time a state was deemed to be in breach of the Genocide Convention.
A federal judge ruled on August 7, 2008, that Native Americans suing the US government for royalties they collected from gas and oil companies that drilled on their lands are entitled to $455 million. Although much less than the amount plaintiffs were seeking, the ruling was an important chapter in the struggle to get compensation for the royalty money expropriated by the US Department of Interior, owed to half a million Native Americans and their heirs over the past 121 years.
In January of 2008, in the case of “Varnava and Others v. Turkey,” the European Court of Human Rights ruled in favor of the families of 18 Greek Cypriots who were disappeared following Turkey’s 1974 invasion and occupation of Northern Cyprus. The court found Turkey guilty of violating several articles of the European Convention on Human Rights and ordered Ankara to pay the families due compensation. They also rejected Turkey’s argument that the Court should not be hearing a case dealing with matters that took place in the 1970s, long before Ankara accepted the Court’s jurisdiction. Rather, the Court insisted that Turkey has continued to violate various articles of the Convention by refusing to conduct an investigation “aimed at clarifying the whereabouts and fate of the nine men who went missing in 1974.”
On March 4, 2009, Sudan’s President, Omar al-Bashir, became the first sitting president to be indicted by the International Criminal Court for directing a campaign of mass killing, rape, and pillage against civilians in Darfur. The UN-backed court issued a formal arrest warrant for al-Bashir, who remains at large and has responded to charges by insisting the court has no authority over him or Sudan.
A UN-backed genocide tribunal began hearings this month against five senior leaders of the Khmer Rouge, the extreme Maoist regime which came to power in Cambodia in April of 1975 and proceeded to butcher an estimated 1.7 million of its own population. Three decades after the killings and 13 years after the tribunal was first proposed, victims of the Khmer Rouge genocide are finally getting the chance to bring the perpetrators to justice.
Mark Geragos, with hundreds of AYF members during a press conference, announcing impending lawsuit, in front of Deutsche Bank
We all know about the atrocities that occurred during 1915-1923. What we do not know is what happened to all the money and property the victims of the Armenian Genocide lost.
Throughout the years following 1915, the victims and their families were not necessarily worried about acquiring their lost wealth but more of escaping the memories of the slaughter of their loved ones along with the trauma of being exiled from their homeland. However, one woman, Yegsa Marootian, was brave enough to stand up and claim her lost assets.
Upon arriving to New York in 1920, Yegsa went to the New York Life insurance company and filed a claim as the beneficiary of her murdered brother’s insurance policy. Unfortunately, she was turned down because she could not provide a death certificate and because the statute of limitations on her claim had run out. She was denied and offered zero compensation.
Seventy-nine years later, Martin Marootian, Yegsa’s son, sued New York Life along with dozens of other plaintiffs for not giving the insurance claims of the Genocide victims who fell in 1915. They demanded the list of Armenian life insurance policy holders and compensation by New York Life to the heirs.
Once this lawsuit began to garner attention, Adam Schiff along with 13 other cosponsors introduced H.R. 3323: The Armenian Victims Insurance Fairness Act. This Act was to “permit States to require insurance companies to disclose insurance information.” Though the bill never became law it did make a point to the insurance companies to compensate these victims and their families for their claims.
After years of negotiations the lawsuit was finally settled. New York Life was to give $20,000,000 in insurance reparations to the beneficiaries; $4,000,000 would go to the lawyers and $3,000,000 would go to various Armenian social service agencies.
Even though New York Life has given the money they owed to the Genocide victims and their beneficiaries, there are still many other banks and insurance companies who owe these victims their lost wealth and fortunes. Following the New York Life case, the firms in the forefront of the insurance lawsuit—Kabateck Brown Kellner LLP, Geragos & Geragos, and Vartkes Yeghiayan & Associates—filed and won a similar $17 million settlement from AXA for unpaid life insurance benefits. They currently have several other lawsuits pending against companies who usurped assets from the Genocide.
These victories demonstrate the value of pursuing justice through the court system and being vigilant, not just against Turkey, but all those who reaped benefits from the victims of the Armenian Genocide. They have proven in concrete terms that there are other avenues for justice parallel to and beyond the important task of gaining Genocide recognition.
Editor’s note: Although the New York Life lawsuit resulted in a positive settlement, much more research is needed in the realm of quantifying genocide-era losses—be they life, property, or territory in order to reach proper settlement.
Levon Marashlian is a Professor of History at Glendale Community College, teaching Armenian history and Diaspora current affairs. In 1996, he testified before the US House of Representatives during a hearing on the Armenian Genocide and has also testified in favor of legislation mandating the teaching of the Armenian Genocide in secondary schools. He is the author of numerous publications, articles, and letters to the editor in scholarly journals and the general press regarding the Genocide. He is also a frequent commentator on such matters in the US and Armenian media.
