Wednesday, April 29, 2015

Sassounian: Armenians Should Now Pursue Legal Claims Rather than Further Genocide Recognition

Armenians experienced unforgettable days last week during the Centennial commemorations of the Armenian Genocide. In many respects, Turkish denialists’ much-feared “Tsunami” became a reality! While Armenians around the world were busy organizing commemorative events in recent years, their efforts were amplified by some unexpected developments, including Turkish President Erdogan’s irrational rhetoric and reaction.
The year began with Erdogan’s childish maneuver, switching the Gallipoli War Centennial to April 24, to derail the observances planned for the Armenian Genocide Centennial. The international media quickly exposed the Turkish president’s ploy, providing extensive publicity for the upcoming genocide anniversary.
Flowers placed at the Armenian Genocide Memorial m=and Monument at Dzidzernagapert in Armenia (Photo: Harout Kassabian)
In early April, the Kardashians’ visit to Armenia generated thousands of articles and TV reports, and millions of social media posts. A few days later, Pope Francis created his own “Tsunami” by uttering his courageous words on the Armenian Genocide. Once again, Erdogan made matters worse for Turkey by insulting not only the Pope, but also 1 billion Catholics and the nation of Argentina, the Pontiff’s birthplace. Shortly thereafter, the European Parliament adopted a resolution on the Armenian Genocide, providing further media coverage of this issue.
Being in Armenia for the first time on April 24, and on the occasion of the Centennial, was a deeply moving experience. The Armenian government did monumental work inviting 1,000 dignitaries from 60 countries, including prominent scholars, legal experts, political leaders, parliamentarians from 30 countries, and survivors of other genocides. On April 22-23, the distinguished guests participated in a Global Forum “Against the Crime of Genocide,” where I delivered brief remarks castigating President Barack Obama’s failure to keep his promise on using the term “Armenian Genocide.” I explained that contrary to a widely held misperception, the United States has repeatedly recognized the Armenian Genocide.
On April 23, all six political parties represented in the Austrian Parliament issued a joint declaration recognizing the Armenian Genocide. As expected, Turkey overreacted by withdrawing its ambassador from Vienna. This is the second Turkish ambassador to be recalled to Ankara this month. As an increasing number of countries recognize the Armenian Genocide, Turkey may soon have fewer envoys, isolating itself from much of the world!
Also on April 23, German President Joachim Gauck delivered a powerful speech at a memorial service in Berlin, acknowledging not only the Armenian Genocide, but also Germany’s complicity in the Ottoman-Turkish genocidal campaign. Despite heavy pressure from Turkish leaders, the German Bundestag is expected to adopt a similarly worded resolution that would send shock waves throughout the 1,000 rooms of President Erdogan’s newly built palace, since Germany was Turkey’s ally in 1915, and continues its close relationship until today.
In the evening of April 23, the Catholicos of All Armenians Karekin II and the Catholicos of the Great House of Cilicia Aram I jointly presided over a historic rite of canonization in Etchmiadzin, declaring the 1.5 million Armenian Genocide victims to be Saints. Following this moving ritual, at the exact hour of 19:15 or 7:15 p.m., churches throughout the world began ringing their bells 100 times. Later that night, the System of a Down band performed a free concert at Yerevan’s Republic Square. The thousands of young people in attendance were highly energized despite the heavy downpour. The concert was aired live, disseminating the band’s genocide message to millions of people worldwide.
The Catholicos of All Armenians Karekin II and the Catholicos of the Great House of Cilicia Aram I jointly presided over a historic rite of canonization in Etchmiadzin, declaring the Armenian Genocide victims to be Saints. (Photo: Varant Meguerditchian )
On April 24, a memorable observance took place on the grounds of Dzidzernagapert, the Armenian Genocide Monument in Yerevan, with the participation of hundreds of religious leaders, ambassadors, officials, and the presidents of Russia, France, Cyprus, and Serbia. While the heads of two superpowers came to Yerevan on April 24, Turkey was unable to attract to Gallipoli the same caliber of leaders, despite its considerable efforts. It was perfectly fitting to this solemn occasion that the distinguished guests at the Yerevan Memorial spent several hours huddled in blankets like refugees, in freezing temperatures, sheltered under a large canvass from the rain.
One of the most stunning developments last week was Turkish Prime Minister Ahmet Davutoglu’s declaration that the Armenian “deportations were a Crime Against Humanity”—which, under international law, is tantamount to recognizing the Armenian Genocide. No one should be surprised if Erdogan dismisses Davutoglu after the June parliamentary elections.
Now that the Centennial is behind us, it is high time that Armenians turn the page on Armenian Genocide recognition and begin to systematically pursue their claims from Turkey through international, regional, and local tribunals.

