Friday, May 31, 2013

‘Sistema Armenia’: Providing Musical Opportunities for Armenia’s Youth

El Sistema is a global initiative that aims to transform children’s lives through music. Pianist Anna Mikaelian Meschian has founded the Armenian chapter of the program, called Sistema Armenia. In an interview with the Weekly, Meschian discusses the new project, its objectives, and how others can help contribute.
El Sistema Talin Music School 300x191 ‘Sistema Armenia’: Providing Musical Opportunities for Armenia’s Youth
The Talin Music School Choir
Lilly Torosyan: Please explain what Sistema Armenia aims to accomplish.
Anna Mikaelian Meschian: Sistema Armenia is a new music initiative focused on social change through musical collaboration. Through the power of music, we aim to equip Armenian youth with 21st-century skills, to unite small and large communities, and to strengthen our cultural identity.
If we want our youth to become active citizens, then we must provide them with opportunities to learn to contribute in ways that matter. Being members of the orchestra or choir gives children the chance to learn how to be productive members of a community, showing them the important roles their individual voices play for the good of the whole. Awareness, concentration, perseverance, the ability to lead and to follow, and many other important skills become daily habits in the orchestral family. In practicing these skills day after day, year after year, participants transfer these habits of mind to their communities beyond the orchestra.
The repertoire used in the program will include classical music from around the world, with a special focus on Armenian music, allowing youth to really get to know our amazing culture.
Although our home base will be in Yerevan, we will work closely with communities all around Armenia, allowing youth in all parts of the country to benefit from the program.

LT: How did you have the idea to spread El Sistema to Armenia?
AMM: El Sistema, which started in Venezuela 38 years ago, is a huge inspiration for people around the world. I think musicians everywhere are looking at Venezuela and thinking, “That’s what I’ve always dreamed of having.” There are close to 400,000 children playing music in ensembles every single day after school, creating a new reality for themselves and for their society, through a shared love of music.
I was discovering all this for myself at an El Sistema program in Boston, where I was working with kids on music interpretation, when I got invited to do a presentation at the American University of Armenia (AUA) about El Sistema. I think they really just wanted to hear from me on why I was so passionate about this. I did the presentation with zero expectations, and received an overwhelming response from the audience, urging me to bring the program to Armenia.
I think one of the reasons El Sistema is an incredible fit for Armenia is because we already have such a strong foundation in music education. There are so many world-famous Armenian musicians; amid all the weakness we complain about, music is a definite strength of ours. Through Sistema Armenia, we want to build on this tradition of music education, by creating youth orchestras around Armenia, taking music out of the concert halls and music schools, and integrating it into communities around Armenia.
I may be biased, but I really don’t know a better way to uplift and inspire people than through music. I think by seeing beyond the professional solo musician model, we can bring all kinds of joy to the youth of Armenia, while empowering them to achieve unlikely goals in their lives.

LT: What creative endeavors has Sistema Armenia taken on thus far?
AMM: Right now, we’re in the middle of an instrument donation drive. We’re trying to find 40 string instruments for the children of our first orchestra. The response has been tremendous. Within a week, we have gotten seven violins, three guitars, and other instruments that will serve in our program. At this pace, we should be able to put together a string orchestra within a couple of months!
In Armenia, we have also organized community outreach trips—to Talin and Shnogh, running workshops with the kids there and presenting joint concerts for their communities. These trips were the foundation for a new program through which we will continue to reach out to communities all across Armenia.
But you know, it’s been hard to live in Boston while starting an organization in Armenia. I really can’t wait to be back there in a month or so to continue the work on the ground.

LT: Where do you see this project heading?
AMM: We’re currently working on four aspects of the program. The High Note Music Festival will take place at the end of August. It will focus on the choir and orchestra as musical communities, and train close to 40 teachers from around Armenia. The Center for Collaborative Musicianship will be the home base in Yerevan, focusing on building a community through children’s orchestra and choir, and serving as a training facility for teachers interested in bringing social change through music. The Creative Nation Program we’ve started is a call to musicians all around the world to participate in building civil society in Armenia. Anyone interested in sharing their passion for music with children can contact us and we will work together to create appropriate workshops and performances all around Armenia. The Talin Music School is currently undergoing some major changes, and we’re working closely with them in developing an El Sistema program for their community. Much like other models in the future, the vision for Talin is up to the members of that community. At this point, we’re discussing incorporating special needs music education for the children of Talin. On top of everything else, El Sistema is an incredible model for inclusive education and we hope to transfer those practices to Armenia. I know there are about 100 disabled kids in Talin, and giving them access to music would be a great source of joy, I’m sure.
Beyond these four programs, there are big ideas and dreams for the future. Once we have built the foundation, we can dream big together.

LT: Several organizations have agreed to collaborate with Sistema Armenia. Describe the response.
AMM: In a word—overwhelming. Just eight months ago, I was standing on stage by myself, talking about a distant vision. Since then, I have met incredible people in all parts of the world. People have reached out and helped out in all kinds of ways—I can’t even being to describe it. We have also established some partnerships, with UNICEF, Youth Orchestra of the Americas, LUYS Foundation, MIT Media Lab, the U.S. Embassy, and many others. They are providing us with in-kind support, greatly reducing our out-of-pocket costs. The Fund for Armenian Relief (FAR) is our fiscal sponsor, which means it is providing its tax-exempt status for our donors. They are also providing instrument shipment to Armenia and have been an incredible resource for advice, helping us deal with the local government, etc.

LT: How can others who want to help with the success of Sistema Armenia get involved?
AMM: We really mean it when we say we are driven by the idea of collaboration. If individuals or organizations see themselves as having a role in our programs, we will always do our best to incorporate them. At this point, we are very actively looking for funding for the Center for Collaborative Musicianship, so financial contributions would be truly appreciated. Once we are fully established, we hope that everyone will consider participating in our programs—as guest musicians, observers, and volunteers. There is really no limit.
Also, please visit our website and let us know what you think. We’d love to hear from you!

Wednesday, May 29, 2013

H. Res. 227: Why You Should Care and How You Can Help

If you haven’t already heard, the ANCA partnered with several of our friends in Congress to introduce House Resolution 227: the Armenian Genocide Truth and Justice Resolution. The resolution was introduced by Rep. David Valadao (R-Calif.), Rep. Adam Schiff (D-Calif.), Rep. Frank Pallone (D-N.J.), and Rep. Michael Grimm (R-N.Y.).
This isn’t the first time an Armenian Genocide resolution has been introduced in the U.S. Congress, and it certainly won’t be the last. But H. Res. 227 is exciting because it calls upon the president to work toward equitable, constructive, and durable Armenian-Turkish relations based upon the Republic of Turkey’s full acknowledgement of the facts and ongoing consequences of the genocide, and a fair, just, and comprehensive international resolution of this crime against humanity.
H. Res. 227 also includes prior instances of U.S. recognition of the genocide, as far back as the Woodrow Wilson Administration. The text from H. Res. 304 from the 112th Congress described the facts and the American response to the genocide while calling upon the president to ensure that the foreign policy of the U.S. reflects the facts of the genocide, urging him to call it a genocide in his annual April 24th statement.
So why should you care? We all realize the genocide is 98 years past, but that doesn’t mean we have stopped pursuing recognition in the U.S. and in Turkey. It doesn’t mean we can’t continue to hope for a peaceful solution to Armenian-Turkish relations. As an Armenian-American citizen, you should care about the future of our homeland and work to make every day just a little bit easier for our people there now.
This resolution, like those in years past, is going to mean something if you take action. The only way your Congressman is going to consider co-sponsoring H. Res. 227 is if s/he hears from constituents. Our lobby can be a powerful one if you and a few people you know step up. Think about it—it’s not just Armenians who can call on their representatives to pass a resolution. Invite your friends, your colleagues, your dog walker, we don’t care! Have them click on this Action Alert and take 60 seconds out of their day to help H. Res. 227 pass in the House of Representatives:
The form takes a minute to fill out and it will send an ANCA webmail on your behalf directly to your Congressman.
If you want to go a step further, feel free to give your representative a call at his or her Washington office; all it takes is a quick Google search to obtain the number.
Or, you can reach out to the ANCA Eastern Region office by e-mailing, and we’ll be happy to help you connect to your Congressman. It’s that simple and it makes a world of difference.
H. Res. 227 is significant even if you think Armenians need to focus on issues other than genocide recognition. It is just one of many topics on the ANCA’s to do list, but one that we take very seriously.
As Congressman Pallone, co-chair of the Congressional Caucus on Armenian Issues, said: “Armenia stands as a resilient ally of the United States and a nation dedicated to democracy and regional stability, and the resolution introduced…shows that we will not stand idly by when the truth of this genocide is distorted by the Turkish government.”
Please help us pass H. Res. 227 today

