Saturday, October 29, 2011

‘I Want for Armenians what I want for Kurds’: An interview with Mayor Abdullah Demirbas

DIYARBAKIR, Turkey (A.W.)—Abdullah Demirbas is a man on a mission. The mayor of Diyarbakir’s central district strives to restore some of the city’s multicultural, multiethnic character through a series of initiatives to renovate places on worship, adopt multilingualism, and encourage those with roots in the city to return.

I sat down with the mayor in his office in Diyarbakir on Oct. 23.
“For decades, we were told, ‘people [of different cultures] can’t live together, so we won’t tolerate difference, we will make them all the same,’” Demirbas laments. “Ours is an effort to restore what was lost during the state’s campaign to erase different identities, faiths, and cultures in the city.”
From the moment a visitor enters the city, signs of this multicultural approach manifest themselves, literally. Diyarbakir is the first city in Turkey to welcome its visitors with signs in Armenian.
“We could have done it in Turkish and Kurdish only. But these lands do not belong to the Turks and Kurds alone. They are also the lands of Armenians, Assyrians, and Chaldeans,” the Kurdish mayor explains.
These signs are not just for visitors, but constitute an effort to change mindsets. “We want the people living in the city to realize that historically, Diyarbakir has always been a multicultural city,” he noted.
More than 100,000 Armenians lived in the Diyarbakir province in 1914. Although mostly peasants living in villages like Palu and Lice, the majority of the tradesmen in the province were also Armenian. In turn, Armenian craftsmen and artisans, constituted a significant presence in the province.
The Armenian genocide shattered this vibrant community. Diyarbakir witnessed one of the most violent and comprehensive campaigns of massacre in the Ottoman Empire, with most Armenians being killed outside the city walls. The Armenian wealth was confiscated by the authorities and local elites. Within a few years, the centuries-old Armenian presence in the province was erased.
Demirbas does not mince his words when talking about the Armenian genocide. “Our grandparents, incited by others, committed wrongs. But we, their grandchildren, will not repeat them. Not only that, but we will also not allow others to repeat them,” he says. “We learned from the past. Those lessons inform our actions in the present, and will continue informing them in the future.”
The mayor insists that he does not believe in “dry apologies” but actions that demonstrate genuineness and sincerity. He sees the renovation of Sourp Giragos as one manifestation of this approach. “Today, we are not simple asking for forgiveness in a dry fashion,” he notes. “I am a Kurd. And I want for Armenians what I want for the Kurds.”
“What is your message to the Armenians who were uprooted from their ancestral lands?” I ask him. He changes his posture, looks at me straight in the eyes, and says, “Return! At least come and find your homes and your lands. If you can find your old houses, renovate them! Have a home here too. This is your motherland. Other lands cannot and will not be your motherland. Come to your lands, we want to correct the past wrong. This is our message!”
Demirbas has suffered dearly for his multicultural initiatives and for being an outspoken critic of the Turkish state. Twenty-three lawsuits have been filed against him, he says, asking for 232 years of imprisonment. “I am the only mayor in Turkey who was forced out of his post. I was imprisoned for two years for my opinions and policies, but when I returned, I was reelected with an even bigger margin,” he says.
Diyarbakir, a predominantly Kurdish region, promises to become an oasis of multiculturalism in a desert of denial and oppressive policies. The strategy of embracing all cultures—as opposed to struggling solely for Kurdish autonomy and rights—could serve as an example for other Kurdish dominated municipalities in the Southeast.
Demirbas’s efforts are not lost on the international community. The European Union and the U.S. encourage Diyarbakir’s multicultural initiatives and restoration efforts. The EU has provided a grant to highlight the city’s historic and cultural heritage. The U.S. Ambassador to Turkey, U.S. consuls in Istanbul and Adana, and embassy staff attended the mass in Sourp Giragos. The consuls also attended the consecration of the church the day before. “Our multicultural approach is in line with theirs,” the mayor notes.
The Turkish state, on the other hand, is far behind, argues Demirbas. “There was no representative from the state today [in Sourp Giragos]. But they will come. They will have to. And it all depends on our struggle,” he says. “I was thrown in prison, my 16-year-old son has joined the PKK and is on the mountains, and [the state] will harass me again, they will imprison me again, even something worse might happen to me, but I act based on my convictions. And one day they, too, will come.”