Akcam: The Other Turkey

Prof. Taner Akcam, the Robert Aram, Marianne Kaloosdian, and Stephen and Marian Mugar Chair in Armenian Genocide Studies at Clark University, gave the following remarks at the Armenian Genocide Commemoration in Times Square, New York, on April 26.
On this, a day laden with great urgency and historical meaning, I would like to thank you for allowing me to appear with you and to share your grief and sorrow.
Today does not merely mark the centennial of the annihilation of some 1.5 million Armenians; it also marks a century of denial of this crime. The Turkish government continues to deny not merely any responsibility for the horrors inflicted upon Armenian people, but even the fact that it happened at all. As a Turk, it is from this fact that my sorrow and great shame derive.
A scene from the Armenian Genocide commemoration in Times Square (Photo: Tom Vartabedian)
My sole consolation is that I do not grieve alone. The nation of Turkey consists of more than simply its denialist regime; there is another Turkey, and the citizens of that Turkey are ready to face their history. It is those Turks who feel obligated to erase the black stain left by those who committed these crimes. In more than 25 cities from Istanbul to Van, the people of this Turkey have not waited for a denialist government to recognize the genocide. Instead, they have been blazing a new path, one that allows them to discover their past. I am not an official representative of this other Turkey, but I know I speak for many when I convey to you, the Armenian people, my sincere apologies for both past crimes and for this century of denial.
Here, as I stand before you today, I think I can promise in name of this other Turkey to do everything in our power to finally put an end to this denialism.
Our history is not merely a chronicle of murderers. It is also a history of brave and righteous people who risked their lives to save thousands of Armenians. And it is only through the recognition and honoring of these people that we can hope to build a better future. While we should indeed today condemn those crimes committed and the refusal to acknowledge them, we must also acknowledge our debt to those who refused to participate in or actively opposed them. Such persons have taught us, through their example, that human decency and courage can indeed survive in times of great evil.
Recognition of my country’s historic wrongs is not simply important for the sake of historical accuracy—instead, it directly concerns the kind of society that we envision for our future. Dehumanization is the most important component of all mass atrocities. In order to be able to kill, perpetrators first dehumanize their victims. Recognition of the crime is necessary for restoring that humanity, for returning to the victims their dignity! Without this recognition subsequent generations cannot properly mourn and heal. Mourning and healing are necessary for closure, and can only come after the truth is acknowledged. If we fail to do so, we inadvertently lend legitimization to the perpetrators and their goals. After decades of denials, you Armenians need to heal and to be assured that the justice you seek will be attained. Any reconciliation between Turks and Armenians will have to be built on a foundation of acknowledged truth! Without truth, there cannot be peace. And I am here to assure you in name of this “other Turkey” that we are determined to continue the struggle until the truth shall finally prevail.
To achieve a Turkey that is a democratic, secure society and respectful of human rights, it must begin with a confronting of the past, an acknowledging of past wrongs.
A hundred years ago, the Ottoman government had a flawed concept of national security. They viewed the Armenians and their demands for equality and social justice as a threat to the Ottoman state and society. They targeted the Armenians for extermination. Today in Turkey, Turkish and Armenian children are taught, through textbooks published by the Education Ministry, that the Armenians continue today to pose a threat to national security. These textbooks are filled with hateful and racist remarks against Armenians and are steeped in distorted narratives about “treacherous Armenians.”
Today in Turkey, Turkish and Armenian children are taught, through textbooks published by the Education Ministry, that the Armenians continue today to pose a threat to national security. These textbooks are filled with hateful and racist remarks against Armenians and are steeped in distorted narratives about ‘treacherous Armenians.’
It is very troubling to see that the U.S. has still not officially recognized the Armenian Genocide. The justification for their position remains the same: the crucial role of Turkey in the country’s geopolitical security strategy. To raise a moral argument regarding a century-old event, they argue, would needlessly anger their Turkish ally and jeopardize American security interests. It is ironic that the words “national security” continue to haunt Armenian people even here in the United States.
But juxtaposing “national interest” and “morality” is just plain wrong. Any security policy in the Middle East that excludes morality cannot ultimately be a “realistic” policy because it ultimately undermines national security. History and historical injustices are not dead issues and have very real consequences in the Middle East, where the past has always been the present. There is a strong interconnection between security, democracy, and the accurate understanding of history, and perhaps nowhere more than in the Middle East.
Juxtaposing ‘national interest’ and ‘morality’ is just plain wrong. Any security policy in the Middle East that excludes morality cannot ultimately be a ‘realistic’ policy because it ultimately undermines national security. History and historical injustices are not dead issues and have very real consequences in the Middle East, where the past has always been the present.
Historical injustices and their continual denial by a state or dominant group pose an obstacle to both further democratization and also for stable relations between different ethnic and religious groups. Kurds, Arabs, Alewites, Armenians and other Christians in the region perceive each other and Turkey through this flawed prism of history. If we want a successful regional policy, we have to find a way to integrate acknowledgement of past wrongs into any national security policy.
Turkey’s ongoing policy of denialism both at home and abroad is not simply a moral abomination; it threatens to the country and the region’s democracy, stability, and security.
Turkey continues its denialist policies because it has yet to face serious external pressure to do otherwise. This “other Turkey” of which I spoke is determined to face up to the darker history of our country’s past and put an end to the denialist policies. All that is lacking is external pressure from international community.
The United States has thus far continued to support the denialist regime in Turkey, but how can the United States, which prides itself on its exceptionalism in supporting liberal values and human rights at home and across the world, justify a position at odds with its own democratic values? America should not uphold human rights only when it is expedient. The test of American exceptionalism is the commitment to persevere in upholding these principles even when it may seem costly or inconvenient to do so.
By officially recognizing the Armenian Genocide, the United States could lend its moral and political weight to encourage Turkey to come to terms with its history, to further embrace democratization, and to contribute to its own future stability and that of the region. The citizens of my Turkey, the “other Turkey,” and the Armenians throughout the world are waiting for the U.S. to join us in acknowledging the truth.
Again, I thank you for allowing me to address to you here on this day of both sorrow and hope. Let us remember and honor the victims, and continue to figh

