Friday, September 18, 2015

Sassounian: United Nations to Commemorate Victims of All Genocides on Dec. 9

On Sept. 11, after years of persistent diplomatic efforts, the Republic of Armenia succeeded in having the United Nations (U.N.) General Assembly adopt by consensus a generic resolution on all genocides.
Introduced by Armenia and co-sponsored by 83 other nations, the resolution establishes Dec. 9 as the “International Day of Commemoration and Dignity of the Victims of the Crime of Genocide and of the Prevention of this Crime.” Dec. 9 was chosen since the U.N. Genocide Convention was adopted on that day in 1948.
Henceforth, on every Dec. 9, the U.N. will commemorate and honor the victims of all genocides. Even though the resolution does not mention any particular genocide, it is up to Armenians to ensure that their genocide is included in official U.N. commemorations on that date. No one will be surprised should the Turkish government attempt to block such Armenian efforts!
Ironically, Turkey was one of the co-sponsors of the genocide resolution, probably out of a concern that opposing it would have revealed its deep-seated anxiety on the subject of genocide. Consequently, Turkish officials acted as if this resolution was unrelated to their country’s past and present genocidal crimes against Armenians, Assyrians, Greeks, and Kurds!
Among the 84 countries co-sponsoring the resolution were the United States, Russia, United Kingdom, France, Germany, India, Japan, and Iran. Interestingly, Azerbaijan and Rwanda did not co-sponsor it. Azerbaijan was reluctant to support any resolution proposed by Armenia. Rwanda, on the other hand, felt the resolution was unnecessary, since the U.N. had designated April 7 as the “International Day of Reflection on the Genocide in Rwanda.” In contrast, Israel co-sponsored the resolution, even though the U.N. had already set Jan. 27 as the “International Day of Commemoration in Memory of the Victims of the Holocaust.”
The Global Centre for the Responsibility to Protect issued a statement last Friday commending the adoption of the U.N. resolution, and listing the “significant anniversaries of the most atrocious crimes of the last century,” including “the 100th anniversary of the Armenian Genocide, 70th anniversary of the liberation of Auschwitz, 40th anniversary of the Khmer Rouge’s atrocities in Cambodia, and the 20th anniversaries of the genocide in Rwanda and at Srebrenica, Bosnia, and Herzegovina.”
Ambassador Zohrab Mnatsakanyan, Armenia’s representative to the U.N., spoke of his “sense of duty” while presenting the proposed resolution to the General Assembly on Sept. 11. Paying tribute to Raphael Lemkin, who had coined the term “genocide,” the ambassador stated: “For the victims of our past inaction, the International Day will render dignity. The denial to millions of the sanctity of life is ultimate injustice. Justice denied haunts generations of survivors. We speak from experience.”
Another genocide milestone forgotten by the international community and Armenians is the 30th anniversary of the adoption of a report by the U.N. Sub-Commission on Prevention of Discrimination and Protection of Minorities. The historic document titled, “Revised and updated report on the question of the prevention and punishment of the crime of genocide,” was drafted by British Rapporteur Benjamin Whitaker. It is noteworthy that Mnatsakanyan referred to this report twice in his speech, while introducing the genocide resolution to the U.N.
In paragraph 24 of his report, Whitaker cited several cases of genocide in the 20th century, specifically mentioning the Armenian Genocide. Moreover, in footnote 13, Whitaker added: “At least 1 million, and possibly well over half of the Armenian population, are reliably estimated to have been killed or death marched by independent authorities and eye-witnesses. This is corroborated by reports in United States, German, and British archives and of contemporary diplomats in the Ottoman Empire, including those of its ally Germany. The German Ambassador, Wangenheim, for example, on 7 July 1915 wrote, ‘the [Turkish] government is indeed pursuing its goal of exterminating the Armenian race in the Ottoman Empire’ (Wilhelmstrasse archives).”
Regrettably, Whitaker passed away last year. But, there are three other former members of the U.N. Sub-Commission—Erica Daes (Greek), Leandro Despouys (Argentinian), and Louis Joinet (French)—who staunchly supported the reference to the Armenian Genocide in the Whitaker report, which the Sub-Commission adopted on Aug. 29, 1985, by a 14-1 vote.
All three human rights experts should be invited to the United Nations on Dec. 9, 2015, to mark the 30th anniversary of the Whitaker Report, and recognize his unique contributions to the cause of prevention and punishment of the crime of genocide!
Amb. Mnatsakanyan, Armenia’s Foreign Ministry, and the Armenian government should be commended for their effective leadership at the U.N. on genocide prevention!