Sunday, May 26, 2013

Sassounian: House Resolution Goes Beyond Recognition Seeking Truth and Justice

In a welcome move, four members of the U.S. House of Representatives have introduced a resolution that advocates a new approach for the pursuit of Armenian rights in Congress, going beyond genocide recognition.
This new bipartisan initiative, introduced by Congressmen David Valadao (R-Calif.), Adam Schiff (D-Calif.), Michael Grimm (R-N.Y.), and Frank Pallone (D-N.J.), is appropriately titled, “Armenian Genocide Truth and Justice Act.”
It is well known that the U.S. government has recognized the Armenian Genocide on several occasions, starting in 1951 by the submission of an official document to the International Court of Justice (World Court), followed by President Ronald Reagan’s Presidential Proclamation of April 22, 1981, and through two House resolutions in 1975 and 1984.
The proposed measure calls on President Obama “to work toward equitable, constructive, and durable Armenian-Turkish relations based upon the Republic of Turkey’s full acknowledgement of the facts and ongoing consequences of the Armenian Genocide, and a fair, just, and comprehensive international resolution of this crime against humanity,” the Armenian National Committee of America reported.
It is high time that Armenian Americans support congressional efforts that go beyond the mere repetition of the acknowledged facts of the Armenian Genocide and seek the more meaningful goal of justice, which entails the restitution and recovery of the substantial losses suffered as a consequence of the genocide, including personal and community properties, and the occupied territories of Western Armenia. It is hardly conceivable that anyone would dare to oppose the universally accepted concept of justice, not even Rejep Tayyip Erdogan, the prime minister of Turkey, who heads the ruling “Justice and Development Party.”
It is understandable that for many years, it was necessary to seek genocide recognition, as most of the world was unaware of the Armenian Genocide. However, as a result of the relentless efforts by the Armenian Diaspora and the Republic of Armenia, there is no longer a need to continue pursuing recognition—having largely prevailed over persistent Turkish denialism. By declaring victory and moving forward to reclaim their just demands, Armenians would avoid falling in the Turkish trap of trying to reconfirm the facts of the genocide ad nauseam! Meanwhile, the Turkish government would continue its shameful refusal to acknowledge the Armenian Genocide or might engage in the deceptive game of issuing partial and meaningless apologies in order to mislead the international community on the eve of the genocide’s centennial.
The new House resolution also seeks to shift the U.S. government’s efforts away from the ill-fated Armenia-Turkey protocols and refocus the Obama Administration’s attention on Armenia’s just demands from Turkey. The congressional resolution reminds Obama of his April 24, 2012 statement, in which he advocated that “a full, frank, and just acknowledgement of the facts is in all of our interests. Moving forward with the future cannot be done without reckoning with the facts of the past.”
The resolution points out that the Republic of Turkey, rather than “reckoning with the facts of the past,” has instead “escalated its international campaign of Armenian Genocide denial, maintained its blockade of Armenia, and increased its pressure on the small but growing Turkish civil society movement acknowledging the Armenian Genocide and seeking justice from this systematic campaign of destruction of millions of Armenian, Greek, Assyrian, Pontian, Syriac, and other Christians upon their biblical-era homelands.”
The congressional resolution further declares that U.S. “national interests in the establishment of equitable, constructive, stable, and durable relations between Armenians and Turks cannot be meaningfully advanced by circumventing or otherwise seeking to avoid materially addressing the central political, legal, security, and moral issue between these two nations: Turkey’s denial of truth and justice for the Armenian Genocide.”
The newly introduced resolution makes it clear that Armenians, rather than being satisfied by merely regurgitating the well-known facts of the genocide, demand a just resolution through full and comprehensive restitution.

Armenian Genocide Truth and Justice Act Introduced in U.S. House of Representatives

WASHINGTON– As Turkey’s Prime Minister Recep Erdogan continues his official U.S. state visit, a bipartisan group of U.S. Representatives introduced the Armenian Genocide Truth and Justice Act, a new measure calling upon the President to build upon the U.S. record of having recognized the Armenian Genocide by working toward improved Armenian-Turkish relations based upon the Republic of Turkey’s full acknowledgement of the facts and ongoing consequences of the Armenian Genocide, and a fair, just, and comprehensive international resolution of this crime, reported the Armenian National Committee of America (ANCA).
“We welcome today’s introduction of the Armenian Genocide Truth and Justice Act,” said Aram Hamparian, Executive Director of the ANCA.  “This innovative bipartisan initiative, building upon the U.S. record of having recognized the Armenian Genocide, calls for a new U.S. approach to Armenian-Turkish ties that reflects our America values and recognizes that our national interests require an end to Turkey’s denials and a truthful, just, and comprehensive international resolution of this crime.”
The Armenian Genocide Truth and Justice Act, introduced by Representatives Michael Grimm (R-NY), Adam Schiff (D-CA), David Valadao (R-CA) and Frank Pallone (D-NJ), reflects and reinforces previous U.S. affirmation of the Armenian Genocide as a crime of genocide, citing the U.S. Government’s May 28, 1951 written statement to the International Court of Justice regarding the Convention on the Prevention and Punishment of the Crime of Genocide, President Ronald Reagan’s April 22, 1981 Proclamation and Congressional adoption of Armenian Genocide legislation in 1975 and 1984.
“Almost a century ago, over a million Armenian men, women, and innocent children were mercilessly put to death by forces of the Ottoman Empire in a horrifying attempt to wipe them from the face of the earth,” said Rep. Grimm. “The U.S. has tirelessly defended justice and human rights throughout the world, and we have a solemn duty to recognize, once and for all, the injustices of the Armenian Genocide. On behalf of the Armenian community in New York City, I am proud to join with my colleagues on both sides of the aisle in introducing Armenian Genocide Truth and Justice Act.”
“The facts of history are well-settled – 1.5 million Armenian men, women and children were deliberately murdered in the first genocide of the 20th Century,” Rep. Schiff said. “With each passing day, we lose a few more of the dwindling number of survivors. We should all feel a powerful sense of urgency, and the profound call of moral duty to recognize the Armenian Genocide unequivocally and without delay.”
Congressman Valadao stated, “Many of those able to flee during the genocide immigrated to the United States and settled in California. Today, their families continue to grow, thrive, and instill their cultural heritage in their adopted communities. However, the sense of loss as a result of these horrific acts runs deep as many Armenian-Americans in my district personally know a friend or family member who was unable to escape the genocide. We must ensure that the United States government properly acknowledges what so many already know to be true.”
“The time for the U.S. to officially recognize the Armenian Genocide is long overdue,” said Congressman Frank Pallone, Co-Chair of the Congressional Caucus on Armenian Issues.  “Armenia stands as a resilient ally of the United States and a nation dedicated to democracy and regional stability, and the Resolution introduced today shows that we will not stand idly by when the truth of this genocide is distorted by the Turkish government.”

Cicilline Calls for Recognition, Apology

WASHINGTON—On May 16, U.S. Congressman David N. Cicilline (D-R.I.), a member of the House Foreign Affairs Committee, in a statement called on Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan, who was visiting the United States, to formally acknowledge and apologize for the Armenian Genocide.
“Two million Armenian men, women, and children living under the jurisdiction of the Ottoman Empire were systematically slaughtered or forced to leave their homeland,” the statement read. “There is no doubt that this heinous, organized assault on the Armenian people constituted the first genocide of the 20th century. And yet, even today, nearly a hundred years later, the Turkish government continues to ignore the preponderance of evidence and deny a historical reality.”
“As Prime Minister Erdogan works to improve his country’s standing in the Middle East, and develop a stronger relationship with the United States, he should take this opportunity to acknowledge the atrocities that occurred once and for all, and issue a formal apology to the survivors and the descendants of the victims. His failure to do so would serve only to deepen an indelible stain on the history of his nation.”

Wednesday, May 15, 2013

Sassounian: White House Files Politically Motivated, Anti-Armenian Brief to Supreme Court