Commemorations in Istanbul Demand Truth, Justice for Genocide

Commemorations in Istanbul Demand Truth, Justice for Genocide

ISTANBUL, Turkey (A.W.)—Human rights organizations in Turkey, under the umbrella group “100th Year—Stop Denialism,” gathered in front of the Museum of Turkish and Islamic Arts in Sultanahmet Square on April 24. The building was known as the central prison in 1915; individuals from the Istanbul Armenian community, including intellectual and cultural leaders, were arrested in their homes, detained here, and then sent off to the Haydarpasha train station.
A commemoration was held at Haydarpasha with participants holding photographs of the intellectuals arrested and killed in 1915, and placards that demanded recognition and reparations for the Armenian Genocide. (Photo: George Aghjayan)
After a moment of silence, the crowd began the “Genocide March,” walking from Sultanahmet to Eminönü, and then crossing over to Haydarpasha by sea. The detainees of April 24, 1915, were deported from Haydarpasha to the depths of the country—in actual fact, to their deaths.
A commemoration was held at Haydarpasha with participants holding photographs of the intellectuals arrested and killed in 1915, and placards that demanded recognition and reparations for the Armenian Genocide.
From Haydarpasha, the crowd proceeded to the Şişli Armenian Cemetery to commemorate Sevag Şahin Balıkçı, a victim of an ethnic-hate murder on April 24, 2011, while on mandatory military duty in Batman, and to express its support to the Balıkçı family in their pursuit of justice.
In the early afternoon, thousands held a commemoration in Istanbul’s Taksim Square. The commemoration event included a Wishing Tree ceremony, when participants from Turkey and abroad tied strips of fabric to a tree as homage to the victims and survivors of the genocide.
Thousands gathered in Taksim Square to commemorate the Armenian Genocide. (Photo: Rupen Janbazian)
Following the Wishing Tree ceremony, participants held pictures of the Armenian intellectuals who were murdered a century ago in Istanbul, including Taniel Varoujan, Rupen Zartarian, and Krikor Zohrab. During the sit-in, they were joined by thousands of protesters who held banners and signs urging the Turkish government to recognize the Armenian Genocide. The demonstration, which was organized by the Nor Zartonk youth movement of Istanbul, began at Galatasaray High School (Galatasaray Lisesi), and saw participants marching down Istiklal Street to join the commemoration.
During the commemoration, Dr. Heghnar Zeitlian Watenpaugh delivered a speech in Armenian and Turkish on behalf of Project 2015. The voices of our ancestors, she said, “are calling for justice. We are calling for justice. We are here today with Armenians from around the world and citizens of many nationalities who have traveled to stand against denial. We are here today with citizens of Turkey who are standing with us in our quest for redress and restitution.”
Project 2015 has been a two-year-long effort to organize members of the Armenian Diaspora and others committed to human rights and genocide prevention in the U.S., Europe, and the Middle East to travel to Turkey to join the centennial commemoration.
A scene from the Armenian Genocide commemoration event at the Haydarpasha train station (Photo: George Aghjayan)