By Khatchig Mouradian

Wednesday, October 26, 2011

Open Letter to "Facing History and Ourselves"

Readers are urged to contact "Facing History" at;

The below letter by journalist and human rights activist David Boyajian of Belmont, Massachusetts is addressed to Facing History and Ourselves Executive Director Margot Strom, Associate Executive Director Martin Sleeper and Board Chairwoman Tracy Palandjian.I am deeply offended and disappointed to learn that one of our nation’s foremost genocide education organizations–Facing History and Ourselves (FHAO)--has elected to “partner” with the Anti-Defamation League (ADL) to sponsor a panel discussion on “The New Anti-Semitism: A Contemporary Discussion in Historic Faneuil Hall” in Boston on November 7, 2011.
Abraham H. Foxman, ADL National Director, will be one of the panelists. I respectfully urge you to withdraw FHAO from its partnership with the ADL for this event. Mr. Foxman and the national ADL have denied the factuality of the Armenian genocide of 1915–1923 committed by Turkey. And they have used their considerable influence to actively assist the government of Turkey to defeat Armenian genocide resolutions in the U.S. Congress. A political agreement two decades ago among Turkey, certain organizations such as the ADL, and Israel brought this about.
Since the summer of 2007, due specifically to their disapproval of the ADL’s genocide denial and lobbying efforts against the Armenian-American resolution, more than a dozen major Massachusetts cities and towns have ceased their affiliation with the ADL’s so-called “No Place for Hate” program.
In April of 2008, for precisely the same reasons, the Massachusetts Municipal Association (MMA), which represents every city and town in the state, also severed ties with “No Place for Hate.” The national ADL drew widespread condemnation from principled Jews, human rights advocates, editorialists, and others. These events made national and international news.
To deflect growing criticism, on August 21, 2007 Mr. Foxman issued a statement which masqueraded as an acknowledgment of the Armenian genocide. The statement not only used deceptive and dishonest language, such as “tantamount to genocide,” but also implied that the Armenian killings were not intentional but rather merely the “consequence” of Turkish “actions.” FHAO is aware that Article II of the United Nations Genocide Convention specifically requires “intent” for killings to be considered genocide. “Consequences” is, however, the opposite of “intent.” Cities, towns, and the MMA weren’t buying Mr. Foxman’s act. They severed ties with the ADL’s “No Place for Hate” even after the ADL statement.The ADL has yet to unambiguously recognize the Armenian genocide. And Mr. Foxman continues to oppose passage of the Armenian genocide resolution, contemptuously calling it a “counterproductive diversion.”
Neither Mr. Foxman nor the ADL has ever apologized to the Armenian people for their actions.The ADL has stated that any diminishment of the Holocaust is anti-Semitic and constitutes hate speech. Yet the ADL has diminished the Armenian genocide. By its own definition, therefore, the ADL is guilty of hate speech. Would FHAO partner with an organization and man that diminished the Holocaust and opposed the many Congressional resolutions on the Holocaust? Why, then, would you partner with the ADL? This is incomprehensible, especially as FHAO has long had an educational program on the Armenian genocide We know that the ADL and similar groups’ appeasement of Turkey–for example, Mr. Foxman presented Prime Minister Erdogan with a “Courage to Care Award” a few years ago–has failed dismally on an international level as well.I am at a loss to understand why or how your partnership with Mr. Foxman has come about. One hopes that ADL members among FHAO’s donors and its treasurer, Elizabeth Jick, who is an ADL Executive Committee member, did not unduly influence your decision.I respectfully call upon you to withdraw FHAO’s partnership with the ADL in the November 7 event. I hope that when FHAO considers the facts and the long-term credibility of its programs and dedicated staff, it will do the right thing.Sincerely,David BoyajianBelmont, MAcc: Media; genocide scholars.Note: To ask Facing History and Ourselves to not partner with the ADL on November 7, contact FHAO by e-mail, phone: 617-232-1595, toll-free 800-856-9039; mail: 16 Hurd Road, Brookline, MA 02445.=

