Tuesday, February 12, 2013

Sassounian: Genocide Is the Right Word, Justice Is the Ultimate Goal

President Serge Sarkisian’s comments on Feb. 5 generated much controversy when he reportedly stated at a campaign stop in Yerevan that “tseghasbanoutyoun” (genocide) and “yeghern” (atrocity) are synonymous. He asserted that President Barack Obama, without uttering the word “genocide,” had said “everything.” The Armenian head of state was referring to Obama’s use of the term “Medz Yeghern” (Great Atrocity) rather than “Armenian Genocide” in his annual April 24 commemorative statements.
1x1.trans Sassounian: Genocide Is the Right Word, Justice Is the Ultimate Goal
Raphael Lemkin
The words yeghern and Medz Yeghern were used by Armenians mostly before Raphael Lemkin coined the term “genocide” in 1943 to describe the organized mass killings of Armenians during the 1915-23 period. Before 1943, Armenians used various expressions to refer to those killings, such as chart (massacre), medz vojir (great crime), aghed (disaster), deghahanoutyoun (deportation), and aksor (exile). However, none of these words have the legal connotation of tseghasbanoutyoun or genocide under international law.
Since 1943, Armenians have spent much time and effort convincing the world that they were the victims of genocide, and are now seeking justice from Turkey under international law. This is the fundamental reason why Armenians demand genocide recognition, not massacres, atrocities, or deportations.
The only reason Obama has used the term Medz Yeghern in his annual statements is to avoid the words Armenian Genocide, in acquiescence to Turkish pressure. If Medz Yeghern and genocide have the same meaning, why doesn’t Obama use the term genocide instead of Medz Yeghern? After all, then-presidential candidate Obama did not promise Armenian-American voters that, if elected, he would recognize the Medz Yeghern; he pledged to recognize the Armenian Genocide.
Thus, all who allege that Medz Yeghern and genocide are synonymous are simply giving Obama a free pass and allowing him not to keep his solemn pledge. They are also undermining several decades of extensive lobbying efforts for the recognition of the Armenian Genocide!
Those who claim equivalence between Medz Yeghern and genocide do it not out of ignorance of Armenian terminology. They know full well that the two words don’t have the same meaning. Their real reason is to declare victory by making people believe that the president of the United States did after all acknowledge the validity of the Armenian Genocide.
There are a couple of fallacies in this approach. First, regardless of what Medz Yeghern means to Armenians, it is a meaningless term to all those who do not speak Armenian. Second, equating Medz Yeghern and genocide to claim success on genocide recognition is a futile exercise. It is really unnecessary to twist the meaning of Obama’s words. The United States recognized the Armenian Genocide as far back as 1951, when the government submitted an official document to the International Court of Justice (World Court) acknowledging the Jewish Holocaust and the Armenian Genocide as examples of genocide. Another U.S. president, Ronald Reagan, issued a Presidential Proclamation on April 22, 1981, in which he mentioned the Armenian Genocide. Moreover, the House of Representatives acknowledged the Armenian Genocide by adopting two resolutions in 1975 and 1984.
Consequently, there is no longer a pressing need to pursue further acknowledgment of the Armenian Genocide by passing repeated congressional resolutions or demanding that Obama utter the words Armenian Genocide. Nor is there a need to reinterpret Obama’s statements, claiming that by using the term Medz Yeghern he has automatically acknowledged the Armenian Genocide. The only reason Obama should recognize the genocide is to be a man of his word.
It is imperative for Armenians and their supporters to concentrate their efforts on the eve of the centennial of the genocide not on gaining further recognition—an already accomplished fact—but on securing justice for the massive crimes committed against their ancestors a hundred years ago.
Rather than demanding that the U.S. or even Turkey acknowledge the genocide, which would not result in any concrete benefit, Armenians should focus their energies on more meaningful steps, such as filing lawsuits against the Turkish government in national and international courts.
Once Armenians regain their territories and properties from Turkey through legal action or as a result of unexpected geopolitical developments, the Turkish government can go on denying the genocide as long as it wants!