From Haydarpasha to Ayash on April 24 … 2015

Special for the Armenian Weekly
I was awakened unexpectedly at 4 a.m. on April 24, 2015.
There was no knock at the door. No noise on the street. No alarm clock. Just a sudden awakening and an early start to a long day.
A scene from the Armenian Genocide commemoration held at the Haydarpasha train station (Photo: Matthew Karanian)
The day was still two hours shy of sunrise, but I was unable to rest. Instead, I stared out the window of my hotel room, and I squinted at the distant lights of Taksim Square in central Istanbul.
One hundred years ago, hundreds of others were awakened at this same hour in this same city. For most of them, it would be the start of a life-ending journey. For me, it was the start of another day trying to make sense of a senseless event.
I was in Istanbul on April 24 because I wanted to be in the city where, 100 years earlier, the warrant for the arrest of the Armenian nation was first executed. I wanted to commemorate our national tragedy in the place where the tragedy had begun.
On April 24, 1915, hundreds of Armenian intellectuals, activists, and national leaders had been rousted from their sleep without explanation, setting in motion a national holocaust and a century-long national trauma.
Some of these leaders had lived in the Taksim Square area of central Istanbul. Gomidas, the cultural and artistic leader of the Armenian nation, was one of them. He lived in an apartment just down the street from my hotel.
And so I found myself, on April 24, 2015, at the Ground Zero of the Armenian Genocide staring up at a window that I imagined might have been the bedroom window of Gomidas himself.
The Armenian community, and friends of the Armenians, protested peacefully in Istanbul on April 24 this year. There were candle-light vigils and public gatherings of prayer. There was a memorial concert. And there was a short pilgrimage, a march, from Taksim Square to the former home of Gomidas.
A man holds a sign reading, ‘This building is a crime scene,’ at the Haydarpasha train station (Photo: Matthew Karanian)
I walked with a group of hundreds to the former Gomidas home. The crowd was too large for the sidewalk, but not too large to go unnoticed. We marched. We held placards at the home, which is today located above a modern drug store. We created a traffic jam because we unavoidably blocked one lane of traffic on the busy street.
But when the vigil here had ended, and after we had walked back to our hotels, the traffic again flowed freely, and Istanbul went on with its business. I imagined that we had today been unnoticed. That we had been unimportant to the business, the politics, and the cultural life of Istanbul.
One hundred years ago, after our leaders had been arrested, they were taken by train to a central station just outside the city. Here, at this train station, called Haydarpasha, the gravity of the situation first became apparent to many of the arrestees.
At the train station, our leaders realized that they weren’t alone.
They looked about and discovered their Armenian neighbors were here, too. They each realized that their arrest hadn’t been a single, solitary mistake that could be corrected. They realized that the entire leadership of the Armenian community of Istanbul had been targeted, arrested, and put on a train east.
And so, on the afternoon of April 24, I arrived at this same train station. I suppose I may have arrived at the same hour, or at least on the same date, as my ancestors had, 100 years earlier.
Hundreds of other Armenians, and friends of Armenians, made the same journey on April 24, 2015. We displayed placards that showed the faces of some of the arrestees. We held a banner commemorating the genocide. Some signs declared that the train station was a crime scene.
Customers at a nearby café were curious. But not too curious. They didn’t leave their seats. Our vigil was briefly disturbed by the noise of a nearby construction worker’s jack hammer until one of the protesters admonished the worker to stop working, at least for a few minutes. He obliged.
And then we left. The café resumed selling Turkish coffee.
The construction worker returned to work.
And the two dozen or so tactical police who had been standing by just around the corner, out of sight, went on to their next job.
One hundred years ago, the arrestees who we commemorated here had subsequently been transported for processing at a station just outside Ankara, which is east of Istanbul. And so on April 25, 2015, I traveled to this location as well. I was following the path of destruction.
On April 25, I found myself at the site of the prison where our arrestees had been taken following their arrests, a remote place outside Ankara, a place known as Ayash.
I looked for the prison. Instead I found the Turkish equivalent of a Seven-Eleven. The site had been cleansed of its history.
I was traveling with a small group. We unfurled a banner commemorating our national loss. Someone in our group spoke a few words in memoriam. And then we left.
There was no one to see our banner. No one to hear our words. But we observed our loss. And we remembered our past. Our origin.
And then the dust settled back down on Ayash—a forgotten footnote of a town, perhaps, for local historians. But a painful headline for the Armenian nation.
Matthew Karanian is a lawyer in Pasadena, Calif. He is the author of the newly published book, Historic Armenia After 100 Years, which details the cultural and historic Armenian landmarks of Ani, Kars, and the six provinces of Western Armenia. Details at

