Tuesday, November 29, 2011

Moral Considerations in the Art-Restitution Lawsuit Between the Armenian Church and the Getty Museum

By Michael Toumayan
On Nov. 4, a Los Angeles Times article, written by Mike Boehm, reported that in an effort to get back the Canon Tables of the 13th-century Zeyt’un Gospels from the Getty Museum, the Armenian Diaspora has inaudibly put its weight behind the Armenian Orthodox Church’s quest to repatriate the allegedly stolen illuminated manuscripts back to Armenia, where the rest is housed at the Mesrop Mashtots Institute of Ancient Manuscripts.

Getty Museum
In 1915, as Armenians were subjected to a genocidal campaign by the Ottoman Empire, the intact codex changed hands for safekeeping. The eight pages that were torn from the larger codex during the Armenian Genocide ultimately resurfaced with an Armenian American immigrant family in Massachusetts, which sold them to the Getty in 1994.
Church attorneys were initially asked by the Getty to come up with solutions, and no less than 16 were put forth, only to be rejected by the Getty. Clearly the content of a proposal for a solution is a critical component to any successful resolution of conflict, but equally necessary is the timing of the efforts. Resolution can only be achieved if the parties are sincere in negotiating.
One wonders whether the Getty was ready and sincere when it asked church attorneys to come up with solutions. However, for the sake of being aware of our cognitive biases, we should also question whether both parties were engaging in positional bargaining, a negotiation strategy that involves holding on to a position, rather than interest-based bargaining in which parties collaborate to find a “win-win” solution to their dispute.
Nevertheless, on Nov. 3, 2011 a Los Angeles Superior Court judge denied the museum’s motion to dismiss the plaintiff’s claim that the Canon Tables are “wrongfully in the possession, custody and control” of the J. Paul Getty Trust, in the Getty Museum. Instead, the judge ordered the parties to four months of mediation, scheduling a March 2 resumption if the case isn’t settled. Citing that it was “not clear” whether the case would fall within statute-of-limitations law, perhaps the judge’s ruling may create the necessary conditions for the dispute to be ripe, and both will perceive that there is a suitable way out.
With a murky history and 90 years later, one cannot rule out the Getty’s possible legal possession and title to the disputed manuscripts. Simultaneously, the Getty’s concern in the preservation of world artistic heritage should not confine itself to considering just the legal entitlement. In mediation, where context is pivotal, there is an ethical obligation that rests on the mu­seum taking into account the moral strength of the church’s case based on the circum­stances during times of turmoil. Now is the time for the museum to exhibit consistency with its own core ethical values while also demonstrating sensitivity to the sacred values of the Armenian nation in its quest for restorative justice.
For the mediation to be successful, both must enter into it willingly and away from a zero-sum mindset, through a cooperative approach. The potential benefits of mediation will outweigh the steep cost of litigation, but more importantly, the long-term outcome will be a healed and expanded relationship between the two. This may open the path for a joint restoration project where both can take part in repairing the lost gleam of the larger Zeyt’un Gospels and have them showcased with other extraordinary works of Armenian art from the vaults of the church.

Michael Toumayan is an independent political commentator on the Caucasus and Middle East affairs. He holds a master’s degree in conflict resolution and mediation from Tel Aviv University in Tel Aviv, Israel.

Friday, November 25, 2011

Knesset to discuss Armenian Genocide recognition in early December

November 25, 2011 15:17
TEL AVIV. – The Knesset committee on education, culture and sport, headed by Alex Miller will discuss the issue on the recognition of the Armenian Genocide in early December. However, coalition key parties’ opinion on the issue varies, IzRus portal reports.
The committee will have a session devoted to recognition of the 1915 Armenian Genocide in the Ottoman Empire. The committee decided to discuss the issue at the Knesset plenary session this May. According to preliminary estimations, majority of the committee, headed by Miller are against the recognition.
Speaker Reuven Rivlin (Likud Party) wants to participate in the session. He made a public speech for the recognition in May. Besides, Ze’ev Elkin, who is also for the recognition, will participate in the session. The key parties of the coalition “Likud” and “Israel is Our Home” (IOH) principally differ on the issue. Significant majority of the ruling party is for the recognition, Reuven Rivlin, Ze’ev Elkin, Gilad Erdan and Benny Begin among them.
At the same time IOH members are categorically against. Moreover, even the discussion is harmful for the strategic partner Azerbaijan.
“There is no single chance that the Knesset will recognize the Genocide. It is impossible. We cannot afford breaking relations with Azerbaijan, our main strategic partner in the Muslim world because of arguable issues of the history regarding events which occurred one hundred years ago,” Israeli deputy FM Danny Ayalon (IOH) told IzRus portal.
“I am against populist decisions, and will not accept outrageous behavior during the session,” Miller said on Thursday.