Wednesday, February 6, 2013

Behind the Police Lines: The Attacks Against Armenians in Samatya

Special for the Armenian Weekly.
Historian Taner Akçam recently told me, “Living in Turkey as an Armenian is an art–the art of survival.” He was right.
1x1.trans Behind the Police Lines: The Attacks Against Armenians in Samatya
Protest against anti-Armenian crimes in Samatya, Istanbul: ‘We stand together with Armenians, we won’t give way to racism.’ (Photo shared on Facebook by Halkların Demokratik Kongresi [HDK])
And within a couple of days, I was in Samatya trying to understand what’s happening there.
Samatya is one of the oldest districts in Istanbul. After the establishment of the Turkish Republic they renamed it Kocamustafa Paşa. But many people still use the old name.
Since November 2012, we have been reading reports of attacks against  elderly Armenians in the neighborhood. In December, Marissa Kuchuk was killed during one of these attacks. Several followed.
Even the Armenian community doesn’t know the exact number of the attacks, because Armenians are frightened to even say that they were attacked. If there is no considerable harm, they don’t want to talk about it. This silence confuses the public and allows the police and others to argue that the attacks are not hate crimes.
Now let’s dig deeper, reminding ourselves that as of Jan. 31, the police haven’t yet made a single arrest.
The Armenian NGO Nor Zartonk has been following these attacks. Its representative, Sayat Tekir, told me on our TV show (IMC-GAMURC) that they had predicted a rise in hate crimes against Armenians in their report dated November 2012.
Around the same time, Göksel Gülbey, the president of ASIMDER (The Association for fighting against Armenian Claims), was sharing the names and addresses of Armenian schools in Istanbul on his Twitter and Facebook accounts, without providing additional commentary. He was essentially making these schools targets of attacks.
Soon thereafter, a Turkish teacher at the Aramyan Unciyan Armenian School was murdered in his house not far from the school. Yet no one investigated the president of ASIMDER. He soon claimed that he was being threatened by Armenians and asked for protection from the government.
Now let’s return to the attacks in Samatya.
The Aksaray Police Department, which has jurisdiction over Samatya, told Human Rights Association-Istanbul branch representatives on Jan. 23 that the attacks weren’t hate crimes. The police also pointed to the increased police presence in the neighborhood.
Commenting on the most recent attack, which took place on Jan. 23, the police argued that it took place when the policemen in the area were on a lunch break. Let’s assume this statement is true; doesn’t it mean that the assailants knew about the police department’s shifts, and that these attacks were certainly well organized?
In turn, Istanbul’s mayor announced during a Jan. 25 press conference that the city would broaden the investigation to include two other attacks that occurred in the Sisli and Fatih neighborhoods. But, “fortunately,” those two attacks were against two Turkish old women. Essentially, the mayor had figured out a way to argue that the attacks were not racially motivated.
So why are the police and the mayor insisting that these attacks are random and are not hate crimes against Armenians?
Because if the attacks are organized and are targeting Armenians, it means that nationalism continues to be on the rise in this country. It means that the ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP) has failed to address this problem.
It also means that while the AKP was busy with the “deep state” organization Ergenekon, it didn’t give enough importance to the KAFES operation, which was a part of Ergenekon, and targeted Turkey’s Armenians specifically.
The names of many who worked for the Turkish-Armenian weekly newspaper Agos were on KAFES’s murder list. The group also sent threatening letters to Armenian schools in Istanbul.
It would have been much more effective if the mayor had made a statement in support of the Armenian community. This simple gesture would have calmed the community in Samatya a bit.
Armenians in Istanbul want to believe that these attacks were not targeting them specifically. But they also remember what happened in 1915, 1942, and 1955…
And it seems that such attacks or threats are going to continue until 2015, the centennial of the genocide. The upcoming elections won’t help either, because it’s possible that the government will look the other way to win nationalist votes.

A Link to the Past: The ‘Armenian DNA Project’

Technological and medical advances in the last decade have opened many doors to research and development. It seems that the more answers we find, the more complex and layered our questions become. DNA testing is one of the advances that have become more readily available to the public. DNA is a self-replicating material present in all living things as the main constituent of chromosomes. A human normally has 23 pairs of chromosomes and inherits the 2 sets of chromosomes from his/her parents. Two of the chromosomes are the sex chromosomes: If you have an XY chromosome, you are a male, and if you have an XX chromosome, you are a female. DNA testing allows a person to determine changes in genes that may indicate a specific disorder, and the test results can reveal a large amount of family history.
1x1.trans A Link to the Past: The ‘Armenian DNA Project’
To learn more about the project, visit www.familytreedna.com and search for the “Armenia DNA Project.”
But what if you wanted a genetic map of your ancestry? What if you wanted to know if all families that shared your last name were related to you genetically? This is particularly important to Armenians, considering the variability of Armenian last names and the destruction of genealogical records of Ottoman-Armenians during the genocide. A group of scientists decided to find answers to these questions, and began the Armenian DNA Project.
The Armenian DNA Project was launched in September 2009 by Hovann Simonian, Peter Hrechdakian, and Mark Arslan to help researchers from common or related families work together to find their shared heritage, to identify and confirm genetic Lineages of ancestral families, and to ultimately catalogue pedigrees and genetic connections of all known project families. The Armenian DNA Project works in close cooperation with Levon Yepiskoposyan, a professor at the Institute of Molecular Biology. Yepiskoposyan began his ambitious experiment in January 2010, aiming to reconstruct the genetic history of Armenia and provide a precise interpretation of Armenians’ genetic DNA makeup. In 2010, he administered a blood test to 500 male Armenians, free of charge. In human genetic genealogy, use of the information contained in the Y chromosome is of particular interest since, unlike other chromosomes, the Y chromosome is passed on exclusively from father to son. Testing the Y chromosome can provide insight into the recent and ancient genetic ancestry, as a human male should largely share the same Y chromosome as his father, give or take a few mutations. Similar genetic sequences on the Y chromosome can reveal that two males are related. Although Yepiskoposyan focuses only on males, the same test can be conducted on females by studying their mitochondrial DNA, as the mitochondria is passed from mother to child.
The founders of the Armenian DNA Project aim to find genetic traces of both the ancient peoples whose descendants make up the current Armenian population, and the ancient invaders who conquered or passed through Armenian lands. The project is open to individuals with direct paternal or maternal ancestors of Armenian ancestry. To learn more about the project, visit www.familytreedna.com and search for the “Armenia DNA Project.”
For readers who have studied DNA in biology, you’ll recall that chromosomes are very stringy, so what better recipe to share with you than spun sugar? All I ask from you is that you follow this recipe carefully and do not burn yourself!