Maine Genocide Commemoration to Feature ‘The Great Fire’

On Thurs., May 14, Portland Public Library and the Armenian Cultural Association of Maine will host an evening to commemorate the 100th anniversary of the Armenian Genocide. Author Lou Ureneck will speak about his newly released book The Great Fire: One American’s Mission to Rescue Victims of the 20th Century’s First Genocide.
The evening begins at 7:15 p.m. in the Rines Auditorium with comments from the president of the Armenian Cultural Association of Maine, Gerard Kiladjian, and will be punctuated with a historical photo display of Armenian culture in Maine. There will be a reception in the Lewis Gallery after the lecture.
The Great Fire: One American’s Mission to Rescue Victims of the 20th Century’s First Genocide is the harrowing story of a Methodist minister and a principled American naval officer who helped rescue more than 250,000 refugees during the Genocide of Armenian and Greek Christians. It is a tale of bravery, morality, and politics, published to coincide with the Armenian Genocide Centennial. By turns harrowing and inspiring, The Great Fire uses eyewitness accounts, documents, and survivor narratives to bring this episode—extraordinary for its brutality as well as its heroism—to life.
Lou Ureneck, a former Nieman fellow and editor-in-residence at Harvard University, is a journalism professor at Boston University. He was deputy managing editor at the Philadelphia Inquirer and editor of the Portland (Maine) Press Herald.
Portland Public Library’s Brown Bag Lecture Series features bi-weekly reading and question-and-answer sessions with authors from around the nation as well as those who hail from Maine.
All Brown Bag Lectures are free to the public (unless specifically noted as a fundraiser). Because they usually take place over the lunch hour, guests are encouraged to bring their lunch; coffee is provided by Coffee by Design. Books on sale at each lecture are courtesy of Longfellow Books, which donates a portion of the proceeds to the Portland Public Library.
For more information,

Cilicia Catholicosate Files Lawsuit against Turkey for Return of Historic Headquarters

 On Tues. April 28, the Catholicosate of the Great House of Cilicia filed a lawsuit in the Turkish Constitutional Court to regain ownership of the historic headquarters of the Church, which includes the Catholicosate, the monastery, and cathedral of St. Sophia, a major Armenian Christian holy site located in Sis (currently Kozan), in south-central Turkey. This site was confiscated by the Turkish Government following the genocide of 1915 in which an estimated 1.5 million Armenians were killed or deported by the Ottoman Empire.