Wednesday, November 23, 2011

Seminar in Germany focuses on inner-Turkish debate of 1915

Potsdam, Germany - Why does Turkey have such difficulty in dealing with its historical past? Why can the Turkish authorities not acknowledge that in 1915 the Armenian population in the Ottoman Empire was the victim of genocide? If the German post-war political elite was capable of facing up to the Holocaust and establishing relations with the Jewish people, in Israel and elsewhere, why cannot the Turkish leadership do as much?
The question was raised during a seminar in Potsdam, Germany on November 5, on "The Inner Turkish Discussion of 1915/1916" (Die innert├╝rkische Diskussion ├╝ber 1915/16 in German). Other issues discussed were the history of Turkish denial and how Turkish publications have attempted to deal with this, as well as subjects related to the genocide itself, the fate of the survivors, and how Armenians have been struggling with their traumatic past.
What made this gathering sponsored by the Lepsiushaus (http://lepsiushaus.wordpress.com) and held at Potsdam University quite special was the list of guest speakers, almost all of them prominent Turkish intellectuals, most of them from Turkey. Their task was to present the current status of the discussion process inside the country regarding 1915/1916.
The title of the event itself is symptomatic of the problem: instead of referring to the Armenian genocide, it cited "1915/1916," perhaps to protect those Turkish participants from being subjected to punitive measures from state authorities on their return home.
In fact, one planned guest speaker, Ragip Zarakolu, a prominent publisher who has issued books on the Armenian question, was prevented from attending the conference by an arrest on October 28, when he, along with 48 others, were detained in a crackdown on suspected sympathizers of the plight of Turkey's Kurds.
Thus, the Potsdam gathering was a special event, because the themes addressed and the personalities involved constituted a challenge to the current Turkish establishment, albeit neither political nor militant, but nonetheless a challenge on the intellectual and psychological level.
Policy of the Turkish republic
The comparison to the German treatment of the Holocaust was historically relevant and instructive. In answer to the question, why Turkey has such difficulties in dealing with its past, some suggest that they fear demands by the Republic of Armenia and/or the Diaspora for territorial concessions and reparations, the latter on the German model of compensation to Jewish survivors of the Holocaust and to the state of Israel.
But there is more. Elke Hartmann, an Ottoman expert from Berlin, explained that Turkey, unlike Germany, was neither defeated nor occupied. To be sure, the Ottoman Empire lost in World War I, but the Turkish Republic emerged victorious from its struggle for national sovereignty and independence.
In post-war Germany, it was the occupying powers who organized the Nuremberg trials which tried, convicted, and executed leading Nazis for crimes against humanity. In subsequent years, especially in the 1960s, historians worked through the Nazi experience, and the broader German public was educated about the reality of the Nazi regime.
In Turkey, immediately after the Ottoman defeat, trials were also held and leading Young Turk officials, who had not managed to flee the country, were put on the dock, convicted, and in some cases executed. Others, including the leading figures Talaat Pasha and Djemal Pasha, were hunted down in their exile and assassinated by Armenian vigilantes.
But after the establishment of the Republic in 1923, Mustafa Kemal declared the assassinated Turks to be martyrs, and, where possible, had their remains returned to Turkey for heroes' burials. To grasp the import of this act, one should reflect on a hypothetical rehabilitation of Nazi leaders by Germany's post-WWII leader Konrad Adenauer.
As Rober Koptas, the new editor in chief of Agos, Hrant Dink's newspaper, explained, the 1919 trials had been made possible because an opposition government had come into power after the defeat of the Ottoman Empire and the flight of the leading Young Turks. One could write about it, discuss it openly, and Turks heard a lot about the atrocities against Armenians in 1919.
But with the establishment of the Turkish Republic under Mustafa Kemal, that changed radically. Kemal arranged for CUP members on trial by Allied powers in Malta to be freed, and redefined the perpetrators as martyrs. Thus, the policy of "forgetting" began with the establishment of the Republic.
The phases of denial
The history of the Turkish Republic's handling of 1915/1916, was summarized by Elke Hartmann, who stepped in for Prof. Dr. Halil Berktay from Sabanci University on short notice. In a paper on "1915 and Scientific Reappraisals since the founding of the Turkish Republic: Between State Guidelines and Freedom of Research," Berktay showed how at the time of the events, the perpetrators knew exactly what they were doing, and demonstrated it in their memoirs, for example, those of Talaat, which were full of justifications for what had occurred. After Turkey's war of independence, the policy was one of silence and forgetting. Attempts from the outside to address the genocide, as in making of the film on Musa Dagh in the 1930s, were blocked by Turkish political pressure.
Although the dramatic revelations of the dimensions of the Holocaust after World War II overshadowed discussion of the Armenian genocide, in 1965, when Armenians in Armenia and elsewhere demonstrated to commemorate the 50th anniversary of their tragedy, and began to erect monuments, the issue was again on the political agenda.
A turning point occurred in 1973, when the first Turkish diplomats were assassinated by 78-year-old genocide survivor Gourgen Yanikian, which inaugurated the wave of revenge killings. This led to a policy change in Turkey, in that the Turkish authorities decided to present their own version of events. As Koptas put it, after the assassinations began, Turkey realized that "they had a 1915 problem."