Haytoug sat down with Marashlian to discuss the contemporary reasons why securing justice and reparations for the Armenian Genocide are important for the survival of the Armenian nation.
HAYTOUG: In addition to the killings and massacres, you’ve written extensively about the Turkish government’s systematic effort to rob Armenians of their wealth and possessions during the Genocide. What would you say to those who argue that the modern Republic of Turkey bears no responsibility for these crimes since they were committed under the Ottoman Empire?
LEVON MARASHLIAN: There’s an ethical and legal dimension to this question. Legally, there’s a statute of limitations for most crimes. I don’t know what it is internationally but, based on most statute of limitations laws, Armenians are late. At some point, you can no longer try to get justice. But when the crime is genocide, they don’t have to necessarily be limited to a statute of limitations. That’s the legal aspect.
That’s one of the reasons why the “g-word” is so important for Turkey. Once it’s genocide, it opens up the possibility for negating statute of limitation laws. Again, I can’t speak on that in detail; you need a lawyer for that. But it does open up the possibility.
The ethical aspect is, if a new government is not liable for the deaths of the previous government, then why does it get the assets of the previous government? So a new government does have a liability. In fact, this is often written in treaties. For example, if one country gets a piece of another country after a war, in the treaty they will include something like, “The country that gets this territory now has to take on the obligations of that part of the old country.” So, if someone in that section of the country you got owes something—let’s say, to a foreign company for building a bridge—now that you’ve got that land, you are going to pay that company for the bridge they built fifty years ago.
There’s a continuity of responsibility and a continuity of benefit. So, that’s not a good argument.
H: You mentioned the ethical and legal aspects. In the past, you’ve also discussed the importance of reparations in terms of survival and security for the Armenian Republic. Can you talk to us about that and explain how reparations can help ensure Armenia’s viability?
L.M.: It seems that more and more people seem to think that an apology from Turkey is enough. Especially after Armenia became independent, the number of such people seems to have increased. Their argument essentially goes like this: Now we have a Republic and it is poor; it has problems. Spending all of this energy and money on Genocide recognition is preventing us from helping Armenia more, and asking for Genocide recognition is contributing to keeping the border closed. We should forget the past and downplay the issue so that we can better assist Armenia.
So, for some Armenians, the Genocide issue becomes a liability for Armenia. One of the people who thinks this way, for example, is Alexander Arzoumanian, the previous Foreign Minister of Armenia. He thinks that we keep pushing these resolutions and it just hurts us, so we should focus instead on developing the country.
What people who think this way are missing is that some kind of reparation from Turkey is primarily needed by Armenia. That Armenia needs a huge influx of resources is undeniable. The aid they get from the Diaspora and the investments are not enough. Armenia needs a huge amount of money from outside. Resolving the Genocide issue the right way could bring Armenia the financial resources it needs. Without those financial resources, my fear is that Armenia doesn’t have a very bright future.
And Turkey knows that very well. One of the purposes of the Genocide was to make Armenians irrelevant in that region. If Armenia stays in its present situation, it will become increasingly poorer. It will depend more and more on Russia. Eventually, it might become a country that is independent just in name. It is already heading in that direction with Russia taking ownership of so many strategic industries such as hydroelectric plants, and so on. Armenia needs something big, something concrete—whether that’s territory or financial.
So, for Armenians who think the way of Arzoumanian, the answer is, on the contrary, rather than being a liability, justice for the Genocide issue may be Armenia’s only salvation.
By the way, when I say this to most people in Armenia, they agree. Every person I’ve talked to says, “Yeah, that makes sense but what are we going to do.” And my answer is, I don’t know what we’re going to do to get there but that has to become the focus. It’s not easy to get something from Turkey but once you reach the premise that without something, you don’t have a future—or at least a good future—then you have to focus on getting something. The danger is when people think that trying to get something is bad for Armenia. That is wrong.
H: What are your thoughts regarding the applicability of the Treaty of Serves today, since many people have that on their minds when they think of Armenia’s legal and national claims against Turkey?
L.M.: The Treaty of Sevres has a very important value. Whether it’s valid legally or not, you would have to ask an international lawyer. But even if it is not legally valid, it still has a very important validity because what it says is, in 1920, the opinion of the world—not just the opinion of Armenians but that the of the Great Powers and all of the countries connected to them (Japan, the US, France, Italy, Britain, and the Ottoman government)—was that justice requires that Armenians get so much. That’s a compelling statement isn’t it? It’s the opinion of the most powerful countries of the world and those countries exist today.
It’s also the opinion of the US State Department. That is perhaps the strongest value of the Treaty of Sevres. It’s not like Armenians were dreaming that this is what we deserve. [The borders demarcating Armenia were] the opinion of experts in the Geographic Department of the US State Department, on the order of the US President.