Wednesday, September 9, 2015

1.5 Million Minus 2: DNA Testing Brings Ancestors Back from the Dead

Special for the Armenian Weekly
Every Armenian family has the same story: persecution, fear, robbery, rape, murder … genocide … and the unknown. They say there can never be closure without the ability to mourn over the grave of a loved one. The denial of the Armenian Genocide by the Turkish government surely hinders closure, but for the survivors, never knowing what had happened to those left behind or lost during the death marches into the Syrian desert remained an equally harmful open wound.
My maternal grandmother had four sisters. One rescued my grandmother from the six years she had been living as a slave and the two of them ultimately found their way to the United States. Another sister starved to death in an orphanage. The two remaining sisters, one 17 and one an infant, were sent to the Syrian desert with their mother, and none were ever heard from again.
Nayiri Arzoumanian, Sarah Aghjayan, and the author in Burunkishla, May 2013 (Photo: Khatchig Mouradian)
Each time I travel to Western Armenia, I meet hidden Armenians—“remnants of the sword”—and many are searching for relatives thought to have escaped to the United States or elsewhere. Unfortunately, most often all that is known is a name: Garabed, Mariam, etc. Much too vague to allow for any connection to be made, even in the rare case where a village of origin is known. Most don’t even know the village, as their mother or grandmother was plucked from the caravans and only knew they were from Kharpert or Palu or some other region.
A year and a half ago, I joined the Armenian DNA Project through Family Tree DNA. While I was interested in my ancient DNA and the migration of man out of Africa, what really motivated me was the hope of connecting with descendants thought murdered during the genocide. Possibly descendants of the sisters my grandmother never heard from after they were sent to the desert. I wanted to bring them back from the dead.
In DNA testing, relationships are measured in shared centiMorgans (cMs), a way to quantify the probabilities. Both the total shared cMs and the longest segment are considered when determining the most likely relationship between two people. Segments longer than 10 shared cMs are generally thought to be indicative of a common ancestor.
For example, through testing, it has been shown that grandchildren have shared cMs with their grandparent that range from 875-2,365, with an average of 1,760. At the same time, a person could have shared cMs of 236-1,301 with a great aunt or uncle. So, based solely on that, if you were to have shared cMs of 900 with someone, their relationship to you could be anywhere from a grandchild/grandparent to a first cousin, once removed.
When I first received my DNA results, there were a handful of people who were identified as distant relatives by Family Tree DNA—as 4th or 5th cousins. Our shared cM was generally in the range of 30-40, with the longest segment of between 10 and 15. I contacted a few of these people and our knowledge was too scant to determine with any certainty how we might be related. Regardless, the common ancestor was very distant.
Last summer, while traveling in Western Armenia with the Arzoumanian family who also happened to hail from my grandfather’s village of Burunkishla in the Boghazliyan district of Yozgat, we discussed our possible relationship. They decided to have their father, Hrair, tested. The results showed we were 2nd or 3rd cousins; our shared cM was 132 with numerous segments over 15 cM and the longest 30 cM. Clearly, we were very closely related, which was not a complete surprise, although it was exciting to finally confirm a previously unknown relationship.
Based on our combined knowledge of family history, we believe Hrair’s maternal grandmother was a sibling to one of my great-grandparents. Again, so much family history was lost during the genocide that it is impossible to determine exactly at this time.
Then, about a month ago, the moment I had been hoping for: I received a hit on my DNA that was either a 1st or 2nd cousin, and it was someone living in Turkey! For perspective, our total shared cMs were 400 with a longest common segment of 90. This was a much closer relative and someone I knew nothing about. Could it be a descendant of my grandmother’s sisters?