Tuesday, November 22, 2011

Dadrian, Akcam Co-author Book Setting Istanbul Trials in Legal Context

In the aftermath of its disastrous defeat in World War I, Ottoman Turkey had to face the wartime crime of the destruction of its Armenian population. An inquiry commissioned by the Ottoman government in 1919 presented enough preliminary evidence to organize a series of trials involving the perpetrators of these crimes. It is the record of these trials, and the unparalleled details they provide on the planning and implementation of the crimes, that brought together the two most renowned scholars of the Armenian Genocide, Professors Vahakn Dadrian and Taner Akcam, in their first joint publication. After years of research and analysis, the authors have compiled the complete documentation of the trial proceedings and have set these findings in their historical and legal context.
The book is entitled Judgment at Istanbul: The Armenian Genocide Trials and is published by Berghahn Books of New York and Oxford.
In describing the book, Dadrian said, “This is a most important work, for two reasons. First, it is based on authentic Turkish documentation, which the Ottoman government was forced to release during the trials. Second, unlike most books on the Armenian Genocide, which are historical interpretations, this study, for the first time, is based also on the testimony of high-ranking Ottoman officials, given under oath, on the magnitude of the crimes against the Armenians, and in this sense, serves as a legal case study of the Armenian Genocide.”
During his more than 50 years of research on the subject, Dadrian discovered that the Takvim-i Vekayi, the official Ottoman government’s gazette, was not the only major source of information on the military tribunals. In fact, Renaissance, a French-language Armenian newspaper in Istanbul at the time, reported summaries of many of the trial proceedings taken from the reports of the Ottoman-language newspapers of the day, which were otherwise not accounted for in official government records.
Akcam, the book’s co-author, noted that “While the official government record lists only 12 trials, newspapers provide us details on 63. For the first time, information from the Ottoman newspapers of the era has been utilized to reconstruct the trials. A great deal of effort was required to track down all issues possible of 14 different Ottoman newspapers, which meant visiting many libraries in different cities. Often, the articles we were looking for had been cut out of the paper in one location, but we were able to find a copy in another location.”
The Zoryan Institute sponsored the collection of these newspapers, their translation and transliteration, as part of the long-term project known as “Creating a Common Body of Knowledge,” and retains copies in its archives.
According to the Institute’s president, K.M. Greg Sarkissian, “The objective is to provide knowledge that will be shared by Turkish and Armenian civil societies and western scholarship. The aim is to locate, collect, analyze, transliterate, translate, edit, and publish authoritative, universally recognized original archival documents on the history of the events surrounding 1915, in both Turkish and English. Elaborating on the importance not only of the primary source material in this book, but also the analysis provided by the book’s authors,” he continued, “the more such documents are made available to Turkish society, the more it will be empowered with knowledge to question narratives imposed by the state. Restoring accurate historical memory will benefit not only Turkish, but also Armenian society. Both will be emancipated from the straightjacket of the past. Such a common body of knowledge will hopefully lead to an understanding of each other, act as a catalyst for dialogue, and aid in the normalization of relations between the two societies. Judgment at Istanbul is the most recent example of the Zoryan Institute’s strong belief in the importance of a Common Body of Knowledge as a key factor in helping the future of any relationship between Turkey and Armenia.”
The trials described in Judgment at Istanbul had a far-reaching bearing in the international community. As the first national tribunal to prosecute cases of mass atrocity, the principles of “crimes against humanity” that were introduced then had their echo subsequently in the Nuremberg Charter, the Tokyo Charter, and the UN Genocide Convention. This book is an essential source for historians, legal scholars, political scientists, sociologists, policy makers, and those interested in genocide studies, Turkish studies, and Armenian studies. It also holds great current relevance, with recent interest internationally regarding the Armenian Genocide and its denial.
To order a copy for yourself or as a gift, or to help sponsor a book to be placed in university libraries, contact the Zoryan office by calling (416) 250-9807 or e-mailing zoryan@zoryaninstitute.org.