If the Treaty of Sevres didn’t mean anything, then Turkey would not have internally what is called the “Sevres Syndrome.” Every year, in August, they write articles in Turkey . . . they actually go into a frenzy. One Turkish author, a few years ago, wrote about this asking, “Why is it that every year we go crazy?” The Turks call it our “Sevres Syndrome.” Why do they have this syndrome if the Treaty has no value? If the Turks thought that financial reparation and territorial reparation is impossible, why would they worry so much?
The worry because they know it has value. I should mention here that when they have “Sevres Syndrome,” it’s not just with Armenia. It also includes Kurdistan and other matters. So it opens up a lot of issues for Turkey.
Now obviously, Armenians have to be realistic. Armenians cannot now imagine they could get everything in the Treaty of Sevres. That’s unrealistic to expect that. But my feeling is that it is realistic to expect something. I won’t even define what that something is because then you begin sounding like a dreamer. But something, no matter how small, will be helpful to Armenia.
H: What are the incentives, if any, for the Turkish government and people to come to grips with the crimes committed against Armenians and pay the just compensation they owe?
L.M.: Most Turks will react to this issue with hostility. If they don’t want to admit to the Genocide now, they’re not going to want to have reparations. As far as what I think Turks can gain if they made reparations, I think they would get a lot out of it. I’m not saying they would do it but they would certainly get a lot out of it.
Let’s just imagine that they recognize the Genocide and give some kind of reparations. That would make them look great. It would give them prestige. Their image would skyrocket in the world. Think of how it would look: “Turkey Apologizes and Makes Compensation.” What will happen to their image? They will go from being the “Terrible Turk” to the being the “Generous Turk.”
It’s like Germany. The Germans hold their head up high now. They know what happened, they’ve admitted it and, now, you don’t have constant Jewish resolutions against Germany every year or demonstrations against Germany. They’re not reminded constantly about the Holocaust. Sure, there are films on the Holocaust and educational projects but they’re not constantly attacked wherever they go.
Turks, on the other hand, have this burden that they’re carrying. They have this albatross around their neck. And it’s rotten, it stinks. It would be good for them to get rid of it.
H: Do you have any message or final words to our readers, especially the youth, when it comes to this issue of reparations for the Armenian Genocide?
L.M.: My suggestion is that if young people hear their fellow youth or adults, such as their parents, say something like, “Forget any kind of compensation. We should just push for Genocide recognition, get the Turks to admit it, apologize, and move beyond it.” If they hear something like that, my suggestion to young people is to correct them and to tell them how important some kind of compensation is for the survival of Armenia.
Getting compensation is correct morally also; it’s correct ethically. But it’s not as if Armenia is so wealthy that a few dollars from Turkey is not going to make much difference and we just want it solely for justice. Armenia desperately, desperately needs huge amounts of money. Anybody who goes to Armenia knows what is needed.
Especially if older, more mature Armenians hear this from young people it can make an impact. It might even make them feel embarrassed.
MarashlianPlazaVaquero: Professor Levon Marashlian
Apostles2: The ruins of the Church of the Holy Apostles in historic Ani
Gen_1: Genocide vicitim mother and child
It can be said that the struggle for the Armenian Cause which was reinvigorated in the second half of the 20th century was truly one of the most remarkable grassroots political movements to develop internationally. The fruit born of this movement can be witnessed today in the countless national, municipal and local assembly’s around the world that have officially acknowledged the Genocide; the vast body of scholarly documentation and academic consensus on the matter; the socially conscious musical and cultural expressions associated with the Cause; the rejection of denial and adoption of editorial policies among media outlets recognizing the facts of the Genocide; and the countless educational and political events which take place in community’s every year on April 24 and beyond.
That Armenians have succeeded in shaking the indifference of the world and moved beyond the once necessary task of proving historic facts is beyond doubt. Even in Turkey, we see the tide of awareness generated by the movement rapidly eroding the wall of denial erected by Ankara.
These realities suggest to us that the movement for justice for the Armenian Genocide has reached a turning point; the time has come to raise the bar on our actions and aims beyond just recognition. Concurrent with the need for upholding historic truth, there is a need to finally begin holding Turkey accountable for the massive debt it owes to the Armenian nation.
Although nothing can ever make up for the suffering, loss, trauma, robbery, and destruction inflicted onto the Armenian people—from the Ottoman Turkish government’s genocidal intent, to the culpability of the Republic of Turkey for continuing prejudicial policies and a full blown denial campaign—the need for some sort of meaningful atonement and restitution is indisputable. Those who think that there could ever be a genuine reconciliation between Armenians and Turks without the latter attempting to restore the dignity, property, wealth, self-determination, and cultural heritage of the Armenian people are truly fooling themselves.
How exactly this debt will ultimately be paid is not something we can fully address or predict here. Moving forward effectively will take more expertise and serious planning than we can offer in these few pages.