The U.S. Supreme Court asked the Obama Administration last October if it should review a Federal Appeals Court decision that had struck down a California law (Section 354.4) extending the statute of limitations on Armenian Genocide-era life insurance claims.
The U.S. solicitor general, the lawyer representing the United States government before the Supreme Court, filed a response last week. He urged the Supreme Court not to hear the appeal, and let stand the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals ruling that the California law “impermissibly” intruded into the federal government’s foreign relations powers.
Given President Obama’s disappointing record of kowtowing to Turkey, particularly on Armenian Genocide issues, it is not surprising that the administration’s brief went far beyond the question of whether the Supreme Court should hear the appeal.
The U.S. solicitor general erroneously claimed that:
– contrary to the assertion of Armenian litigants, “California was not acting within an area of its traditional competence,” i.e., insurance regulation;
– the California law “intrudes upon substantial foreign affairs powers” of the federal government and leads to judgments “based on politically contentious events that occurred in the Ottoman Empire nearly a century ago”;
– beyond simply intruding, this law would “disturb foreign relations” with Turkey (Presidents Bill Clinton and George W. Bush had opposed congressional resolutions on the Armenian Genocide, alleging that such measures would “undermine efforts to encourage improved relations between Armenia and Turkey”);
– Section 354.4 “would impermissibly intrude upon the federal foreign affairs power” in an area where the United States “acted in the post-World War I era to resolve certain claims by American citizens” through the Ankara Agreement (Oct. 25, 1934), American Treaty of Lausanne (August 6, 1923), and Treaty of Berlin and Claims Agreement (Aug. 10, 1922).
Several rebuttals are in order to the solicitor general’s misguided and politically motivated arguments:
– The California law does not intrude on the federal government’s foreign affairs powers as it simply attempts to regulate the obligations of insurance companies, an area of state competence and jurisdiction. This law provides an opportunity to right a historic wrong by forcing insurance companies to make long overdue payments to heirs of their deceased clients.
– German insurance companies are the defendants in this case, not Turkey, even though the latter filed a brief opposing the lawsuit. Remarkably, the solicitor general’s brief mirrors some of the arguments advanced by Turkey.
– The solicitor general selectively cites the opposition of the Clinton and Bush Administrations to congressional resolutions on the Armenian Genocide, ignoring the long-standing U.S. record on genocide recognition, including resolutions adopted by the House of Representatives in 1975 and 1984, President Reagan’s Presidential Proclamation of 1981, and the U.S. government’s 1951 written statement to the International Court of Justice (World Court) acknowledging the Armenian Genocide.
– All three treaties/agreements cited by the solicitor general are unrelated to the subject matter of this lawsuit. The Ankara Agreement and the American Treaty of Lausanne involve the Republic of Turkey, not German insurance companies. Also, the American Treaty of Lausanne lacks any legal standing as a non-ratified treaty. The solicitor general undermines his own position by acknowledging that the California law “does not expressly conflict with the Ankara Agreement, the American Treaty of Lausanne, or the Treaty of Berlin and Claims Agreement,” which “addressed only the claims of those who were U.S. citizens at the time of World War I, not those who became U.S citizens after the war had concluded.”
The solicitor general’s “legal opinion,” besides being flawed on all counts, is more of a political statement that deprives American citizens of their right to insurance claims.
One would hope that the Supreme Court will ignore the solicitor general’s brief and agree to hear the case, even though the chances are slim, as the court accepts only a small percentage of cases submitted to it.
The solicitor general’s overreaching arguments, if unchallenged, would have a chilling effect on all future genocide restitution efforts, particularly on the eve of the Armenian Genocide centennial!
Armenian-American community leaders should take all possible measures to counter the solicitor general’s politically motivated arguments by cutting all ties with the Obama Administration, organizing protests at presidential appearances, seeking congressional intervention to establish a federal commission for genocide restitution similar to that of the Holocaust, and amending Section 354.4 of the California law to circumvent the presented objections, no matter how flimsy.
Moreover, the Armenian government should immediately withdraw its signature from the Armenia-Turkey protocols, which are repeatedly cited by the White House and U.S. courts as a pretext for opposing Armenian Genocide-related efforts, under the guise of not wanting to undermine Armenia-Turkey relations—which are non-existent!
It is now crystal clear that Obama’s deceptive use of the term “Meds Yeghern” in his annual commemorative statements does not amount to an acknowledgment of the Armenian Genocide, contrary to the gleeful pronouncements of some gullible souls.
Finally, the Armenian-American community should reconsider its strategy of seeking genocide acknowledgment through congressional resolutions that are not only unnecessary, but counter-productive, as these unsuccessful attempts undermine previously adopted resolutions and cast doubt on the long-established U.S. record of Armenian Genocide recognition.

Panel Discussion on ‘Being Armenian: What Does It Mean Today?’

BOSTON, Mass.—On April 25, the Boston University Armenian Students’ Association (ASA) hosted a discussion about what it means to be an Armenian in the diaspora. The panelists were Anita Postaljian, a 2012 Birthright Armenia volunteer; Stephen Kurkjian, a retired Boston Globe editor/reporter; and Judy Norsigian, the executive director of Our Bodies Ourselves and a board member of the Armenian International Women’s Association (AIWA).
AIWA Judy Norsigian 243x300 Panel Discussion on ‘Being Armenian: What Does It Mean Today?’
Having grown up in the United States to Lebanese-Armenian and Syrian-Armenian immigrant parents, Postaljian did not learn proper English until she entered public school at the age of eight. Speaking frankly, she admitted that her family was not thrilled to hear of her decision to go to Armenia. “My mom went once as a teenager during the Soviet era and did not have a good experience,” she said. Despite this, Postaljian found herself so mesmerized by the beauty of the country and its people that she extended her stay from two months to seven. One of the projects she helped oversee involved the women of the Alaverdi village who knitted stuffed animals for profit. Postaljian stressed the importance of the slogan, “Find the Armenian that you are,” and explained how Birthright Armenia enabled her to do just that.
Stephen Kurkjian, the son of a genocide survivor, spoke about his own identity struggle growing up in Boston. “Boston at the time was a melting pot of cultures, and I grew up very American,” explained the journalist, who is also on the board of the National Association for Armenian Studies and Research (NAASR). Kurkjian’s father, like many survivors of the genocide, did not talk about his past, until one day, at age 90, he began to reminisce about his village in present-day Turkey. This prompted Kurkjian to research his ancestry, and he began to ask questions that he considered “embarrassing” for not knowing. He published an article called “Roots of Sorrow” about his father’s journey back to his childhood village. “That was the best, but hardest piece I’ve ever written,” Kurkjian explained. Today, he concedes that he has found a healthy balance with his identity as an Armenian American. “I wish I called the piece ‘Seeds of Hope’ instead, because I see the positives from remembering this history now.” Concluding his talk, Kurkjian stated, “I’m glad we’ve got the leaders of the next generation of Armenians here.”
Closing up the evening was Judy Norsigian, who talked at length about women’s health in Armenia, and her organization, Our Bodies Ourselves, which advocates for women’s health by “challenging the institutions and systems that prevent women from having full control over their bodies.” Some of the statistics Norsigian mentioned were staggering. “Armenian male infertility is the highest in Europe,” stated Norsigian, who went on to explain some of the causes of this infertility, including promiscuity. Some critics in Armenia have accused the organization of “committing genocide” for providing women access to contraception, Norsigian stated.
At the AIWA conference in Yerevan in 2000, Norsigian worked to raise awareness of several initiatives, such as the Women’s Entrepreneurial Program (WEP), which helps women start their own businesses, and the Ajakits NGO in Gyumri, which provides healthcare and psychological services for battered women and children. Norsigian concluded that unfortunately, over the last 10 or 15 years, domestic violence has been on the rise. She contributed this to the tough economic situation in Armenia, which has added stress on husbands who, in turn, take it out on their wives. Yet, Norsigian provided a solution for change: “The leadership at the top is really what counts. They need to set an example for the rest of the nation to follow.”

The ‘Exact Translation’: How ‘Medz Yeghern’ Means Genocide

Yes, until World War II, the Medz Yeghern of 1915 was unprecedented not only in the history of our people, but in the entirety of humankind. An entire people, an entire nation coming from the depths of millennia was killed, was dying.
We condemn genocide [genotsid] or zhoghovrtasbanutiun with all our heart and soul.
There is and there cannot be either juridical justification or any motion of prescription for genocide.
Genocide, be it the horrifying slaughter of Armenians in Der or in the banks of the Euphrates in 1915, or the torturing death by massacre of the other peoples during World War II in Majdanek and Büchenwald, must always be condemned without reservations, and its perpetrators must be condemned by all of humankind.
Nagush Harutiunian (1965)1

The president of the Presidium of the Supreme Soviet of the Armenian Soviet Socialist Republic proclaimed these words at the official commemoration of the genocide on April 24, 1965 in Yerevan. Harutiunian did not hesitate to pair “genocide” (he used the Russian loanword genotsid and the Armenian translation zhoghovrtasbanutiun, literally “democide”; tseghasbanutiun was not yet commonly used in Eastern Armenian) and “Medz Yeghern.”
Almost 50 years later, the official use of Medz Yeghern and genocide as synonyms would show ideological continuity regardless of time and political situation. Serge Sarkisian, the president of the Republic of Armenia, in a speech given in Marseilles in December 2011, said: “We were strong enough to survive the Medz Yeghern [Great Calamity], and we are just as strong now to demand justice.” After routinely inserting the translation “Great Calamity,” Armenian American commentator Harut Sassounian did not make any further comment on its use and reported that Sarkisian had employed “Armenian Genocide” six times in other parts of his speech.2
The organized annihilation of 1915 was an unprecedented eruption of pure evil that encompassed not only the wholesale killing of people, but also the devastation of their culture and civilization, the dispossession of their property and ancestral territory, and the dehumanization and traumatization of the survivors and their descendants. That evil component ensured the use of Medz Yeghern (“Great [Evil] Crime”) as the name for a crime of such catastrophic and unprecedented proportions, superseding the more pedestrian Medz Vojir (“Great Crime”). An editorial published in 2005, on the 90th anniversary of the genocide, in “Hai Sird,” the official periodical of the Armenian Relief Society (ARS), even asked “whether the word ‘genocide,’ coined decades later, can begin to describe what we, Armenians, call Metz Yeghern, ‘The Great Crime.’”3 The legitimacy of the word was not questioned; rather, its insufficiency to describe the dimensions of the event.