Wednesday, November 9, 2011

Something Armenian in Portugal


Portugal does not have a sizeable Armenian community or an Armenian Church. But it is here, in Europe’s westernmost country, that the philanthropist Calouste Gulbenkian’s esteemed private art collection accidentally found its home.
Surrounded by a vast property featuring stretches of lawn and bamboo gardens, the Calouste Gulbenkian Foundation and Museum is a centerpiece of Lisbon’s cultural life. On a warm day last summer, tourists and Lisboans took in the splendor of the peaceful landscape, pausing to appreciate one of the city’s most visited sites.
Inside, schoolchildren and art enthusiasts browsed Gulbenkian’s extensive collection, which is comprised of more than 6,000 pieces dating from antiquity to the early 20th century. These include works by Rubens, Van Dyck, Rembrandt, Renoir, Manet, Degas, and Monet, as well as Persian rugs, Chinese pottery, and jewelry by Rene Lalique.

Gulbenkian began acquiring artwork at a young age. Born in Istanbul in 1869, he was the son of a wealthy merchant who had holdings in the oil fields of the Caucuses. After earning a degree in engineering and applied science at King’s College in London, Gulbenkian was encouraged by his father to get involved in the oil business.
Earning British citizenship in the wake of the 1895 massacres of Armenians in the Ottoman Empire, Gulbenkian established valuable networks with leading European and Russian oil businessmen.
In 1907, he helped found the Royal Dutch Shell Group, and five years later was influential in the development of the Turkish Petroleum Company, of which he owned a five percent share. Gulbenkian’s insistence on securing this fraction with subsequent projects eventually earned him the epithet “Mr. Five Percent.”
During World War II, Gulbenkian planned to emigrate to America. But a brief visit to neutral Portugal—where he found a welcoming and hospitable atmosphere—changed his course. Gulbenkian spent the last 13 years of his life at the fashionable Hotel Aviz in central Lisbon.
During this time, he decided to establish an international foundation to showcase his art collection and to bring together different cultural values and interests. After Gulbenkian passed away in 1955 at the age of 86, his vision was realized with the opening of the Foundation and Museum in Lisbon in 1969.
Building on Gulbenkian’s artistic vision, the foundation added a Modern Art Center to the property in 1983. Dedicated primarily to 20th-century Portuguese artists, the center also serves as a depository for other modern pieces.
Known for its leading efforts in restoration and preservation, the Modern Art Center attracted the attention of Vartoosh Mooradian, the sister of the artist Arshile Gorky, and her son, Karlen. The Mooradians placed their collection of Gorky works here in 1985.
In her will, Mooradian left the artwork to the Eastern Diocese, which has continued the partnership with the Gulbenkian Foundation. The works have been exhibited at various times in Lisbon and thanks to this unique collaboration, the Gorky paintings have been exhibited at museums worldwide. In 2007, the Paris branch of the Gulbenkian Foundation worked with the Centre Georges Pompidou to display Gorky’s works as part of the “Year of Armenia” in France. In addition, Gorky’s works have been shown at the Tate Modern in London, the Museum of Contemporary Art in Los Angeles, the Philadelphia Museum of Art and most recently at the Gagosian Gallery in New York City.