What we can do, however, is sound the call for our entire community to steadily broaden its focus beyond just recognition. The time is long past due to begin initiating strategies, initiatives and campaigns centered on attaining reparations and restitution for all that was taken from us during the Genocide.
Although the road has been long and winding, the message has always remained crystal clear—A hollow apology will not suffice in bringing justice to the Armenian nation.
Armenians hold up large banners reading “Recognition, Reparations, Restitution” during the Armenia v. Turkey soccer match in September, 2008
Since its independence, Armenia has seldom had the time or the opportunity to dabble in international politics. The extent to which it has been involved has had to do primarily with the war for the independence of Artsakh and, its dealings with France, Russia, and the United States in establishing the terms for a definitive end to the conflict. Otherwise, Armenia’s involvement within the international framework has been limited to cooperation with European standards of governance, attempts at Western-oriented societal and legal refinements, and activities within the Commonwealth of Independent States (CIS).
President Serzh Sarkissian strongly deviated from this posture when he invited Turkey’s president, Abdullah Gul, to Armenia, to watch a World Cup qualifying soccer match between the two countries. It was an active diplomatic effort that gained the praise of some and the disapprobation of others. More importantly, it came with an implicit assertion: that Armenia was now willing to undertake greater objectives with regard to its foreign policy.
Heretofore, Armenian-related issues were largely within the purview of Diaspora communities in their adopted countries around the world. From Armenian Genocide recognition to economic and military aid for Armenia to Artsakh’s right to self-determination, Diasporan organizations – like the Armenian National Committee – became adept at fighting for causes that affected not only the Armenians in their own communities but Armenians throughout the world. Expectedly, the Diaspora has become an indispensable part of foreign policymaking that affects Armenia. Noting this, among other considerations, a Ministry of the Diaspora was established, also under President Sarkissian’s administration. This was an important step in fortifying the established goals of the both the Republic of Armenia and the Armenian Diaspora.
Concerning one of these points in particular – the Armenian Genocide – Yerevan should be conscious of the much larger role it can play than it already has.
The stated policy of the Republic is that it demands the recognition of the Genocide by Turkey. As a country in the international system, Armenia is part of apparatuses that allow it to bring forth the Armenian Genocide issue in myriad arenas. For example, it is wholly capable of vigorously objecting the Turkish government’s attempts to silence any discussion about the Genocide within the United Nations. As a member of the UN, the freedom to express itself is Armenia’s right – one that Turkey has no qualms about using – and one that Armenia should feel similarly, and unabashedly, comfortable with.
Turkish President Abdullah Gul and Armenian President Serzh Sarkissian meet in Yerevan in September, 2008
Further, it is incumbent upon Armenia to actively demand that Turkey recognize the Armenian Genocide. This may seem as a simple enough gesture but one that it seems the government in Yerevan has shied away from in the face of diplomatic concerns. The reality is that Turkey closed its border with Armenia 16 years ago for no reason other than an apparent attempt to suffocate its neighbor to the east and make it doubly difficult for its citizens to survive. Unsurprisingly, Armenians once again withstood a vile test of their tenacity and have progressed significantly while eastern Turkey remains a derelict landmass, ignored even by its own government. Thus, when Prime Minister Tayyip Erdogan puts preconditions on the amelioration of relations with the Armenian government – such as dropping the pursuit of recognition, reparations, and restitution – Yerevan must respond with equal force and publicly reaffirm its conviction to attain justice for the 1.5 million Armenians who were slaughtered at the hands of Ottoman Turks.
In reemphasizing its efforts, the Armenian government can utilize the newly established Ministry of the Diaspora to communicate and coordinate with those who understand, through decades of experience, the foreign governments Armenia is now dealing with. Likewise, Armenia’s vocal support of Diasporan endeavors in foreign countries would undoubtedly be a boon to those activities. It ought to also be willing to explain the reasoning behind overtures such as those made to Turkey, which have yet to become elucidated by any government official. In that vein, Armenia should emphasize to PM Erdogan that fully normalized relations will be impossible until Turkey acknowledges the truths of its history and remedies the injustices that befell the Armenians in Anatolia as they experienced one of the worst horrors of human history.
There is no place for timidity in world politics and the decades-long struggle of the Diaspora must now be met with commensurate zeal on the part of the independent Republic of Armenia. Having weathered a war, an earthquake, and closed borders for much of its existence, the Third Republic must be supremely confident of its ability to manage complex situations. It cannot and must not be afraid to assert itself on the world stage and it must swiftly respond to the purposeful falsification of its history with vigor. Succinctly, Armenia must be forward, frank, and fastidious in its pursuit of justice for the victims and survivors of the Armenian Genocide at every juncture – it is, indeed, its duty.