Deconstructing Obama’s April 24 statements
The phony polemics around Medz Yeghern have been exacerbated by a remarkable ignorance of its profound historical meaning and a willful adoption of the Turkish-fueled “Great Calamity” hoax. This has led to an inability to accurately interpret the relation of President Barack Obama’s “Meds Yeghern” of April 2009 (and subsequent years) to presidential candidate Barack Obama’s promise on Jan. 19, 2008—“as President I will recognize the Armenian Genocide.”4 Consequently, the powers that be have chosen “to send a message to the president and all politicians that if you make a promise to the people, you have to keep your promise,” as Sassounian stated in May 2010.5 On the eve of the 2010 congressional elections, a privately paid “political ad” even appeared in the Armenian-American press with the following title: “President Medz Yeghern is a liar. Liars must be punished. On November 2, give him a Republican Congress.”6 Around a month before the 2012 presidential elections, Sassounian reportedly issued the following warning: “Pres. Obama has about 30 days to make good on his pledge to recognize the Armenian Genocide. Otherwise, Armenian-Americans will not vote for him for a second term.”7
We have chosen a rather different path: to read together the five presidential statements between 2009 and 2013. The analysis showed a constant repetition of several key phrases and/or ideas:
1)                  “Meds Yeghern,” non-translated (eleven times)
2)                  “I have consistently stated my own view of what occurred in 1915…” (five times)
3)                  “…And my view has not changed” (five times)
4)                   1.5 million Armenians (five times)
5)                  Massacred or marched to their death (five times)
6)                  “In the final days of the Ottoman Empire” (five times)
7)                  One of the “worst” (four times) or “great” (one time) atrocities of the 20th century;
8)                  “Full, frank, and just acknowledgment of the facts” (five times)
9)                  Armenian contribution “to the world” (two times), “to our nation” (one time), “to our society, our culture, and our communities” (one time)

Reconstructing Obama’s April 24 statements
Here is the reconstruction of the key phrases deconstructed above, namely, the essentials of what Obama has said for the past four years: “I have consistently stated [and I repeat] my own view of that history: the Meds Yeghern was one of the worst atrocities of the twentieth century [that caused] 1.5 million victims massacred or marched to their death in the final days of the Ottoman Empire. [I want] the achievement of a full, frank, and just acknowledgement of the facts [and I recognize] the Armenian contribution to the world.”
This paragraph repeats the facts of history that are opposed to Turkish denial—that there were 1.5 million victims of massacre or deadly deportation in the Ottoman Empire, one of the worst atrocities of the 20th century. Turkish counterfactual history was exemplified by one of its most notorious spokespersons, Yusuf Halaçoğlu, the former president of the Turkish Historical Society and a current member of parliament, back in 2005: 1) “Most Armenians who died, died of disease, whereas most Muslims who died were killed by Armenian gangs”; 2) “Those who keep talking about the nonsense of 1.5 million dead are politicizing this issue. Can you imagine where one would bury 1.5 million people? If you put 300 in the same grave, that would make 5,000 mass graves.”8
The rationale of the reconstructed paragraph lies in the “view of that history” that Senator Barack Obama had stated in his June 28, 2006 letter to Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice (“The occurrence of the Armenian genocide is not an ‘allegation,’ a ‘personal opinion,’ or a ‘point of view.’ Supported by an overwhelming amount of historical evidence, it is a widely documented fact”),9 re-stated as a presidential candidate on Jan. 19, 2008 (“…my firmly held conviction that the Armenian Genocide is not an allegation, a personal opinion, or a point of view, but rather a widely documented fact supported by an overwhelming body of historical evidence. The facts are undeniable”),10 and reaffirmed four times in a row that it had not changed.
“A cursory review of Turkish foreign policy would clearly indicate the prominent role that machtpolitik [power politics] assumes in Ankara’s relations with the Western governments,” political scientist and historian Simon Payaslian said more than a decade ago. “Nor would the policies of Britain, France, Germany, or the United States toward Turkey be considered determined by principles of moralpolitik [moral politics]. … For Armenians, it is an unfortunate machtpolitik reality—but a reality nonetheless—that little has changed in Western policy during the past 80 years, and not much is likely to change in the foreseeable future.”11 Obama was confronted with the impossibility and inability of breaking decades-old American foreign policy as mandated since the time of Harry Truman: “The future of Turkey, as an independent and economically sound state, is clearly no less important to the freedom-loving peoples of the world than the future of Greece. . . . [Turkey’s] integrity is essential to the preservation of order in the Middle East.”12 Daniel Larison, a blogger for “The American Conservative,” noted in the wake of the statement that the word genocide “we know is lacking not for any good historical reason but obviously because of sheer politicking and interest group lobbying.”13 Recalling Otto Bismarck’s dictum that politics is the art of the possible, the U.S. president chose to make reference to his past statements as an implicit recognition of the genocide and to address a call for acknowledgement of facts to the side that does not recognize them.

A unique paragraph
Obama’s 2009 statement also contained a unique paragraph: “Nothing can bring back those who were lost in the Meds Yeghern. But the contributions that Armenians have made over the last 94 years stand as a testament to the talent, dynamism, and resilience of the Armenian people, and as the ultimate rebuke to those who tried to destroy them.” Its legal intent was correctly assessed by the Council of the Bar Association of the Republic of Armenia in early 2010; while stating that it is “time to call things by their proper names,” it did recognize that “Obama the lawyer…has already clearly acknowledged the events of the Armenian Genocide”:
“President Obama used the historical Armenian term ‘Meds Yeghern,’ which is synonymous to ‘genocide,’ a more contemporary term. The term ‘Meds Yeghern’ was used by President Obama twice, and was clearly described as an attempt to destroy the Armenian people. It is obvious that the ‘Meds Yeghern’ term was referred to by President Obama in exactly the same meaning, as we, Armenians, refer to it. The terms ‘Meds Yeghern,’ ‘Hayots Tseghaspanutiun,’ and ‘Armenian Genocide’ have been always absolutely identical. From the legal point of view, President Obama has described a genocide, because an attempt to destroy a people is, by definition, a genocide.
Even though Obama the politician did not use the term genocide, Obama the lawyer, the graduate of Columbia University and Harvard Law School, has already clearly acknowledged the events of the Armenian Genocide. On behalf of the Bar Association of the Republic of Armenia, we would like to express our gratitude to President Obama for his historic statement.
Taking into account the significance of international recognition of genocide in preventing the crime of genocide in the future, we believe that it is the time to call things by their proper names and to condemn the Medz Yeghern defining it as genocide in unequivocal terms.”14
The underlined phrase did not appear again in the next presidential statements. We are inclined to believe that it was not sheer coincidence.

The Canadian precedent of ‘Medz Yeghern’
Ironically, Armenian-Americans have never bothered to look across the border and notice that Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper had already recognized the genocide with the name Medz Yeghern on April 19, 2006: “I would like to extend my sincere greetings to all of those marking this somber anniversary of the Medz Yeghern. Ninety-one years ago the Armenian people experienced terrible suffering and loss of life. In recent years the Senate of Canada adopted a motion acknowledging this period as ‘the first genocide of the 20th century,’ while the House of Commons adopted a motion that ‘acknowledges the Armenian genocide of 1915 and condemns this act as a crime against humanity.’ My party and I supported those resolutions and continue to recognize them today.”15
He repeated his statement almost literally in 2011.16 However, we did not find any protest against Harper’s use of Medz Yeghern (without translation) and his reluctance to call it “genocide” as a label of his own. His quote of parliamentary resolutions and his statement of support to them seem to have satisfied or silenced potential complainants.
In his efforts to circumvent the explicit use of the word “genocide,” Obama has referred interested parties to his “view of that history” and used Medz Yeghern nine times to name the genocide, in the same way that Prime Minister Harper referred interested parties to parliamentary resolutions and used Medz Yeghern twice to name the genocide.
The outcome was different: Harper’s use of Medz Yeghern was given the Freedom Award of the Armenian National Committee-Western Region in 2007.17 Obama’s use of Medz Yeghern to name the genocide has been relentlessly bashed during the past four years, even though Sassounian wrote in his 2009 open letter to Obama: Armenians actually gain nothing by having one more U.S. president reiterate what has been said before. As you know, presidential statements, just as congressional resolutions, have no legal consequence.”18
Interestingly, Turkish columnist Murat Yetkin wrote in April 2012: “And American President Barack Obama’s ‘Meds yeghern’ statement yesterday made neither Armenians nor Turks happy; the term is synonymous with genocide in Armenian, but does not have any meaning in international law.”19
Yetkin’s argument is convoluted, as genocide denial is prone to be. Although it is undeniable that, as law scholar Thomas Buergenthal has written, “the Holocaust and its aftermath transformed genocide from a nameless crime to a crime whose very name evokes the horrors not only of the Holocaust, but also of the Armenian Genocide, of Rwanda, of the Former Yugoslavia and of the countless other terrible tragedies which have victimized mankind before and after the Holocaust,”20 a denier could say, by the same token, that the words Shoah and Holocaust do not have any meaning in international law (they do not appear either in the Convention for the Prevention of Genocide or in the Rome Statute of the International Criminal Court). In any case, the legal meaning of Medz Yeghern vis-à-vis genocide in international law seems to be irrelevant, even for those who adamantly demand the use of the latter.