I sent an e-mail to the man and waited impatiently for four days. Then, the response: The mother of the man tested was known to be Armenian. I was conversing with his son and this is the story he told.
In 1915, two sisters from Maden begin the march to certain death. The older of the sisters is a beautiful and clever young girl. Along the way, a cavalry officer desires to marry her. She agrees to do this in order to save her little sister. In fact, she demands that the younger sister be protected and live with them. Thus begins their new lives in Chermoug as Muslims.
While living with her older sister, a Muslim man sees the younger sister and falls in love. They marry and live in Chungush. Soon, three children are born. However, the husband dies young. The dead man’s brother marries his Armenian widow sister-in-law to care for his orphaned niece and nephews, and they have three additional sons together. The man whose DNA was tested was a son from this second marriage.
The older sister would have a son who died young. She died soon thereafter, leaving no surviving offspring.
Nevart (3rd from the left) with Angel (2nd from the right)
While the story would seem to match what might have become of my grandmother’s sisters, the places and names did not match that side of my family. Instead, the names of the parents of those two orphan Armenian girls matched the names of my father’s great-grandparents. In addition, my great-grandmother was born in Maden.
I wrote the story of my great-grandmother, Nevart Antreassian, in an article on the Georgetown Girls. Nevart’s sister, Angel, also survived and came to the United States. 25 years ago, when I first started researching my family history, I spoke to Angel’s husband, Khoren Krikorian, and an aunt about what was known of the family. I do not know how Angel survived 1915, but it was most likely through an orphanage in Kharpert, since in 1920 she graduated from Yeprad Varjaran. Around 1922, she left for Lebanon in the final wave of missionaries, orphans, and other desperate remnants.
As for my great-grandmother, Nevart, by the time of these events she was already married and living in Diyarbakir with children of her own. Her husband conscripted into the Ottoman army and presumed dead, Nevart endured the march to Aleppo with her two young children.
In looking through my folder from 25 years ago, I found a page of handwritten notes from a phone conversation with my aunt about Nevart’s family. It was sparse, fragments here and there: father was a horseshoer, etc.
Then, two words written at the bottom: “another sister.” In talking with my parents, they knew nothing of this, but of course so much time has gone by. But what is now known is that the woman in question was my great-grandmother’s sister.
Lost sister of Nevart and Angel
So many questions remain and most likely will never be answered.
Why the mention of only one sister? Could the older sister really have been the mother trying to protect her daughter? How could Angel have been in Kharpert until 1922 and not known her sister was alive in Chungush? Was this a situation, like so many others, where after forced marriage, conversion to Islam, and children, these “remnants of the sword” considered themselves dead to their Armenian families and were treated as such by the Armenian community?
Nevart and Khachig Garabedian
Not surprisingly, my newfound relatives in Turkey have another Armenian grandmother in the family. She was born in the village of Havav in Palu and as late as the 1930’s she was still in correspondence with her brother in New York. Based on a letter written in Ottoman Turkish in 1934, I have identified this family as well.
It is said that the two Armenian girls, now sisters-in-law, were very close and their families’ love for them is evident.
Angel and Khoren Krikorian
Our mutual excitement at having found lost relatives after 100 years knows no bounds. Over the past month, we have been sharing pictures and stories and anxiously await the day when we can meet in person. Interestingly, based on where and when I have traveled through Western Armenia, it seems we know some of the same people and may have actually been together without ever knowing our family connection.
The people in this story remain victims of genocide, but they no longer are tallied in the dead. The 1.5 million has been reduced by 2.
For those wishing to learn more about the Armenian DNA Project, visit