ARF Central Committee member Aram Kaloustian presenting the economic impacts of opening the border between Turkey and Armenia
BIG PINES, CA–The past, present, and future of Armenian-Turkish relations were the focus of a three day seminar on March 20-22 that brought some 70 young Armenian Americans to the Armenian Youth Federation’s campgrounds in Big Pines, California.
The seminar covered a broad range of issues related to the current push to normalize ties between the two countries, including the history of the Ottoman Empire as well as the political and economic realities surrounding the troubled relations between Armenia and Turkey today.
“We wanted to present the current status of Armenian-Turkish relations and where it is going or should be going,” said Shahan Boghikian, whose educational committee organized the seminar. “If and when relations are normalized, it is our generation, both in Turkey and Armenia, that will start the socialization process between the two peoples.”
The various discussions sought to build a framework of understanding that will help a new generation of youth actively influence Armenian and Turkish societies, according to Boghikian. He also noted that the weekend’s theme was Agos, the Armenian word for pathway. A Mutual Understanding of History The bridge building role of a new generation of Armenian activists was the focus of the seminar’s first presentation, which traced the development of Armenian-Turkish relations from the early days of the Ottoman Empire to the Armenian Genocide.
“The entire history of Armenian-Turkish relations amounts to about a thousand years of shared experiences,” explained Professor Garabet Moumjian who delivered the presentation. These historic issues, however, have been dealt with only marginally on both sides, with Turkey banning any discussion of the Armenian Genocide.
This, along with decades of animosity toward Turkey’s denial, has made it difficult for the budding of a positive and progressive movement toward normalizing relations, he explained. While he acknowledged that good neighborly relations are necessary for survival in an increasingly globalized world, Momujian noted that as much as this is important for Armenia’s, it is more important for Turks.
Moumjian said that because the larger part of Turkish society has been in denial for the past 94 years it has forgotten about an indigenous people that lived with them for nearly a millennium. “They have to deal with it with a real effort to know the past, and study it as opposed to forcefully forgetting it,” he said.
Armenia’s Legal Rights
A crucial aspect of that past is the fact that the Ottoman Government and its secular successor have stripped the Armenian people of their legal and historic rights to live on their ancestral homeland free and secure to exercise their right to self determination. Furthermore, a nearly incalculable amount of real property both in terms of land property and possessions were lost during the Armenian Genocide. Any relations between Armenia and Turkey must be founded on a mutual acceptance of this reality, according to the weekend’s second speaker, Steven Dedeyan, who is a member of the Armenian Revolutionary Federation’s Western USA Central Committee.
“As with any crime, in order to help ensure that it will not be recommitted, there has to be a remedy for the crime,” he said, adding that the Genocide has been a “sore on the body politic of the Armenian nation,” carried on for almost a century because the issue has not been resolved. As a result, the Armenian nation today has very legitimate claims against the government of Turkey, explained Dedeyan, discussing the Armenian nation’s legal and political rights under international law and specifically the Treaty of Sevres.
According to Article 89 of the Treaty of Sevres, Turkey and Armenia had agreed to submit to the arbitration of the US President and accept his decision to establish the Armenian-Turkish frontier “in the Vilayets of Erzerum, Trebizond, Van and Bitlis.” Article 90. Meanwhile, stipulated that both parties agreed to renounce “all rights and title over the territory so transferred” once Wilson’s stamp was set on the document.
Both articles stood as stand alone provisions within the treaty, with the full force of international law, whether or not the treaty was ratified. On November 22, 1920, US President Woodrow Wilson affixed his official seal on the his arbitral award issued pursuant to two articles, determining the Armenian-Turkish border.
“That action effectively and legally transferred the historic Armenian territories of Erzerum, Trebizond, Van and Bitlis under Turkish occupation to the first Republic of Armenia,” Dedeyan said. Because article 89 and 90 are still legally binding on Turkey, the “current border between between Armenia and Turkey is illegal; it’s a de facto border,” Dedeyan said. “This is the crux of the dispute between Armenia as well as the Armenian Diaspora as heirs to this legacy and Turkey today.”
“The legal border and frontier of Armenia and Turkey can only be governed and determined by treaties and here is where the problem arises for the Turks,” he added. “This is why they have no official relationship to Armenia.”
Since Armenia rarely discusses this issue it has left Turkey in the drivers seat as it consistently hinges the normalization of its relations with Armenia on signing a treaty that recognizes the current de-facto frontier between the two countries.
“This is a problem, Dedeyan explained. “If we sign such a treaty with Turkey, we will be giving up our political and legal rights,” he said. “The border that currently exists has no legal basis today.”
In essence, the Turkish government is using economic and military pressure today to force the Republic of Armenia to get what it cannot achieve given the current status of the treaties. This makes scrutiny of recent dialogue between Ankara and Yerevan all the more important. Under these circumstances, if Wilsonian Armenia is to be lost, it will have been the Republic of Armenia that gave it away and in the process, the diasporan heirs will have had their opportunity for justice undercut. For Dedeyan, it’s vital that this generation of activists work to ensure that the reconciliation between Armenia’s and Turks be rooted in the restoration of Armenia’s legal rights.