Towards another understanding
A few people have, however, understood Obama’s statements, including the use of Medz Yeghern, in a different way. For instance, Daniel Larison highlighted the legal content of Medz Yeghern and linked it to genocide: “Contrary to the Turkish Coalition’s awful statement, Obama did not ‘defer’ to historians (by which they mean embrace whitewashing of the record), but he made quite clear that he regarded it as one of the great atrocities of the last century and used an Armenian phrase, Meds Yeghern, to describe it, that conveys the message that these were criminal acts. Not unfortunate incidents or unavoidable wartime excesses, as the hacks and paid-off spokesmen would have it, but crimes and atrocities. That implies willful mass murder directed against an entire people, which in the end is quite close to what people understand when someone refers to genocide. In my modern Eastern Armenian dictionary, yeghern means ‘slaughter, carnage, genocide,’ or a ‘crime’’ or ‘evil deed,’ and the word yeghern has been and can be used in the context of referring to the genocide.”21
French Armenian historian Claude Mutafian, who criticized the U.S. president’s plea for Turkey’s membership in the European Union, was brutally frank in 2009: “This is what Obama has said. He has openly accused the Ottoman Empire of committing a ‘great crime,’ one of the most barbarous actions of the century (sic), which has caused a million and a half victims (re-sic). I say: hats off! Whereas these traitors of the government of Armenia have scandalously soaped the board by giving him, with this criminal ‘road map,’ a pretext to say the strict minimum as his predecessors, nevertheless he had the courage to say everything. I repeat: hats off! The Turkish authorities have not been fooled anyway; they have immediately cried foul, because they have made a much better analysis than the innumerable do-gooders of the diaspora bent over the word ‘genocide’ while the president of the United States has said the same thing. Against so stupid reactions, Obama will end by concluding, in all fairness, that if Armenians are so primitive, then they do not deserve to be thought of. Is this what we want to achieve?”22
On May 7, 2010, reader Antranik Jarchafjian criticized the newspaper Asbarez’s title “Obama Refuses to Recognize the Armenia Genocide” in a letter to the editor: “We should not let our anger get in the way of having the necessary agility to draw the maximum benefit from this and other presidential statements. Unfortunately, Asbarez not only failed in this regard but also set the tone for other media outlets by providing an Armenian source to frame the statement as refusal to recognize the genocide. While Asbarez can go on and egg the president to its heart’s content, the misguided characterization does the recognition campaign no favors. Instead of taking the president’s statement as an actual recognition of the genocide and force the deniers to prove that it isn’t, Asbarez undermine[s] the effort and aids the deniers by turning the statement on it[s] head and announcing that the president ‘refuses to recognize the Armenian Genocide.’”
The editorial response was that “the president’s continued use of the word ‘Medz Yeghern’ as a means to dodge his promise…damages the Armenian Cause,” citing Suat Kiniklioğlu’s utterances about Medz Yeghern and “positive language” as an example.23 It omitted to mention that Kiniklioğlu had been well served by the misuse of Medz Yeghern as “Great Calamity” in the Turkish apology campaign of 2008 and the uncritical repetition of “Great Calamity” in the Armenian press, Asbarez included.
Even Turkish punditry certified that the U.S. president had used the Armenian phrase for genocide. In an open letter addressed to Obama in April 2010, the former Turkish ambassador to the United States and veteran denialist, M. Ŝükrü Elekdağ, recognized that the U.S. president had used the word “genocide” in 2009: “Unfortunately, the subsequent statement that you made on April 24th regarding the events of 1915 in Eastern Anatolia seriously disappointed the Turkish people and cast a shadow on the positive impression formed during your visit for the following reason: Although your statement omitted the highly charged word ‘genocide,’ you twice employed the expression ‘metz yeghern‘ which is the exact translation of ‘genocide’ in the Armenian language.”24 A few days later, Bülent Kenes, the editor-in-chief of Today’s Zaman newspaper, and its columnist Fatma Dişli Zıbak wrote that Medz Yeghern is “the proper rendering of genocide in the Armenian language,” even though they repeated that it meant Büyük Felâket, translated as “Great Tragedy.”25
In early 2012, Seth J. Frantzman, op-ed editor of The Jerusalem Post, acknowledged and underscored the unique significance of Medz Yeghern: “For many years Armenians referred to the genocide as ‘the great crime’ in Armenian, the ‘Meds Yeghern’ (Mec Yeğeŗn). When the Jews suffered genocide, the Armenians didn’t feel a need to apply their term to the Holocaust. The Meds Yeghern remains an Armenian word for the evil that was done to their nation.”26

Language myths
In April 2011, Sassounian had complained that “Armenian substitute words such as ‘Meds Yeghern’ are simply meant to fool some gullible Armenian-Americans. This is a cheap trick that is beneath the dignity of the presidency!”27 Interestingly, it appears that it did not fool Armenians like Michael Mensoian, a contributor to the Armenian Weekly (“For nearly a century our survivors of the Meds Yeghern (Great Catastrophe) have suffered the psychological and emotional trauma of the first genocide of the modern era”),28 or non-Armenians like Brandy Hilboldt Allport, a reviewer of Chris Bohjalian’s novel, The Sandcastle Girls (“Bohjalian deftly widens a telescopic lens to encompass the ‘Meds Yeghern,’ or ‘Great Calamity’ of the Armenian genocide . . . .”), who nevertheless seem to have been misled by the “Great Calamity” mistranslation of the same Armenian word that Sassounian used around a dozen times between 2005 and 2012.29
The Knights and Daughters of Vartan, sponsors of the genocide commemoration in Times Square, and the co-sponsoring and participating 15 major Armenian organizations of all political leanings from the New York area were not fooled either: The commemoration has been publicly announced since 2010 as the Anniversary Commemoration of the Armenian Genocide (Medz Yeghern).”
The same Armenian-American commentator wrote the following in his 2009 open letter to Obama: “You may want to know that ‘Meds Yeghern’ does not mean genocide; it means ‘Great Calamity.’ ‘Genocide’ in Armenian is ‘Tseghasbanoutyoun,’ which is a much more precise term than ‘Meds Yeghern,’ in case you decide to use it in the future.”30 However, this language lesson displayed two myths:
a)                  Myth: Medz Yeghern means “Great Calamity.”
Fact: Medz Yeghern literally means “Great Crime,” as per the definition of yeghern in most Armenian-English dictionaries of the 20th century.
b)                  Myth: Tseghasbanutiun is the proper Armenian name of the events.
Fact: Tseghasbanutiun is the Armenian translation of genocide, the juridical definition of a crime against humanity, whose most common Armenian proper name is Medz Yeghern. Equally defined crimes against humanity are called, for instance, Shoah (Jewish Genocide), Porrajmos (Roma Genocide), Sayfo (Assyrian Genocide), or Holodomor (Ukrainian Genocide).

Back to square one
The three words genocide, yeghern, and tseghasbanutiun can and are used as synonyms. For instance, on April 20, 2010, the Armenian Ministry of Diaspora and the Armenian Genocide Museum-Institute organized an international conference on “Cultural Genocide” or Mshagutayin Yeghern (“Cultural Yeghern”). The director of the Museum-Institute, Hayk Demoyan, read a paper in Armenian entitled, “The Cultural Tseghasbanutiun, Challenge of the 21st Century.”31
And now, with four years of delay, we come close to square one. On Feb. 5, 2013, during a stop in his electoral campaigning in the district of Malatia-Sebastia of the city of Yerevan, Serge Sarkisian answered a question about the forthcoming centennial of the Armenian Genocide and the echoes of the United States, and reaffirmed what any literate Armenian has known for a long time, according to Panarmenian.Net: “We have not used the word tseghasbanutiun for 40 or 50 years, we have used the word yeghern. We used to say, ‘Let’s go to the yeghern complex,’ not ‘the tseghasbanutiun complex.’ Those two words are the same for us.”32
As C. K. Garabed had written in June 2010 in these same pages with reference to Obama, “to [have] applaud[ed] the president for using our word for the Armenian Genocide” would have ended like the tale of the emperor’s new clothes: “Can you imagine the fits the Turks would have, and the quandary the president’s advisors would be in? If it really turned out that they had cautioned him about using the term genocide, could they now declare that it was not what he really meant?”33