Tuesday, October 25, 2011

Human Rights Court Rules Turkey Cannot Criminalize Genocide Recognition

STRASBOURG—The European Court of Human Rights on Tuesday unanimously ruled that the recognition of the Armenian Genocide cannot be criminalized in Turkey. The verdict stemmed from a case brought to the court by noted scholar Taner Akcam.
In the case Taner Akcam vs. Turkey, the court ruled that Turkey’s ongoing criminal prosecution of scholarship on the Armenian Genocide issue constituted a violation of Article 10 (freedom of expression) of the European Convention on Human Rights.
The court ruled that the Turkish law meant the Akcam lives in constant fear of prosecution for his views about the vents of 1915. In his suit Akcam said that the fear of prosecution for his views on the Armenian issue had caused him considerable stress and anxiety and had even made him stop writing on the subject.
Akçam, who is an associate professor at the Robert Aram, Marianne Kaloosdian and Stephen and Marion Mugar Chair in Armenian Genocide Studies at Clark University in Worcester, Mass., is a Turkish and German national who was born in 1953. As a professor of history, he researches and publishes extensively on the historical events of 1915 concerning the Armenian population in the Ottoman Empire. The Republic of Turkey, one of the successor states of the Ottoman Empire, does not recognize the word “genocide” as an accurate description of events. Affirming the Armenian issue as “genocide” is considered by some (especially extremist or ultranationalist groups) as a denigration of “Turkishness” (Türklük), which is a criminal offence punishable under Article 301 of the Turkish Criminal Code by a term of imprisonment of six months to two or three years. Amendments have been introduced following a number of controversial cases and criminal investigations brought against such prominent Turkish writers and journalists as Elif Şafak, Orhan Pamuk and Hrant Dink for their opinions on the Armenian issue.
Notably, in October 2005 Hrant Dink, editor of Agos, a bilingual Turkish-Armenian newspaper, was convicted under Article 301 for denigrating “Turkishness.” It was widely believed that because of the stigma attached to his criminal conviction, Dink became the target of extremists and in January 2007 he was shot dead.
The three major changes introduced to the text were: to replace “Turkishness” and “Republic” with “Turkish Nation” and “State of the Republic of Turkey,” to reduce the maximum length of imprisonment to be imposed on those found guilty under Article 301; and, most recently in 2008, to add a security clause, namely any investigation into the offence of denigrating “Turkishness” has to first be authorized by the Minister of Justice.
On 6 October 2006 Akçam published an editorial opinion in Agos criticizing the prosecution of Hrant Dink. Following that, three criminal complaints were filed against him by extremists under Article 301 alleging that he had denigrated “Turkishness.” Following the first complaint, he was summoned to the local public prosecutor’s office to submit a statement in his defense. The prosecutor in charge of the investigation subsequently decided not to prosecute on the ground that Akçam’s views were protected under Article 10 of the European Convention. The investigations into the other two complaints were also terminated with decisions not to prosecute. The Government submitted that it was unlikely that Akçam was at any risk of future prosecution on account of the recent safeguards introduced to Article 301, notably the fact that authorization was now needed from the Ministry of Justice to launch an investigation.
Accordingly, between May 2008 (when this amendment was introduced) and November 2009, the Ministry of Justice received 1,025 requests for authorization to bring criminal proceedings under Article 301 and granted such authorization in 80 cases (about 8% of the total requests). Furthermore, Akçam had not been prevented from carrying out his research; on the contrary, he had even been given access to the State Archives. His books on the subject are also widely available in Turkey.
According to Akçam, however, the percentage of prior authorizations granted by the Ministry of Justice was much higher, and these cases mainly concerned the prosecution of journalists in freedom of expression cases. He submitted statistics from the Media Monitoring Desk of the Independent Communications Network for the period from July to September 2008 according to which a total of 116 people, 77 of whom were journalists, were prosecuted in 73 freedom of expression cases. Akçam further claimed that the criminal complaints filed against him for his views had turned into a harassment campaign, with the media presenting him as a “traitor” and “German spy.” He has also received hate mail including insults and death threats. He further alleged that the tangible fear of prosecution had not only cast a shadow over his professional activities – he effectively stopped writing on the Armenian issue in June 2007 when he brought his application to this Court – but had caused him considerable stress and anxiety.
Complaints, procedure and composition of the Court Relying on Article 10 (freedom of expression), Akçam alleged that the Government could not guarantee that he would not face investigation and prosecution in the future for his views on the Armenian issue. He further alleged that, despite the amendment to Article 301 in May 2008 and the Government’s reassurances, legal proceedings against those affirming the Armenian “genocide” had continued unabated. Moreover, the Government’s policy on the Armenian issue had not in essence been changed and could not be predicted with any certainty in the future.
The application was lodged with the European Court of Human Rights on June 21, 2007. Judgment was given by a Chamber of seven, composed of Françoise Tulkens (Belgium), President; Danutė Jočienė (Lithuania), David Thór Björgvinsson (Iceland), Dragoljub Popović (Serbia), András Sajó (Hungary), Işıl Karakaş (Turkey), Guido Raimondi (Italy), Judges; and also Stanley Naismith, Section Registrar.
The decision of the Court The Court found that there had been an “interference” with Akçam’s right to freedom of expression. The criminal investigation launched against him and the Turkish criminal courts’ standpoint on the Armenian issue in their application of Article 301 of the Criminal Code (any criticism of the official line on the issue in effect being sanctioned), as well as the public campaign against him, confirmed that there was a considerable risk of prosecution faced by persons who expressed “unfavorable” opinions on the subject and indicated that the threat hanging over Akçal was real.
The measures adopted to provide safeguards against arbitrary or unjustified prosecutions under Article 301 had not been sufficient. The statistical data provided by the Government showed that there were still a significant number of investigations, and Akçam alleged that this number was even higher. Nor did the government explain the subject matter or the nature of the cases in which the Ministry of Justice granted authorization for such investigations. Moreover, the court agreed with Thomas Hammarberg, Human Rights Commissioner of the Council of Europe, in his report which stated that a system of prior authorization by the Ministry of Justice in each individual case was not a lasting solution which could replace the integration of the relevant Convention standards into the Turkish legal system and practice.
Furthermore, in the Court’s opinion, while the legislator’s aim of protecting and preserving values and State institutions from public denigration could be accepted to a certain extent, the wording of Article 301 of the Criminal Code, as interpreted by the judiciary, was too wide and vague and did not enable individuals to regulate their conduct or to foresee the consequences of their acts. Despite the replacement of the term “Turkishness” by “the Turkish Nation,” there was apparently no change in the interpretation of these concepts.
For example, in the case Dink v. Turkey of 2010 the Court criticized the Turkey’s Court of Cassation for understanding them in the same way as before. Thus Article 301 constituted a continuing threat to the exercise of the right to freedom of expression. As was clear from the number of investigations and prosecutions brought under this Article, any opinion or idea that was considered offensive, shocking or disturbing could easily be made the target of a criminal investigation by public prosecutors. Indeed, the safeguards put in place to prevent the abusive application of Article 301 by the judiciary did not provide a guarantee of non-prosecution because any change of political will or of government policy could affect the Ministry of Justice’s interpretation of the law and open the way for arbitrary prosecutions.
In view of that lack of forseeability, the Court concluded that the interference with Akçam’s freedom of expression had not been “prescribed by law,” in violation of Article 10.
NOTE: Under Articles 43 and 44 of the Convention, this chamber judgment is not final. During the three-month period following its delivery, any party may request that the case be referred to the Grand Chamber of the Court. If such a request is made, a panel of five judges considers whether the case deserves further examination. In that event, the Grand Chamber will hear the case and deliver a final judgment. If the referral request is refused, the Chamber judgment will become final on that day. Once a judgment becomes final, it is transmitted to the Committee of Ministers of the Council of Europe for supervision of its execution.