“Armenia cannot survive as an independent state with these current borders, let alone compete with Turkey, or in the world in general, on an equal economic footing,” he stressed.
The success of any relationship building measure requires a certain degree of equity, but that is currently devoid in the ongoing normalization process, noted Aram Kaloustian, the third presenter of the day and a member of the ARF’s Western US Central Committee. Armenia, under blockade by Turkey and Azerbaijan since 1993, has a far smaller and weaker economy than Turkey whose economy is ranked as the 15th largest economy in the world. Kaloustian presented the possible impacts on Armenia’s economy that open borders with Turkey would bring.
Citing a 2007 AIPRG conference on this issue held in Yerevan, Kaloustian said that analysts have predicted that an unbound frontier will allow the establishment of transport networks and energy links from Turkey through the Caucasus to Central Asia. The end of the blockade, he added, will also open up Armenia’s economy for Turkish business and vice versa.
But Armenia’s economy may be at a serious disadvantage in this scenario, Kaloustian noted, explaining that it is still in its infancy and ill-equipped to compete against its Turkish counterparts. “On the short term, the biggest factor that will be affected is the cost of transporting goods in and out of Armenia,” he said, underscoring how the Russian-Georgian war last August closed off Armenia’s main access point to the world, costing the country millions in lost trade.
Kaloustian noted that while the cost of shipping goods into and out of Armenia will drastically drop and certain sectors of the economy would benefit, these benefits would not be felt by the majority of the Armenia’s in the republic. If the Sarkisian Administration fails to address key concerns regarding economic corruption in Armenia, any benefits of the open border would overwhelmingly only be enjoyed by few within the republic.
“Armenia’s economy is small and concentrated in the hands of few. This puts Armenia at an unequal footing to compete with Turkey,” explained Kaloustian.
This is a reflection of the fact that Armenia does not have the laws in place to protect its national economy from being monopolized by Turkish corporations according to the previously cited AIPRG conference report. Highlighting the lack of preparedness in Armenia for an open boarder, one need only look at the energy sector of Armenia’s economy. When the Armenia-Turkey border opens, in the short run, Armenia will become an energy producer, exporting electricity from its hydroelectric plants to Turkey’s eastern provinces, which have remained largely underdeveloped since the Armenian Genocide.
“Unfortunately, the Armenian energy sector is primarily owned by foreign companies,” Kaloustian pointed out.
The average Armenian will not see the benefit of the border opening and it will have a limited impact in securing a short term relief from Armenia’s deepening economic recession. In this light, it becomes readily apparent that there may be a significant danger of trading away Armenia’s rights to lands necessary for its long-term stability and economic prosperity in return for short term reduction of costs and opportunities in a limited number of sectors, the benefits of which would unlikely be felt by the majority of Armenian citizens.
According to Kaloustian, the lifting of the blockade may also lead to a upsurge in development in the occupied provinces, where impoverished and oppressed Kurds currently make up the majority. Investment has already slowly begun to trickle into places like Garin and Van, transforming them into prominent centers of manufacturing.
“The richer and more developed these regions become, the more difficult it will be to transfer the land back to Armenia,” Kaloustian warned, noting how more and more generations of non-Armenia’s will settle on those lands once it becomes comfortable to live there.
A Contemporary Issue
The seminar ended with an open forum moderated by the weekend’s director Aram Madelian, who opened the floor for participants to discuss the topics presented. Debate over the implications of normalizing relations with Turkey and possible new avenues of activism toward attaining justice for the Armenian Genocide took center stage.
During the back and forth, some participants criticized the Armenian government’s handling of its rapprochement with Turkey; others expressed concerned with how open borders with Turkey would impact their lives here in America.
“What’s important for us to realize is that the matters discussed during this seminar are not issues to be relegated to the past, but causes for contemporary concern that must be addressed by us as a community, said Vache Thomassian, the chairman of the AYF, during the closing discussion. “Whether we live in Armenia, Europe, or the United States, the decisions made in Yerevan and Ankara in the coming months will affect us all for generations to come.”
When it comes to discussion of the Armenian Genocide, there is one topic that has, for far too long, been the proverbial elephant in the room. Although the topic is on virtually everyone’s mind, it tends to be left largely unaddressed or ignored for one reason or another. This topic is, of course, that of reparations.
For some, the idea of reparations is a radical dream; an impossible and fanatic proposition which takes away from the more feasible task of achieving recognition. It is taken for granted that the most Armenians can reasonably hope for is acknowledgment and an apology from Turkey. Among many such individuals, the cause of reparations is looked upon with automatic disapproval and disdain. Hence, the topic itself is barred from any serious consideration.