[1] Nagush Harutiunian, “Batsman khosk” (Opening Remarks), Patma-Banasirakan Handes, 2, 1965, p. 38.
2 The Armenian Weekly, December 16, 2011.
3 “Editorial,” Hai Sird, October 2005, p. 2 (emphasis added).
4 See
5 The Armenian Weekly, May 3, 2010.
6 USA Armenian Life, November 15, 2010.
7 Haykaram Nahapetyan, “Obama vs Romney: Armenian American Community Pressures Candidates to Recognize 1915 Genocide by Ottoman Turkey,” PolicyMic, September 29, 2012 (
8 Quoted in Ayse Gul Altinay, “In Search of Silenced Grandparents: Ottoman Armenian Survivors and Their (Muslim) Grandchildren,” in Hans-Lukas Kieser, Elmar Plozza (eds.), Der Völkermord an den Armeniern, die Türkei und Europa / The Armenian Genocide, Turkey, and Europe, Zurich: Chronos, 2006, p. 124.
9 See (emphasis added).
10 See (emphasis added).
[1]1 Simon Payaslian, “After Recognition,” Armenian Forum, 3, 2001, p. 41-42, 46.
12 Lamont Colucci, The National Security Doctrines of the American Presidency: How they Shape Our Present and Future, vol. 2, Santa Barbara, Ca.: Praeger, 2012, p. 528.
[1]2 The American Conservative, April 26, 2009 (italics in original).
13 See
[1]4 See
[1]5 Asbarez, April 28, 2011.
[1]6 Asbarez, October 5, 2007.
[1]7 Huffington Post, April 28, 2009 (emphasis added).
[1]8 Hurriyet Daily News, April 25, 2012 (emphasis added).
[1]9 Thomas Buergenthal, “International Law and the Holocaust,” Joseph and Rebecca Meyerhoff Annual Lecture, October 28, 2003, United States Holocaust Memorial Museum, p. 15. (
20 The American Conservative, April 26, 2009 (italics in original).
21 Claude Mutafian, “Obama et le mot génocide,” Europe et Orient, 8, 2009 (
22 Asbarez, May 7, 2010.
23 Hurriyet Daily News, April 20, 2010 (emphasis added).
24 Today’s Zaman, April 26 and April 27, 2010.
25 Sun-Sentinel, January 31, 2012.
26 The Armenian Weekly, April 28, 2011.
27 The Armenian Weekly, April 25, 2012.
28 Florida Times-Union, July 22, 2012.
29 The Huffington Post, April 28, 2009.
30 Azg, April 21, 2010.
31 See
32 See
33 The Armenian Weekly, June 3, 2010.

Sunday, May 12, 2013

Australian Legislators Supporting Motions on Genocide Not Welcome in Gallipoli

SYDNEY, Australia—The Republic of Turkey has sensationally stated that certain Australian legislators are not welcome to take part in Anzac celebrations in Gallipoli, as a consequence for passing a motion recognizing the Armenian, Assyrian and Greek Genocides, reported the Armenian National Committee of Australia.
Both Houses of the New South Wales State Parliament (Legislative Council and Legislative Assembly) passed motions over the last week, affirming the reality of the 1915 Genocides which Turkey still denies.
In response, the Turkish Foreign Ministry has released a statement stating that those who were responsible for this motion will “doubtlessly be deprived of the hospitality and friendship” normally extended to Australians.
More specifically, the official statement says: “These persons who try to damage the spirit of Çanakkale/Gallipoli will also not have their place in the Çanakkale ceremonies where we commemorate together our sons lying side by side in our soil.”
Anzac Day is a national day of remembrance in Australia, commemorating the Australian and New Zealand soldiers who lost their lives during World War I after landing in Gallipoli, Turkey on April 25th 1915. Every year, thousands of Australians make a pilgrimage to Gallipoli for commemoration ceremonies.
The ANC of Australia says that this statement technically means that all members of both Houses of New South Wales Parliament cannot make this pilgrimage, and will not be treated hospitably if they visited Turkey due to this legislation, which affirms the reality of the Armenian Genocide, as well as the genocides of Assyrians and Greeks.
ANC Australia Executive Director, Vache Kahramanian said: “The Turkish Republic is once again trying to gag a democratic state because of their desire to speak the truth.”
“Turkey has time and time again tried to interfere in the legislative affairs of nations and legislatures who have the moral standing to recognize the heinous crime of genocide.”
“Turkey is attempting to utilize the sacred memory of Gallipoli as a political football. This is a deplorable action and should be condemned by all,” Kahramanian added.
Kahramanian noted that Turkey has had a long history of making such threats against nations who have recognized the Armenian genocide, including France and Canada. None of these threats, which include ceasing trade and diplomatic relations, have ever materialized.
Full text of Statement
Below is the full text of the statement issued by the Foreign Ministry.
No: 133, 7 May 2013, Press Release Regarding the Motion Passed by the Legislative Council of the Parliament of the State of New South Wales in Australia
The Legislative Council of the Parliament of the State of New South Wales in Australia passed on 1 May 2013 a motion entitled “Assyrian, Armenian and Greek genocides”.
We strongly condemn and reject this motion which is in no way compatible with historic facts. The fact that this motion has been passed through a fait accompli by a local politician, whose antagonism to Turkey in his attitude and behavior is well-known, during a session at the State Parliament attended by a small number of parliamentarians, shows how lightly and unsoundly such a sensitive issue is dealt with. It is evident that history will not be rewritten by such motions passed with petty political calculations under the influence of ethnic lobbies known for their excesses and prejudices.
Although the solid friendly relations existing between the peoples of Turkey and Australia will not deteriorate because of this unilateral decision which is the fait accompli of a small group, its negative repercussions are nonetheless inevitable. In this context, the proponents of such initiatives aimed at dealing a blow to the very special relations that exist between our peoples will doubtlessly be deprived of the hospitality and friendship that we will never withold from the people of Australia. These persons who try to damage the spirit of Çanakkale/Gallipoli will also not have their place in the Çanakkale ceremonies where we commemorate together our sons lying side by side in our soil.
Necessary representations with Australian authorities have been made, stressing that our primary expectation from the Australian authorities for the sake of our relations that have developed so far on the basis of friendship, is that they be more attentive to unacceptable claims directed towards Turkey and the Turkish identity and that they take timely action against initiatives carrying anti-Turkish content and hate-speech.

A History of a Perfect Crime

A History of a Perfect Crime1
The Armenian Weekly April 2013 Magazine
(Download PDF here)

I spent my high school years in Samatya. The majority of my classmates were the children of the Armenians who had come to Istanbul from the provinces during the republican years. We were allowed to go out during our lunch breaks. Many of the students lived in Samatya and could go home for lunch. Yet, in the early 1990’s, when the political tension in the country reached its peak, because of the Kurdish issue, we were no longer allowed to go outside the school grounds during lunch breaks.

116 A History of a Perfect Crime
Samatya (Raymond Kevorkian, Ermeniler, Aras Publ., 2012)
Although we used to work hard to not only be good citizens but the “best citizens”—we took compulsory national security classes taught by a high-ranking military officer, and would do our military exercises in the schoolyard so loud that half the district would hear our voices—it never guaranteed our security.
In those years, constant bomb warnings were reminders that we were not safe. After each warning, we would go out to the schoolyard until the entire school was searched. Sometimes we would be asked to go home early. We hardly had any idea why a bomb would be planted in our school. No one would put these bomb warnings into context. There was nothing to understand; it was just like that. And so we got used to these warnings, along with the changing security measures that were an ordinary part of our school life.
During my doctoral research, I read Armenian newspapers from the 1930’s and had the chance to look at Samatya from a different perspective. Samatya was one of the districts where kaghtagayans were established. Kaghtagayans were kaghtagan (deportee or IDP) centers that hosted thousands of Armenians from the provinces. These centers functioned until the end of the 1930’s. Armenian newspapers published in Istanbul in the 1920’s and 1930’s were full of reports on the kaghtagans’ severe conditions in these centers, where they often had to live on top of one another. The community in Istanbul was responsible for providing food, work, and a sustainable life for these people. Yet, it was not easy, as the financial means of the community were shortened to a great extent, the court cases for saving its properties continued, and its legal status was in the process of complete eradication. And still, Armenians whose living conditions in the provinces were systematically decimated continued to come to Istanbul.
Armenians who remained in the provinces were threatened in several ways. Arshag Alboyaciyan referred to these attacks in his book Badmut‘iwn Malatio Hayots’:
In 1924, Armenians were leaving en masse since a group of attackers—15 people—were raiding their houses asking for money and jewels, beating them up, almost to death. This organization was called Ateshoglu Yildirim… They would put signs on the houses of Armenians and tell them to leave within 10 days… One day, they put a sign on the main church, giving Armenians five days to leave; otherwise, they said, ‘Ateshoglu Yildirim would burn you all.’2
Armenians understood that the organization was trying to intimidate them into leaving in order to take over their properties, along with the other Emval-i Metruke (Abandoned Properties).3 In November 1923, two prominent Armenians, on behalf of 35 Armenians from Malatya, sent a letter to Mustafa Kemal, asking for security and the right to live in their houses. They wrote that if their citizenship was not recognized and they were required to leave, that this should be told to them officially, and not by raiding their houses.4 The letter did not have a positive impact; on the contrary, the signatories were asked to leave the country, and the 35 families had to follow them.5 Over the following months, Armenians continued to leave Malatya to Syria or to Istanbul.
I first came across the Ateshoglu Yildirim cases through an oral history project I conducted for my doctoral research. My interviewee said there were others in Istanbul who could talk about this organization and its raids. He contacted one family, they said yes, but then changed their minds. It was during the same time that Maritsa Küçük, an elderly Armenian women, was brutally killed, two others were severely beaten, and another attacked in Samatya. The atmosphere of fear was once again at its peak for the Armenians, and I decided to stall my research on the topic.
Yozgat, Amasya, Sinop, Ordu, Tokat, Kayseri, Diyarbakır, Sivas . . .And so it continued—Armenians were systematically forced out of Asia Minor and northern Mesopotamia throughout the republican years. They were essentially forced to come to Istanbul, looking for shelter, food, work, and a secure life, following the Settlement Law of 1934; sometimes through extraordinary decrees ordering them to leave a certain place and be settled in another; through racist attacks that occurred on a daily basis; or simply through the state’s refusal to open Armenian schools in the provinces, which was one of the “guaranteed rights” of the Lausanne Treaty of 1923.
Armenians who came to Istanbul remained at the bottom of all hierarchies. They were caught helpless between the institutional power structures of the Armenian community in Istanbul and the state. The latter cared about them the least. These centers were closed at the end of the 1930’s; yet, Armenians continued to come to Istanbul from the provinces throughout the republican era, and their socio-economic problems occupied the agenda of the community for quite some time.
An Armenian suspect was recently arrested for the murder of Maritsa Küçük and for the other attacks on elderly women in Samatya. On the same day, the Turkish media covered the arrest with a news item, disseminated by the police,6 implying that since the suspect was Armenian, no racism was involved. Hence, the issue has been resolved.
We know that law has little to do with truth or justice. On the contrary, the mechanisms of law create substitutes for truth or justice. The cases of Pınar Selek, Hrant Dink, Sevag Balıkçı, along with the murder of Maritsa Küçük and the other attacks in Samatya, remind us of not only the impossibility of justice, but also the perfection of a crime, which continues to silence the witnesses.7