Thursday, October 20, 2011

: Armenian Surp Giragos Church In Turkey ready for Holy Mass

Armenian Surp Giragos Church ready for Holy Mass

Historic Armenia, the land of our roots, where less than a century ago, our parents and grandparents lived and raised Armenian families rooted in the faith, language, traditions and history of our ancient race, now left void of its original inhabitants, magnetically draws us to its soil with an unquenchable thirst of what had once been a glorious past.

The Armenian Church Surp Giragos in Dikranagerd (Diyarbakir), which was one of the biggest and important Armenian churches in Middle East, now is ready to be reopened after a century of tragic silence. Many hundred Armenians from all over the world are expected to attend the Holy Mass in Diyarbakir on 23rd October.

According the historians, Surp Giragos Dikranagerd church, dating from 15th century, with its seven altars and several different buildings, was partially destroyed in 1915-1916 during the Genocide and left in ruins for nearly hundred years. The church was given back to the Armenian community in Diyarbakir in devastated condition in 1960, when some thousand Armenians were still living in the city and its surroundings. The condition of the church deteriorated in the 1970s – 1980s when nearly all Armenians left Diyarbakir.

Some years ago, the Armenian community in Turkey made an action plan with the cooperation of the Kurdish Municipality in Diyarbakir to restore the church. The Armenian Diaspora, especially in North America, also supported financially part of the restoration with fund raising events. The Kurdish Municipality in Diyarbakir gave 600 000 US dollars for the rebuilding.