The Catholicosate of the Great House of Cilicia filed a lawsuit in the Turkish Constitutional Court to regain ownership of the historic headquarters of the Church, which includes the Catholicosate, the monastery, and cathedral of St. Sophia, a major Armenian Christian holy site located in Sis.
The Catholicosate’s press statement regarding the lawsuit is available here.
This lawsuit reflects the determination of Armenians worldwide, on the Centenary of the genocide, to reclaim their sacred religious property and Christian heritage in lands where they lived peacefully for centuries.
A press conference is scheduled to take place at the National Press Club in Washington, D.C. on April 29 with the participation of Archbishop Oshagan Choloyan, prelate of the Armenian Apostolic Church of Eastern U.S.; Payam Akhavan, former UN prosecutor at the Hague and lead international counsel in this case; Cem Sofuogleu, Turkish human rights lawyer and local counsel in this case; Teny Pirri-Simonian, senior advisor to the Armenian Catholicosate of Cilicia; and Aram Hamparian, executive director of the Armenian National Committee of America.
The Catholicosate, which is the administrative center of the Church, was moved from Armenia to Cilicia in the 10th century, and after changing a few locations it was finally established in Sis in the year 1295, where it remained until 1921. Under the Ottoman Empire, the Catholicosate of Cilicia was recognized as an independent church.  During the Armenian Genocide of 1915-23, the Armenian population of Sis was massacred and deported, and its Christian holy sites were pillaged and confiscated.
In 301 A.D., Armenia became the first nation to adopt Christianity as its state religion.  Armenians have had a long historical presence in what is present-day Turkey.
According to Payam Akhavan, a former UN prosecutor and lead international counsel in this legal action, the return of the historical Seat of the Catholicosate of Cilicia “is a litmus test for the Turkish Government’s respect for the human rights of its Christian minorities, their freedom of worship in a culture of tolerance and dignity.  This is a unique opportunity to do justice, to help heal the wounds of the past, to move towards Turkish-Armenian reconciliation, a better future for both nations.”
ANCA Executive Director Aram Hamparian noted that “The restoration of the Catholicosate would represent an act of justice, a first step toward the legal return of the Armenian Church and its faithful to their lawful place in their rightful homeland, and a meaningful milestone in the Armenian nation’s journey toward a just resolution of the Armenian Genocide.”

Aleppo’s Armenian Church of Forty Martyrs Destroyed

ALEPPO, Syria (A.W.)—The Armenian Church of Forty Martyrs in Judayda, Aleppo, has been destroyed. Some sources reported that the church was bombed with explosives placed underneath the structure through underground tunnels; others claimed the destruction was due to shelling.
Aleppo’s Armenian Church of Forty Martyrs destroyed (photo: iNews)
The Prelacy of the Armenian Apostolic Church of the Eastern U.S. confirmed the destruction of the church to the Armenian Weekly.
The Forty Martyrs Church dates back to the 15th century. The first mention of the church appeared in the second edition of the book, The Exploit of the Holy Bible, by Father Melikseth in 1476. The bell tower was built in 1912. The Church housed khatchkars, relics, and icons, including “The Last Judgment,” a painting that dates back to 1703.
The Church was at the center of Armenian community life in Aleppo, where for centuries religious and cultural initiatives took place.
The destruction of the Forty Martyrs Church comes about four months after terrorists bombed the Armenian Catholic Cathedral Our Lady of Pity (also known as St. Rita), located next to the Armenian Catholic Archeparchy of Aleppo, leaving the church partly destroyed. In September 2014, terrorists destroyed the Armenian Genocide Memorial Church in Der Zor, Syria—considered the Auschwitz of the Armenian Genocide.
Before the start of the Syrian crisis in the spring of 2011, between 60,000-70,000 Armenians called Syria home, constituting less than 0.5 percent of the country’s total population. More than half of them lived in Aleppo, with the other half scattered in such cities as Latakia, Homs, Qamishli, Hasakeh, Yaqubiye, Raqqa, Kessab, and the capital Damascus.
A photograph of the Forty Martyrs Armenian Church in Aleppo taken in 2006 (photo: Hovic, CC BY-SA 2.0)