Hamparian: A True Path to Armenian-Turkish Peace and Progress

It’s time for a new American approach to the Armenian Genocide, one that is as simple as it is sound: progress and peace based upon truth and justice.
American policy on the Armenian Genocide can be both principled and practical. For, in properly commemorating this crime, standing up to its denial, and seeking its just resolution, we will be bringing our policies as a government into alignment with our principles as a nation, to the benefit of both U.S. interests and American values.
Years of futile U.S. efforts to appease Turkey have failed to end Ankara’s blockade of Armenia and have only hardened Ankara’s denial of truth and obstruction of justice for this crime. In fact, it was only moments after Turkey and Armenia signed the Ankara-inspired protocols back in 2009 that the Turkish government, rather than moving toward recognition of this crime, reversed course by brazenly adding new demands regarding Nagorno-Karabagh. Ankara proudly declared it would continue enforcing its illegal blockade of Armenia, and then, in an open affront to its U.S. ally, actually escalated its international campaign of Armenian Genocide denial. Turkey, having secured the Armenian Foreign Minister’s signature on this document, has, for the past four years, used it non-stop as its weapon of choice in a relentless campaign to derail international progress toward a just resolution of this still unpunished genocide.
To the extent that there is, today, constructive discourse on this subject within a small but growing segment of Turkish civil society, the credit belongs to the international campaign for truth, empowered by independent scholarship and driven by Armenian calls for justice. Allies of Ankara, including those in Washington, are now shamelessly seeking to take credit for this new awareness and activism, but only because they failed to bully Armenians into silence and to bury this epic injustice. These apologists, sadly, remain part of the problem, not the solution.
Turkey’s obstruction of justice has, over the course of nearly a century, allowed Ankara to consolidate its hold on the genocidal gains of its crimes against the Armenian people, blocking the return to the Armenian nation of key elements—indispensable elements—of viability that long sustained the Armenian people on their ancient homeland. This denial poisons Armenian-Turkish relations, fosters wave after wave of anti-Armenian intolerance within Turkey, threatens Armenia’s and Artsakh’s security, and, of course, fuels regional tensions.
We must reject Ankara’s false choice that, when it comes to the Armenian Genocide, protecting U.S. interests means compromising American values. The future of this region—its sustainable stability over the long-term—cannot be built upon a foundation of lies. Justice is good geopolitics.
It’s time for the Obama-Biden Administration to reject Ankara’s gag-rule and proudly reaffirm our government’s record of having recognized the Armenian Genocide. Sadly, under foreign pressure, President Obama has failed to reflect, much less reinforce, America’s standing acknowledgment of the Armenian Genocide as a crime of genocide. Our current president’s retreat is regrettable on many levels and certainly must be reversed, but it does not detract from the fact that, dating back to the time of President Woodrow Wilson, the U.S. government has officially condemned Turkey’s intentional campaign to destroy its Armenian and other indigenous Christian populations. Since Raphael Lemkin coined the term “genocide” and President Harry Truman became the first head of state to sign the Genocide Convention, the United States has, on several occasions, formally recognized the Armenian Genocide as a crime of genocide:
–The U.S. government’s May 28, 1951 written statement to the International Court of Justice regarding the Convention on the Prevention and Punishment of the Crime of Genocide, in which the “Turkish massacres of Armenians” is cited as an “outstanding examples of the crime of genocide.”
–President Ronald Reagan’s April 22, 1981 Proclamation number 4838, in which he stated, in part, “like the genocide of the Armenians before it, and the genocide of the Cambodians, which followed it—and like too many other persecutions of too many other people—the lessons of the Holocaust must never be forgotten.”
–House Joint Resolution 148 adopted on April 8, 1975, which designated April 24, 1975 as “National Day of Remembrance of Man’s Inhumanity to Man,” citing “all the victims of genocide, especially those of Armenian ancestry who succumbed to the genocide perpetrated in 1915.”
–House Joint Resolution 247 adopted on Sept. 10, 1984, which designated April 24, 1985 as the “National Day of Remembrance of Man’s Inhumanity to Man,” citing “all the victims of genocide, especially the one and one-half million people of Armenian ancestry who were the victims of the genocide perpetrated in Turkey between 1915 and 1923.”
–The adoption, by the House of Representatives on June 5, 1996, of an amendment to House Bill 3540 (the Foreign Operations, Export Financing, and Related Programs Appropriations Act, 1997) to reduce aid to Turkey by $3 million (an estimate of its payment of lobbying fees in the United States) until the Turkish government acknowledged the Armenian Genocide and took steps to honor the memory of its victims.
President Obama himself entered office having stated that his “firmly held conviction that the Armenian Genocide is not an allegation, a personal opinion, or a point of view, but rather a widely documented fact supported by an overwhelming body of historical evidence.” He affirmed his U.S. Senate record of “calling for Turkey’s acknowledgement of the Armenian Genocide,” and, as we all know, pledged publicly that “as president I will recognize the Armenian Genocide.”
After years of failed efforts to appease Ankara, it’s time for President Obama to honor his words, and for our government to live up to America’s promise of truth and justice.
It’s time to stop outsourcing our nation’s Armenian Genocide policy to Turkey and, in the interest of both regional stability and our core values as a nation, to reclaim American leadership in support of a truthful and just resolution of this crime.

Wednesday, May 8, 2013

Gunaysu: Yes, Peace, but Between Whom, for What, and in What Context?