Tuesday, October 18, 2011

1915 events were Genocide - Turkish MP

1915 events were Genocide - Turkish MP
October 18, 2011 00:04
ISTANBUL. - Turkish MP from Kurdish Peace and Democracy Party, Altan Tan restated his words recently said in the international scientific conference in Artuklu University in Mardin, Turkey in the interview with Agos Armenian newspaper published in Istanbul.
Altan insisted that Kurds and Muslims also played a role in the 1915 Genocide implemented against Armenians.
“Not all Kurds though took a sword. However, Kurds do have their serious share of blame in the Genocide,” Altan stated criticizing also the attitude of the Muslims in rejecting the Genocide.
Altan Tan had earlier stated that as a political figure he calls the 1915 events Genocide implemented against Armenians. No matter what the conditions were, those people were killed. The proof is the territory and the demographic situation. At that time 13 million people lived in Turkey and Armenians made 10% of the population. Currently the population is 75 million, while Armenians are only 40,000, MP had stated.

Monday, October 17, 2011


Wearing Emporio Armani considered Armenian propaganda in Turkey, and is punishable by law
October 17, 2011 11:41
ISTANBUL. – Turkish press widely covered Taraf daily’s columnist Roni Margulies’ funny story about three unlucky Turks, who were found guilty of wearing Emporio Armani t-shirts and thus carrying out Armenian propaganda.
In his article, Margulies presents the three Turks’ self-defending speeches made in the court. “…a merchant asked me why I’m wearing that t-shirt and called the police…I don’t think I was making propaganda,” said the first defendant.
The second defendant noted that he already gave testimony to the gendarmerie, insisting: “I didn’t have ulterior motives…That t-shirt is a very well-known Italian brand…I don’t find myself guilty.”
The third defendant likewise did not find himself to be guilty, underscoring that the t-shirt was a gift from his mother, since it is a famous Italian brand.
The article also notes that the three translators, who had come as a result of a public announcement by Town Hall of Avsha Island, where this incident occurred, confirmed that Emporio Armani means “Armenian Empire,” and subsequently the defendants were sentenced to life in prison.
Roni Margulies also wrote this story might sound improbable, but stated that, aside from the court ruling, rest of the story is completely true.

Saturday, October 15, 2011

Jewish-American lobby will neither support nor obstruct Armenian Genocide bill - analyst

Jewish-American lobby will neither support nor obstruct Armenian Genocide bill - analyst
October 15, 2011 12:28
YEREVAN. – Current stance of America’s main Jewish organization is to not support, but also not obstruct, the Armenian Genocide bill, Heritage Foundation’s Russian and Eurasian Studies and International Energy Policy Project Manager Ariel Cohen said in an interview with Public Television of Armenia, commenting on deterioration of Turkish-Jewish relations.
“The Turks can no longer place their hopes on the Jewish lobby. The AIPAC (American Israel Public Affairs Committee) main Jewish organization’s current stance is to not support, but also not obstruct, the Armenian Genocide bill…We also know that a great majority of ethnically Jewish congressmen is in favor of this bill, for several years now. I believe there would be certain movement and dynamics toward approval of this bill, just as it happened in France, or Sweden, or in other parliaments,” Cohen noted.
In response to the question whether deterioration of Turkish-Israeli relations would impact Israel-Armenia and Israel-Azerbaijan relations, Cohen stated: “Armenia has very good relations with Iran, but Israel does not…Israel has friendship with Azerbaijan and buys petroleum. We also see Turkey exerting pressure on Azerbaijan so that Baku limits its relations with Israel. I hope Baku would act otherwise. Even though Israel would not want to deteriorate relations with Azerbaijan, I do anticipate certain warming between Yerevan and Jerusalem.”
With respect to the observation that there is inconsistency in Turkey’s steps, as it is speaking about the need to lift the blockade of Gaza yet it keeps its border with Armenia closed, the American analyst said: “European Union and US consider Hamas a terrorist organization…but…when conducting friendship with Palestine, Turkey cooperates with Hamas, and not Mahmoud Abbas (President of the Palestinian National Authority). Turkey remains silent when Hamas launches missiles at Israel. The same Turks continue to combat against the Kurds. Is this nothing but duplicity?”
And reflecting on Armenian-Turkish relations, Ariel Cohen maintained: “Just as Turkey supports Hamas…[Turkish PM Recep Tayyip] Erdogan did not heed, in the same way, Hillary Clinton’s encouragements to normalize relations with Yerevan. In Washington…a question is rising: is Turkey an ally?”