Sassounian: To Get Rid of ISIS, Turks Must First Get Rid of Erdogan

Turkey has not only refused to join its NATO allies in fighting against ISIS, but has trained, armed, and facilitated the infiltration of thousands of terrorists into Syria and Iraq.
The British Guardian reported that in May, when U.S. Special Forces raided the compound of ISIS leader Abu Sayyaf in Eastern Syria and killed him, documents seized during the raid revealed Ankara’s close collaboration with ISIS. Hundreds of articles have been published around the world describing various aspects of Turkish assistance to ISIS. Daniel Pipes in his Washington Times article, “Turkish Support for ISIS,” reported that “Turks offered far more than an easy border crossing: they provided the bulk of ISIS’ funds, logistics, training, and arms.” Pipes also revealed that wounded ISIS fighters are treated in Turkish hospitals, and Turkey has paid $800 million to ISIS for illicit oil shipments.
Vice President Joe Biden confirmed Turkey’s sinister role in helping Islamist terrorists at a Harvard University speech last October: Turkey, Saudi Arabia, and the Emirates “poured hundreds of millions of dollars and thousands of tons of weapons into anyone who would fight against Assad—except that the people who were being supplied were all Nusra and al-Qaeda and the extremist elements of jihadis coming from other parts of the world.” The Vice President also revealed that Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan had told him privately: “You were right. We let too many people through.” Biden later apologized for his public remarks to soothe Erdogan’s wrath.
In an astounding revelation, Mitchell Prothero of reported on Aug. 24 that Turkish intelligence had alerted Islamist terrorists that a group of U.S.-trained fighters was about to cross from Turkey into Syria. Upon arrival, many of the 54 graduates of the $500 million U.S. training program were promptly intercepted and kidnapped by al-Qaida’s Nusra Front!
Last month, when Turkey finally agreed to join the war against terror and “allowed” the United States to launch airstrikes on ISIS targets from Incirlik Air Base, U.S. officials’ initial delight turned into dismay when they realized that the Turkish military’s priority was attacking the Kurds in Iraq and Syria, not ISIS. By going after Kurdish militants, Turkey was in fact helping ISIS because the Kurds were the only reliable U.S. military partners on the ground.
Beyond wishing to undermine long-held Kurdish aspirations for an independent Kurdistan, by unleashing large scale bloody attacks against Kurds in Iraq, Syria, and Turkey, Erdogan is hoping that on Nov. 1, Turkish voters would help his party regain the parliamentary majority it lost in the June elections. Unfortunately for Erdogan, the attacks on Kurds have created a widespread backlash among many Turkish citizens who lost their loved ones serving in the military, simply to boost the President’s political rating!
In desperation, Erdogan may well resort to one more trick in the coming weeks. Seeing that bombing Kurds is not generating the expected public support in the upcoming elections, he could order massive attacks on Kurds throughout Eastern Turkey. He would then use the excuse of an all-out civil war to declare a state of emergency, suspend Parliament, and rule with the iron fist of a theocratic Ottoman Sultan!
The United States and its NATO allies have an obligation to do everything possible to stop the monster they have created before he destroys everything on his path. Erdogan is a serious menace to his own citizens—Turks, Kurds, and others—as well as a destabilizing force to the entire region! The vicious attacks on the Kurdish population in Eastern Turkey makes the best case why Kurds deserve independent statehood and can no longer tolerate the brutal Turkish regime!
The Obama administration should follow the wise counsel of Eric S. Edelman, former U.S. ambassador to Turkey and undersecretary of defense from 2005-2009. In a commentary published in The New York Times on Aug. 27, Edelman suggests that the United States “restrict Turkey’s access to senior-level meetings; reduce intelligence cooperation; and withhold American support for Turkey in international financial institutions.” These steps and many others must be taken in the next few weeks before November’s parliamentary elections.
In an Aug. 31 editorial, The New York Times Editorial Board described Erdogan’s political shenanigans as an attempt to “salvage his ambitions for continued authoritarian rule and greatly expanded powers.”
To bring the problem of terrorism in Syria and Iraq under control, restore stability in these countries, and stop the escalating bloodshed inside Turkey, the Turkish people must ensure that Erdogan’s party does not regain its lost parliamentary majority!