The Armenian Weekly April 2013 Magazine

Is it true? Are things really changing in Turkey, the land of genocides, pogroms, repression, and a prolonged war for the past 30 years with its own Kurdish citizens? Is the war that has claimed more than 40,000 lives—mostly Kurdish—in Turkish Kurdistan really coming to an end? Is this nightmare, which has played out not only in the mountains but also in cities and towns, almost over, allowing for a normal life—a life that children and adults under 30 have never known?
DSC01414 1024x768 Gunaysu: Yes, Peace, but Between Whom, for What, and in What Context?
A Kurdish flag during the Newroz celebrations this year. (Photo by Gulisor Akkum)
These were the questions crucial not only for the Kurdish people’s future in Turkey, but also for everyone who demanded real democracy, the full observance of human rights, equality, justice—in short, a better life to live. For us, the success of the Kurds’ struggle meant the opening of the road that would lead us all to a more promising future.
But now, everything seems blurred and vague. It is as if we are walking on a tightrope and, at any moment, we can fall into a bottomless abyss. PKK leader Abdullah Öcalan’s recent statements during the negotiations and, ultimately, his letter read out loud during the Newroz celebrations were a disappointment for many.
During the civil war, Newroz meant the violent intervention of security forces, sometimes with firearms, sometimes with tear gas and water cannons, causing deaths and injuries. It was a time of military raids in towns and rural villages, a time when villagers were arrested en masse and taken away, when civilians were killed during military operations. Kurdish human rights fighters, lawyers, and journalists were kidnapped and found dead by the roadside, and sometimes not found at all. During these years, more than 3,000 villages were evacuated and burned down. More than 3 million Kurds had to leave their homes and migrate to nearby towns and cities, totally helpless, jobless, unable to earn a living. Forests were set on fire by the soldiers. The whole landscape turned into a desert—a bare land with ghostly images of destroyed villages, with the remains of houses blackened by fire.
Newroz, in those years, was invariably associated with brutality and loss of human lives. It was during the Newroz celebrations of 1992 that nearly 140 civilians were killed and hundreds of others injured following then attack of the security forces on demonstrators, and the subsequent operations—accompanied by bombings—carried out in the province of Şırnak and its district Cizre. Those nightmarish “celebrations” were followed by a large wave of Kurdish immigration to nearby cities.
Hopes for peace
This year’s Newroz celebrations were held in dramatically different circumstances. The so-called “Peace Process” had started; negotiations with Öcalan, who had been isolated in prison for 14 years, were ongoing. Deputies of the Peace and Democracy Party (BDP) visited him twice. Letters between Öcalan and the PKK headquarters in Qandil, in Iraqi Kurdistan, were exchanged.
The celebrations everywhere, both in a number of western provinces, including Istanbul, and in the Kurdish provinces, particularly in Diyarbakir, were spectacular. It was for the first time a real celebration with enthusiastic festivities. Hundreds of thousands of people came together, with women dressed in bright colors, and children dancing and singing joyously.
All were waiting for Öcalan’s letter to be read out loud in Kurdish and Turkish. He would make his final statement, the outcome of his “peace” talks with government authorities, in his cell.
In addition to the Kurds, and since the defeat of the Turkish left by military rule in 1980, veteran socialists and communists, and others who stood for democracy, human rights, and freedom, had all set their hopes on the Kurds’ struggle against the establishment in Turkey. It was because the Kurdish political movement had done something that the Turkish left had always dreamed of, but never achieved, during its long years of struggle. The Kurdish political movement had mobilized masses of ordinary people, both in rural and urban areas, and integrated them into the struggle. It was this struggle that made it possible for the forces of democracy in Turkey to make progress—no matter how modest—in freedom of speech. It was not a coincidence that the Armenian Genocide started to be discussed in Turkey during the years of the Kurdish insurgency—an insurgency that could not be defeated in 30 years by the Turkish Armed Forces, Europe’s biggest and the world’s 8th biggest army, second only to that of the U.S. in NATO.
Öcalan calls for withdrawal
When Öcalan’s letter was read in Diyarbakir—before an audience of hundreds of thousands, if not more than a million—declaring a cease-fire and instructing PKK guerrillas to withdraw beyond the borders, it was clear Öcalan was aware of the criticism against his statements in the minutes of his meeting BDP deputies during the “peace” process leaked to the press which resonated an overt antagonism towards non-Muslim peoples of Asia Minor. So he was careful to include Armenians and other peoples making up the Anatolian population in the scope of his endeavor to bring peace to the country.
In the aforementioned meeting with the BDP deputies, Öcalan had, for instance, referred to the “Armenian lobby” as a force that, historically, has never wanted peace in Anatolia. “The Armenian lobby is powerful. They want to dominate the agenda of 2015,” he had said. The Kurds were marginalized during the creation of the Turkish Republic as a consequence of the efforts of the “Israeli lobby, the Armenians, and the Greeks, who had decided that their success would depend on marginalizing the Kurds,” he continued. “This is an ongoing, thousand-year tradition.” He had added, “After the Islamization of Anatolia, there has been Christian anger that has lasted a thousand years. Greeks, Armenians, and Jews claim rights to Anatolia. They don’t want to give up their gains under the pretext of secularism and nationalism.”
Despite some references to Armenians and other non-Muslims, Öcalan’s Newroz letter—full of enthusiastic rhetoric about peace, fraternity, the peaceful coexistence of peoples of different beliefs and ethnicity, and a new era of peace—was no consolation to those of us who demand real justice in this country.
Muslim brotherhood brings chilling memories to mind
The most alarming aspect of the letter was its emphasis on Islamic brotherhood, a brotherhood that saw the death, agony, plunder, and annihilation of the Christian children of Asia Minor. His reference to the Turks’ and Kurds’ “historical agreement of fraternity and solidarity under the flag of Islam” sounded like an ominous prophecy. His praise of the so-called “Liberation War” of Turkey, which was, in fact, the continuation of the genocide of the Armenians, Assyrians and Anatolian Greeks, was a perfect echo of the Turkish official mindset. “During World War I, Turkish and Kurdish soldiers fell together as martyrs in the Dardanelles. They fought together in Turkey’s Independence War, and together opened the 1920 National Assembly. What our mutual past shows is the mutual necessity of forming our future together. The spirit of the 1920 National Assembly enlightens the upcoming era,” he said. What he doesn’t mention is that the spirit of 1920 was a genocidal spirit that was determined to complete the annihilation process of Christians and also to repress Kurdish national identity with bloodshed.
The result is that now, people in Turkey who stand for human rights, democracy, and peace are forced to choose between one of two evils: Either be presented as one who does not want peace, or support something that may be reconciliation between Kurds and Turks but not real peace for all in Turkey.
Is Öcalan a true respresentative?
I know and respect millions of Kurdish people’s devotion to their leader Öcalan. But I also know that Öcalan and the politically conscious Kurdish people, as well as some sections of Kurdish political movement are not one and the same. There is the Kurdish political movement, with its political party, its armed units in the mountains, and the millions who protest courageously at the risk of being shot; and there is Öcalan, who has been confined to a solitary cell for 14 years, disconnected from realities on the ground.
After all, it is the Kurdish people who lost family members in unsolved murders; who cried after their children joined the guerrilla movement, and were later found dead, half burnt, with their eyes scratched out; and who stood totally armless against tanks and panzers in revolt against repression. And it is the guerrilla fighters who put their lives at risk for so many years in the mountains.
Karayılan, one of the chief commanders of the PKK, in an interview with the journalist Hasan Cemal, repeatedly confirmed that while they are loyal to their leader, they had some reservations: “There will be no withdrawal without the state doing its share.”
“Mid-level command elements especially have some concerns; we have to persuade them.”
“Yesterday I talked with 250 mid-level people. They say, ‘We came here to wage war, and we’ve been here for 10 years. We’ve come to the point of accomplishing a result, then you ask us to stop.’”
“At this point, leader Apo [Öcalan] should get involved in the persuasion process, and for this reason direct contact between Öcalan and the Qandil headquarters should be established.”
Karayılan’s criticism of the BDP co-chair, Selahattin Demirtaş, was very unusual. Demirtaş had recently said that 99 percent of the armed campaign of the PKK was over, and that the resolution of the remaining one percent was up to the government. “This is a shallow approach by the BDP,” commented Karayılan. “This shows that they cannot comprehend the retreat process in depth. Complete finalization of the armed campaign is not such a simple issue.”
Kurds: both perpetrators and victims
Now the crucial point: Many local Kurds in Western Armenia, not only the chieftains but also ordinary villagers, were, alongside with the Turks and other Muslim peoples, the perpetrators of the genocide of the Armenians and Assyrians. They were not only “tools” that were “used” by the Progress and Union Committee (CUP), as some of the Kurdish political leaders have put it; in many places and in many instances, they were quite conscious of what they were doing. They were not the decision-makers but the implementers, unaware that soon they would fall victim to, and be forced to revolt against, their accomplices in the genocide—the successors of the same ruling power they cooperated with in exterminating their Christian neighbors.
The history of the Turkish Republic is the history of Kurdish uprisings and their violent repression through bloodshed. The last uprising, which was the longest, was not based purely on nationalistic aspirations, but involved leftist, even Marxist, elements, with much emphasis on freedom, equality, and human rights, not only for Kurds but for all in Turkey. And it was the first and longest-lasting radical opposition movement in the history of the Republic, and was not only able to undermine at least the ideological and moral supremacy of the establishment, but also to challenge with some success the “invincible” domestic image of the Turkish military.
Those in the Turkish media, then, who criticized Abdullah Öcalan’s statements, both in the meeting minutes and his letter of cease-fire, were calling on the Kurdish opposition to not enter into a deceitful truce with this system of annihilation and denial.
Can they also be peacemakers?
Of course, the responsibility rests on the shoulders of the Kurdish oppositionists to lead the way for the acknowledgment of the Kurdish people’s complicity in the genocide of the Christian peoples of Anatolia—the Armenians, Assyrians, and Greeks—and take steps toward the restitution of the immense losses they suffered.
Without fulfilling this responsibility, the Kurdish side of the conflict cannot possibly pave the way for, and urge the Turkish state to agree to, a real peace—the ultimate sovereignty of justice throughout the country.
The Kurds are both perpetrators and victims, the victim of their own comrade-in-arms during the genocide. In order to be the peacemakers now, they must refuse Öcalan’s offer of a so-called “peace” between Turks and Kurds based on the common denominator of Islamic brotherhood, the driving force behind the genocide.