Friday, October 14, 2011

Steve Jobs spoke fluent Armenian

Apple CEO Steve jobs who, passed away on Wednesday at age 56, is said to have had a good command of the Armenian language.Conducting a probe into the great legend ' s biography, the Arab language website has found out that Jobs, who was raised in the family of an Armenian mother and an American father, spoke Armenian fluently. "[Jobs ' adoptive mother] Claire Hagopian played a very big role in bringing up the genius," the website said, adding that Jobs had never been keen to speak about his biological parents. Jobs was born in San Francisco and was adopted by the family of Paul and Clara Jobs (née Hagopian) of Mountain View , California . Paul and Clara later adopted a daughter, Patti. Jobs ' biological parents – Abdulfattah John Jandali, a Muslim Syrian immigrant to the U.S from Homs, who later became a political science professor, and Joanne Schieble (later Simpson), an American graduate student who went on to become a speech language pathologist – eventually married. Together, they gave birth to and raised Jobs ' biological sister, novelist Mona Simpson.Jobs experimented with different pursuits before starting Apple Computers with Stephen Wozniak in the Jobs ' family garage. Apple ' s revolutionary products, which include the iPod, iPhone and iPad, are now seen as dictating the evolution of modern technology.A book about Job ' s is coming soon. iSteve: The Book of Jobs, authored by a former CNN CEO and an editor of the British Times, Walter Isaacson, is the first official biography of the Apple legend.

Thursday, October 6, 2011

Turkish PM promised to reward Macedonia for defeating Armenia


Turkish PM promised to reward Macedonia for defeating Armenia
October 06, 2011 13:43
Prime Minister of Turkey Recep Tayyip Erdogan promised a reward to of Macedonia’s football team for defeating Armenia on October 7, says portal, citing its sources in Macedonian Parliament.
According to the source, Erdogan voiced the tempting offer at his private meeting with the Speaker of Macedonian Parliament Trajko Veljanoski.
The point is the leadership of Turkey wants to avoid the meeting of Turkish team with rapidly progressing Armenian team in Euro 2012 play-off.
For the first time in history Armenia has a real chance to reach the final stage of EURO 1012 if it plays successfully with Macedonia and Ireland (October 7 and 11).

Tuesday, October 4, 2011

Lawsuit Seeks Return of Seized Lands: Incirlik Airbase Sits on Disputed Territory