Spun sugar recipe
1x1.trans A Link to the Past: The ‘Armenian DNA Project’
Spun sugar

1 cup sugar
1 tablespoon glucose syrup (or corn syrup)
1/4 cup water
Bring the ingredients to a boil in a saucepan. Wash down the sides of the pan with a pastry brush dipped in water until there are no splashes of sugar on the sides. Boil without stirring until you see a golden tinge in the syrup. Remove from the heat immediately and stir.
The next steps require you to be very cautious!
To use your sugar syrup as a decoration for dessert, choose one of the following methods:
1. Using a fork or spoon drizzle the hot sugar syrup onto baking paper or use the back of a lightly oiled ladle to make domes.
2. Allow it to cool slightly and, using two forks, pull sugar into strands.

Youth Urge Congress to Speak Out Against Anti-Armenian Hate Crimes in Turkey

Capitol Hill Silent Protest Part of National “Stain of Denial” Campus Campaign Raising Awareness about the Armenian Genocide and Legacy of Intolerance
WASHINGTON—Armenian Student Association (ASA) members from the across the U.S. have teamed up with the Washington, DC Armenian Youth Federation (AYF) Ani chapter and local youth in organizing a silent protest on Capitol Hill this week to urge Congress to condemn a series of vicious hate crimes perpetrated against elderly Armenian women in Istanbul, Turkey and to call on U.S. leaders to end Turkey’s gag rule on proper U.S. affirmation of the Armenian Genocide.
1x1.trans Youth Urge Congress to Speak Out Against Anti Armenian Hate Crimes in Turkey
The protest will be held in front of the Senate Dirksen Office Building, on Constitution Ave., from 1 p.m. to 2 p.m. on Jan. 31
The protest will be held in front of the Senate Dirksen Office Building, on Constitution Ave., from 1 p.m. to 2 p.m. on Jan. 31, coinciding with the nationwide “Stain of Denial” campus protests organized by the All-ASA and supported by the AYF and ARF Shant Student organizations.
“The growing number of hate crimes against Armenians, and particularly women, in Turkey is extremely disturbing. In only the past two months more than four Armenians were attacked and killed in Istanbul, once again bringing to light the strain of deeply rooted hatred and intolerance in Turkish society that is encouraged by the government and its continued policy of genocide denial,” explained Knarik Gasparyan, Public Relations Director of the UCLA Armenian Students Association, in Washington DC for a semester-long internship.
Gasparyan is referring to four widely publicized attacks against elderly Armenian women, one fatal, which have taken place over the past two months, in the historically Armenian-inhabited neighborhood of Samatya, in central Istanbul.  On Dec. 28, an 85-year-old Armenian woman was repeatedly stabbed and killed in her home, with assailants carving a cross on her chest. Other attacks include the Nov. 2012 beating of an 87-year-old Armenian woman, and a failed attempt to abduct an elderly Armenian woman on Jan. 6. According to Turkish news outlet, Bianet, the latest incident took place on Jan. 22, when 83-year-old Sultan Aykar was attacked and repeatedly kicked until neighbors heard her screams and rushed to assist her.  Aykar lost sight in one eye because of the brutal beating.
The beatings sparked a sharp response from Amnesty International earlier this week, which called on “Turkish authorities to carry out a prompt, thorough and impartial investigation into the series of attacks on elderly Armenian women in Istanbul.”  The January 28th statement stressed that “Hate crimes constitute a serious form of discrimination… It is regrettable that Turkish legislation does not foresee any legislative and policy measures ensuring that hate motives are systematically and thoroughly investigated and duly taken into account in the prosecution and sentencing.”
Questions regarding a government cover-up of the attacks abound, as Turkish authorities attempt to downplay the crimes.  “The incident was inspired by robbery, there were no racial motives.  Be sure we will find the perpetrators.  Good night,” tweeted Istanbul Governor Huseyin Avni Mutlu to his 100,000 followers.  This and similar statements prompted Amnesty International to express “concern at public statements made by the authorities discounting the possibility of a racist motivation to the attacks.”  Meanwhile, the Turkish Human Rights Association stated categorically that “the attacks were carried out with racist motives,” according to a January 28th Economist article, “Turkey’s Armenians: The Ghosts of 1915,” referencing the legacy of the Armenian Genocide and its denial.
“The recent brutal murders and attacks on elderly Armenian women in Istanbul once again showed the level of xenophobia and intolerance within the Turkish society,” explained Bloomfield College student Armen Sahakyan.  “The events also serve as a sober reminder for us that the Armenian Genocide issue is not yet resolved and we should work ever harder to stand up to Turkey’s denial of that crime and secure the return of what rightfully belongs to the Armenian nation.”