On the other side of the spectrum, there are those who maintain that recognition without reparation is meaningless; that the Turkish government must pay for the crimes it has committed and not be allowed to walk away scot-free. In this case, also, we find many who consider the matter so straightforward, that they see no need in discussing it further or elaborating upon the reasons why reparations are so fundamentally needed.
We argue that, not only are reparations far from being an unreachable goal, they are the only practical means for effectively bringing the Genocide issue to any sort of a just resolution. Given its crucial importance to healing the wounds created by the Genocide, it is imperative that the merits and meaning of reparations be properly explained and expounded upon. This article will attempt to lay out some of the many reasons why reparations are so essential.
At the core of why reparations are necessary is the concept of justice. A colossal crime was committed against the Armenian nation and our moral instinct demands that we redress this in an adequate fashion. This major wrongdoing must be compensated for in order to restore some semblance of balance and normality.
To illustrate, let us imagine for a moment that someone tortures, rapes, and murders your family; invades and occupies your home; steals all of your wealth and belongings; desecrates your family heritage and possessions; and expels you by force from your home. Not only does the perpetrator refuse to give any compensation to your family, he aggressively denies that a crime ever even took place. The blame is deflected, instead, upon you and your offspring–who must struggle to even mourn or remember their family–while the criminal portrays himself in public as the victim.
After all of this, would it be enough for the criminal to simply give you an apology and say he will no longer inflict any further mistreatment on you? Of course not! It would be perfectly reasonable for all of us to want some sort of reparations; some form of payment for the damage that has been done.1
In this vein, the Turkish government has a moral responsibility to pay the huge debt it owes to the Armenian people. Just because Turkey has, as of yet, not paid this debt does not mean that the debt itself disappears. On the contrary, it is the Armenian people who are continuing to bear the brunt of this debt through the loss of years of human and material capital, dispersion in the Diaspora, the compromise of our historic homeland, a small and landlocked Republic, psychological suffering, and economic hardship. Indeed, a great deal is already being paid–the problem is that it is largely the victim rather than the perpetrator who is doing the paying.
For this reason alone, some form of reparations proportionate to the suffering caused by the crime is a must for anyone concerned with upholding justice and repairing the wounds wrought by the Genocide. As explained by genocide scholar Taner Akcam in a recent commentary about discussions of the Genocide within Turkey,
The process of healing a past injustice must take place within the realm of justice, not [just] freedom . . . Today, however, in many democratic nations in the West . . . Injustices of the past are freely discussed, but the wounds from the past continue because justice remains undone. All of the powerful states’ relationships with former colonies; the massacres and genocidal episodes from colonial periods; slavery in America, etc., all of these remain unresolved in the realm of justice. Therefore, even if the %u218Armenian problem’ were to be discussed freely in Turkey it would nevertheless remain unresolved.2
Closely related to the issue of justice is the maintenance of human dignity for the Armenian people.
It is well known that one of the principal features of genocide is the denigration of the target population’s humanity. Once again, as Akcam points out:
Every large-scale massacre begins by removing the targeted group from humanity. That group’s human dignity is trampled on, and they begin to be defined by biological terms like %u218bacteria,’ %u218parasite,’ %u218germ,’ or %u218cancerous cell.’ The victims aren’t usually defined only as something that needs to be removed from a healthy body: they are socially and culturally demeaned, their humanity removed. . . Our humane duty is to restore the dignity of these victims and show them the respect they deserved as human beings. Reparations and other similar moves to heal past injustice work to restore the victims’ dignity and gain meaning as a way of repairing emotional wounds.3
To ask that the Turkish government merely grant us an apology without demanding that they do anything significant to rectify our suffering–or worse, to seek reconciliation without addressing the Genocide at all–is the ultimate form of surrendering our human dignity. Giving up our rightful claims and simply seeking to have the perpetrator acknowledge what we already know to be true is equivalent to forfeiting our rights as a people; and, hence, indirectly accepting the success of the Genocide itself.4
Pursuing such an outcome will prove to be even more detrimental to the dignity, self-respect, and self-determination of the Armenian people than not having the Genocide recognized at all.
Finally, the matter of reparations has profound meaning for the security and viability of the Armenian Republic.
Let us not forget that the motivation behind the Genocide itself was to destroy Armenians as an entity in the region. The present borders of Armenia were purposely designed under pressure from Turkey as a way of reducing the country into one incapable of surviving on its own. Such a policy of aggression was fueled by an institutionalized prejudice against Armenian national self-determination which continues to manifest itself in Turkish society to this day.
Changing this reality will require more than a mere symbolic apology or recognition of historical facts. It will require meaningful compensation and tangible measures which ensure Armenia’s long-term sustainability, as well as programs to tackle the hostile attitudes in Turkish society against its neighbors and minorities.