By Aram ArkunMirror-Spectator Staff
LOS ANGELES — The struggle for justice concerning the Armenian Genocide has taken many forms. Armenians have tried to use academia, the media, legislation and diplomacy, protests and even, briefly, violence in this struggle. Until recently international political and scholarly recognition of the Armenian Genocide’s very existence was the primary goal, but with this seemingly largely accomplished, despite some important exceptions, Armenian efforts have turned to the issue of compensation and land. American and international courts have furnished new arenas to pursue these efforts. The California-based lawyer Vartkes Yeghiayan has been the most active single individual in initiating lawsuits for compensation to Genocide victims and their descendants. Most recently, after a series of suits against insurance companies withholding payments to the heirs of Armenian victims, he filed suit directly against the Republic of Turkey and two Turkish banks concerning Armenian-owned land now either near or part of an airbase used by the United States in Incirlik, Turkey.
This airbase, seven miles east of the city of Adana in southeastern Turkey, has played an important role in supporting the US wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. Its construction began in 1951 and was completed in 1954 as part of US Cold War efforts. Its strategic location turned it into a primary host for U2 spy missions into the Soviet Union and for the 1958 US intervention in Lebanon. It also has served as a hub for US humanitarian aid to Turkey. The US operates there as part of NATO. Nuclear bombs are stored at the base. More mundanely, but pertinent for the lawsuit, large American corporations like Baskin- Robbins, Taco Bell and Pizza Hut operate on the territory of the base. The properties on which the base lies were entrusted to Ziraat Bank from 1915 to 1923, and to the Central Bank of Turkey thereafter.
The three Armenian-American plaintiffs — Rita Mahdessian, Alex Bakalian and Anais Haroutunian — are represented by the Yeghiayan Law Firm, together with Los Angeles attorneys Kathryn Lee Boyd and David Schwarcz of Todd, Ferentz, Schwarcz & Rimberg. Michael Bazyler from the Chapman University School of Law, a specialist on genocide law and restitution, is serving as a consultant. The three plaintiffs, acting on behalf of their respective relatives and families, have deeds and documents proving that their grandparents owned part of the land of the base. The lawsuit, filed on December 15, 2010, asks for “fair market rents and other relief” for roughly 122.5 acres of property estimated to be worth $63.9 million based on data from the US Department of Defense. Roughly $100 million is sought as compensation.
One of the plaintiffs in particular, Mahdessian, is Yeghiayan’s wife, adding no doubt an additional personal element to the suit, though Yeghiayan did not initiate it for this reason. Yeghiayan said in a recent interview, “Many survivors from Incirlik found me. We had about 14 property deeds and we have another 16 deeds of other people who want to join the lawsuit but are still negotiating conditions. In almost every property deed they mention the names of neighbors, three out of four of which are Armenians. So there are a lot more Armenians for whom we are looking. I put ads in papers to find them but am still awaiting further contacts.”
Yeghiayan provided additional information about the background of the plaintiffs. In his words, “plaintiff Alex Bakalian is a resident of Washington, DC, and lawful heir of three relatives, each of whom owned property in Turkey. Bakalian’s first relative is his paternal grandfather, Dikran Bakalian, who was born in 1868 in Adana and died June 1950 in Beirut, Lebanon. Dikran Bakalian and his family were forced to flee in 1921, leaving behind all their possessions and properties. Bakalian’s second relative is his paternal grandmother, Kalina Hatun (Gulenia) Shamassian. Born in 1892 in Adana, she married Dikran Bakalian in 1903. She died in Beirut, Lebanon, in 1978. Kalina Hatun (Gulenia) Shamassian’s only surviving son, Guiragos Bakalian, currently lives in Beirut, Lebanon, and Bakalian is his nephew. Bakalian’s third relative is Ahsapet Shamassian (born Bouldoukian), the sister-in-law of his paternal grandmother. She was born in Adana, married Hovsep Shamassian (the brother of Kalina Hatun (Gulenia) Shamassian), and eventually settled in Damascus, Syria.”
The second plaintiff, Anais Haroutunian, “is a United States citizen and resident of Pasadena, Calif. Anais Haroutunian is the granddaughter and lawful heir of Apraham Geovderelian. Apraham Geovderelian owned four pieces of property in Incirlik. In 1915, when the Armenian Genocide began, he was murdered together with his wife and three of his children. The four remaining children all relocated to Beirut, Lebanon, and are now deceased.”
The third plaintiff, Mahdessian, representing the Boyadjian family, including maternal cousin Mihran Boyadjian, is “related to Mihran Boyadjian Sr., who owned two properties in Adana. Mihran Boyadjian Sr., fled Adana in 1915 at the outset of the Armenian Genocide. When the province of Adana was given to France as a mandate at the end of World War I, Mihran Boyadjian Sr., returned to Adana to reclaim his properties. However, when the French mandate was removed in 1922 and the region returned to Turkey, Mihran Boyadjian Sr., had to escape from the province of Adana/Incirlik again, with his family, and relocate to Hama-Homs, Syria. The family then moved to Cyprus.”
In a May 17, 2011 article in the Turkish newspaper Hürriyet by Vercihan Ziflioglu, Yeghiayan stated the rationale behind his lawsuit, “In this case our clients are able to sue the government of the Republic of Turkey, the Central Bank of Turkey and the Ziraat Bankası because of the following reasons: Turkey committed a violation of international laws and proceeded to illegally confiscate properties from their rightful owners; in the process, Turkey also proceeded to violate its own constitution and the Lausanne Treaty. But more importantly, they have used these ill-obtained properties to run commercial operations.”
Turkey refused to accept service of the lawsuit, so the plaintiffs had recourse to US diplomatic channels. Turkey was given sixty days (by August 19, 2011) to answer but did not, while the two banks, the Central Bank of Turkey and T. C. Ziraat Bank, received an extension allowing them to respond by September 19. They proceeded to hire several US attorneys, including David Saltzman from the firm of Saltzman and Evinch. Saltzman has served as counsel for the Turkish embassy in Washington in the past, and counsel for the Turkish Coalition of America. He has been involved in a number of other lawsuits on behalf of Turks or Turkey against various Armenian parties, and has promoted denial of the Armenian Genocide. The bank’s newly hired attorneys filed replies on September 19 asking for dismissal of the case on a number of grounds. They argued that though banks, the two institutions qualify as “foreign states” with sovereign immunity from the jurisdiction of the California court; furthermore, they claimed that the Act of State doctrine, according to which the courts of one country may not judge the domestic acts of another government, bars the suit, while the 1934 claims agreement between Turkey and the US, and the 1980 agreement for cooperation on defense and economy between the same two countries also conflict with this suit. The court and the state of California would be impermissibly interfering with US foreign affairs. The convenience of the parties involved and the interests of justice require a different forum for this action.
The defendant banks argued that all applicable statutes of limitations bar the suit, and finally, they asserted that there is no relevant claim given for which relief can be granted. Now it is the turn of the plaintiffs represented by Yeghiayan to give their counterarguments to the court against the banks.
The Republic of Turkey, unlike the banks, has continued to take a different approach. Consequently, on August 29, the plaintiffs asked the US District Court for the Central District of California to declare the Republic of Turkey to be in default, which could eventually result in a variety of penalties and a decision in favor of the plaintiffs. As Yeghiayan said in the May 17 Hürriyet article, “Choosing to ignore the lawsuit won’t make it go away.” The court agreed that Turkey was in default on September 1.
In addition to the newspaper Hürriyet, the lawsuit has received further coverage in other Turkish media outlets like Vatan (September 2, 2011), Today’s Zaman (September 9) and In the latter’s September 7 issue, an article entitled “Incirlik Ermeni degil, vakıf malı çıktı!” argues that the Incirlik property actually belonged to the Ramazanoglu Foundation. Journalist and researcher Fatih Bayhan claims that his evidence concerning the Incirlik properties goes back to the 1500s, and wonders how the Armenians would have obtained these properties. The Ramazanoglu Foundation has opened thousands of lawsuits, according to Bayhan, to get back its properties in the Adana area and elsewhere, and has already won some of them. A writer in Today’s Zaman Mobile Edition (September 15) summarizes an interview of Yeghiayan in the Turkish-Armenian weekly Agos, wonders about the statute of limitations, and promises to follow the case as it develops.
In the Republic of Armenia, Naira Hayrumian in a December 23, 2010 article speculated that the United States was somehow behind this lawsuit, and other actions against Turkey concerning the Genocide, as a way to threaten and pressure Turkey to carry out various US policies. In this particular case, she wrote that it was connected to talks Turkey was holding with Iran concerning a new NATO anti-rocket defense system. However, Hayrumian has not presented any evidence to back up this theory, while Yeghiayan’s dedication to the issue of compensation and justice for the Genocide seems enough to ensure that similar lawsuits will continue to be filed. Yeghiayan commented on the claim of US manipulation behind the scenes: “Absolutely not true. We represent the clients who have justifiable claims as will be proven in court and we have no connection to the US Government nor are we trying to put pressure on the US Government.”
Yeghiayan continues his work on other Armenian Genocide-related legal issues while pursuing the Incirlik case. In 2007, a US district court judge ruled that Armenian Genocide survivors’ heirs could use a law passed by the California legislature in 2000 extending the statute of limitations to sue German insurance companies, but this was reversed in a 2009 ruling by a three-judge panel of the US Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals. This reversal was overruled in December 2010. This case, Movsesian v. Victoria Versicherung, still is unresolved as the defendants now have requested a panel of judges to rehear the case. There are a number of other Armenian Genocide-related lawsuits that Yeghiayan is involved in at the present.
There is also an outstanding dispute between Yeghiayan and his former partners, Mark Geragos and Brian Kabateck, concerning the disposition of money jointly won from the French insurance company AXA for Armenian Genocide victims’ heirs, which hopefully will be settled quickly, justly and openly, thus restoring confidence in the judicial route for compensation for Armenian Genocide victims. According to Roman M. Silberfeld, the lawyer representing Yeghiayan on this particular matter, Yeghiayan has already provided through a voluntary and cooperative process documents which Silberfeld expects will satisfy Geragos and Kabateck that in fact nothing improper has taken place. As far as AXA is concerned, there will be a hearing before Judge Christina A. Snyder in Los Angeles on September 26. The three parties (Yeghiayan as represented by Silberfeld, Geragos and Kabateck) and their law firms are intensively conducting an investigation. They intend to file a joint report for the court outlining what they discover about the settlement administration, which was not conducted directly by any of the three lawyers. There are some half a dozen problems to be sorted out involving a significant sum of money. Some 75 people who were issued multiple checks say that they did not receive all the checks to which they were entitled.
CenterAR News