As scholar Henry Theriault has pointed out, recognition alone is no guarantee of improved relations or a change in Turkey’s adversarial stance. Indeed, Ankara could stand up tomorrow and admit the historical reality of the Armenian Genocide, only to retract its statement or worsen relations the day after. In his words, The giving of reparations, especially land reparations, transforms acknowledgment and apology into concrete, meaningful acts rather than mere rhetoric.5
In addition, reparations are an important deterrent for future governments in Turkey–and potential perpetrators of genocide around the world–from repeating similar atrocities in the future. Failure to implement any sort of punishment for an act as horrific as genocide sends a signal to despots everywhere that they can commit such acts with impunity. This is certainly the lesson Turkish leaders have drawn as they have gone on to suppress and carry out massive ethnic cleansing operations against their own Kurdish minority.
As Armenians, we have a moral responsibility to prevent future atrocities and end the cycle of genocide. To give up our demands for reparations and simply seek an apology for the Genocide would be worst than not having it recognized at all. This is because we would be helping Turkey tell the world that a state can commit genocide, admit to it, and subsequently face no consequences whatsoever.
Resolution through Reparations
For these, and a host of other reasons, it seems clear that a lasting solution to the pain, loss, and enmity created by the Armenian Genocide will necessarily require large-scale reparations on behalf of the Turkish government. Otherwise, any hope of genuine reconciliation and regional stability will remain a hollow illusion.
To those who would still argue that, despite the merits, forcing reparations from Turkey is a hopeless and impossible dream, we would remind them that a mere twenty years ago, the same would have been said about those seeking the independence of Armenia. It would have been equally unrealistic to imagine then that a Turkish Nobel laureate and countless dissident intellectuals would be openly questioning Ankara’s narrative on the Armenian Genocide.
Today, the world is more aware than it has ever been about the facts of the Armenian Genocide, and we see the Turkish government increasingly on the defensive when it comes to this issue. The momentum towards moving beyond recognition and securing compensation for the countless losses incurred during the Genocide is also increasingly gathering pace. Thus, rather than being an impossible dream, the attainment of reparations appears, in many ways, the most probable in recent memory.
Furthermore, as we have shown, seeking recognition without reparation is potentially more harmful than not attaining recognition at all. As such, achieving reparations remains the most critical means for securing a just and lasting resolution. Concurrently, to turn away from reparations would be a disservice to all those who have suffered from the Genocide and those who continue to struggle to overcome it.
Editor’s Note: Serouj Aprahamian is an editor of the HAYTOUG Magazine, the official publication of the Armenian Youth Federation-Western Region. His article appeared in the special April 24 commemorative issue of the magazine, which can be found in community centers, schools and local book stores. To order a free subscription to the haytoug, visit: https://www.ayfwest.org/haytoug.php
TORRANCE, South Bay–For the past three years, Torrance High School has been giving students in the South Bay area a unique opportunity to peer into the history of the Armenian Genocide through presentations from local members of the Armenian Youth Federation.
This year, members of the South Bay’s AYF Potorig chapter visited the high school on April 20 to present to some 800 students on the denial of the Armenian Genocide and how Turkey’s ability to escape culpability for its crime continues to fuel the cycle of genocide.
The annual educationals began after Marine Karapetyan, a member of the Potorig Chapter, approached her alma mater with a simple proposal to help the school teach its students about the evils of genocide. Since then her AYF chapter has been actively working with the school administration to organize its April 24 commemorative events.
Our chapter is small but we have a responsibility to raise awareness within our community of the global and modern repercussions of the Armenian Genocide, Karapetyan said. What better way to educate the community then through its schools.
This passion and drive to help educate others on the history of their people has not gone unappreciated at the school, where many in the faculty have expressed their eagerness to organize more presentations on the topic of genocide.
I think it’s an issue that not enough people and certainly not enough high school students know enough about it, said the school’s activities director, Eric Spotts. It’s a great topic to tie in and increase awareness for young people and even teachers. I think there are some teachers who hopefully got something out of this presentation as well.
Speaking to six separate class periods throughout the day, Potorig members covered the gamut of issues related to the Armenian Genocide, from the historic presence of the Armenian people on the Armenian Plateau to their struggle for civil rights in the Ottoman Empire and how their movement for change was met by massacres, deportations and annihilation.
We were hoping the students would appreciate our presentation and the significance of it if they were introduced to the people and the culture of Armenia, said Karapetyan, noting how an understanding of where the Armenian people came from and where they were in their historical and cultural development at the time of the genocide helps place the true destruction of the killings into perspective.
Throughout this year, members from the Potorig chapter have been organizing presentations on the Genocide at local highs chools and colleges. Recently, they presented to students at the University of Southern California studying to become history teachers.
What we accomplished during these presentations is only an example of what can be done at every school, said Hasmig Karagozian, Potorig’s chairwoman.