International Conference on Genocide, International Law Concludes in Beirut

BEIRUT—A two-day international conference on “The Armenian Genocide and International Law,” organized by Haigazian University and the Armenian National Committee of the Middle East (ANC-ME), concluded on Sept. 4.

A scene from the conference.
A scene from the conference.

The conference drew in 13 experts in genocide and international law from the U.S., Canada, Switzerland, Ireland, Armenia, Turkey, the United Arab Emirates, Egypt, and Lebanon, who joined more than 80 local political scientists, activists, sociologists, historians, religious leaders, educators, international correspondents, journalists, and students in addressing the consequences of the Armenian Genocide and promoting a fair perspective through international law.

It covered such topics as genocide denial and recognition, Turkish nationalism, and the politics of denial, as well as the economic aspect of the genocide and the issue of lands and assets. Within the framework of international law, the conference discussed the general topic of genocide and crimes against humanity, retribution, and the preservation of the Armenian cultural heritage.

More specifically, Dr. George Charaf (University of Lebanon) lectured on the problem of minorities and majorities, discussing the case of the Ottoman Empire. Dr. Ugur Ungor (University of Sheffield) talked about demographic engineering in the Ottoman Empire and the genocide. Dr. Mohammad Rifaat (University of Alexandria) discussed the Armenian Question according to Arab sources. Dr. William Schabas (National University of Ireland) discussed the problems and prospects of the genocide and international law, 60 years after the International Genocide Convention. Dr. Alfred De Zayas (Geneva School of Diplomacy and International Relations) elaborated on the issues of justice and international law regarding the genocide. Khatchig Mouradian (Ph.D. student, Clark University) lectured on the Armenians, Raphael Lemkin, and the UN Convention. Dr. Taner Akcam’s paper, entitled “Turkish Nationalism and the Armenian Genocide Issue in Turkey Today,” was presented in absentia. Dr. Ragip Zarakolu (vice president, Human Rights Association of Turkey) tackled the issue of genocide denial and law in Turkey.

Mouradian, Manoyan, Schabas, and De Zayas.
Mouradian, Manoyan, Schabas, and De Zayas.

In the same context, Dr. Seyhan Bayraktar (University of Zurich) covered the evolution of Armenian Genocide denial in the Turkish press. Bilgin Ayata (PhD. Candidate, John Hopkins University) discussed Kurdish-Armenian relations and the Armenian Genocide. Dr. Roger Smith (professor emeritus of government, College of William and Mary) lectured on professional ethics and the denial of the Armenian Genocide. Dr. Henry Theriault (Worcester State College) discussed restorative justice and alleviating the consequences of genocide. And finally, Dr. Richard Hovannisian (UCLA) covered the issue of universalizing the legacy of the Armenian Genocide.

The sessions were moderated by Dr. Arda Ekmekji, Dr. Naila Kaidbey, Giro Manoyan, Dr. Rania Masri, Dr. Joseph Bayeh, Dr. Ohannes Geukjian, Antranig Dakessian, and Dr. Haig Demoyan. Conference organizers have announced that the presentations will be published in a volume.

Rev. Dr. Paul Haidostian, the president of Haigazian University, said that such conferences keep the genocide issue alive and add to the increasingly growing international momentum toward recognition. “The topic of genocide, and this conference in particular, will hopefully open the door to further academic studies and research, activating deeper study in the economic, social, and legal aspects of inter-state relations,” he said.

“The Armenian Genocide is not simply an Armenian problem but essentially an international burden,” he added. “The victim carries a strong sense of ownership of pain, but human civilization cannot be considered as highly developed if it does not embrace a sense of advocacy for the victimized.”

Haidostian spoke about four key points. First, “that injustices of any nation against any other nation are part of the same human manifestation of evil that require joint and effective global action.” Second, “that this international conference convenes in a country, Lebanon, which continues to be a unique land of dialogue and culture despite the ever-present seeds of misunderstanding.” Third, giving the example of Haigazian University, and more specifically the name of Armenag Haigazian, a victim of the genocide, Haidostian emphasized that “our calling has been and continues to be standing up for new life not only for Armenians but especially for our Arab brothers and sisters, and really, all people of the world.” Finally, Haidostian explained that given the fact that the conference was being held at a university no academic community can be value-neutral. “A university may be a neutral medium of dialogue, but it is essentially a forum of passion for deeper knowledge, responsibility, and enlightenment.”

In her message, Vera Yacoubian, the executive director of the ANC-ME, spoke about the efforts of the ANC in highlighting the Armenian community’s role throughout the Middle East, its coexistence with surrounding Arab and Islamic communities, and its efforts in addressing the Armenian Cause.

Yacoubian expressed hope that the conference would provide a significant breakthrough in analyzing the Armenian Genocide, as it brought together a large group of specialists in the arena of genocide and international law.

Regarding Turkish-Armenian relations, Yacoubian noted, “We cannot ignore or disregard recent developments and address these pending issues without resolving past history between the two nations. Indeed, Turkish-Armenian relations carry the heavy burden of the Armenian Genocide and there is high level of doubt and mistrust regarding Turkish intentions.”

Yacoubian concluded by questioning Turkey’s responsibility towards acknowledging the Armenian Genocide and the future of the Armenian Cause.

Marios Garoyan, the president of the House of Representatives of Cyprus, gave the inaugural speech at the conference on Sept. 2. His presence as the guest speaker, he said, was driven by his country’s “commitment to international law, peace, security, and stability, but also the determination to continue to condemn, on every possible occasion, any infringement of international law by acts of genocide.”

“On the one hand, governments and parliaments should act together and closely cooperate in terms of assessing the progress made with regard to the implementation of the United Nations Convention on the Prevention and Punishment of the Crime of Genocide and identify measures to be taken at all levels,” he said. “On the other hand, it is the states that must cooperate for the prevention and punishment of those responsible for the crime of genocide.”

Garoyian questioned Turkey’s role as mediator, peacemaker, and peacekeeper in the wider Middle East, while Turkey continues to deny the truth of the crimes perpetrated by its Ottoman predecessors.

He noted that Cyprus has always stood by the Armenian people in their struggle for the recognition of the Armenian Genocide. In 1975, the Cyprus House of Representatives was one of the first parliaments in the world to adopt a resolution calling the atrocities inflicted upon the Armenians “genocide.” Garoyian added that Cyprus and its people have many more reasons to understand the injustice of the genocide due to “the implementation of Turkey’s policy of ethnic cleansing against Cyprus’ population during the 1974 invasion and the continuing occupation of 37 percent of Cyprus’ territory.”

Among the capacity audience were Minister Alain Tabourian, representing the Lebanese president, Michel Suleiman; parliament member Hagop Pakradouni, representing the parliament speaker, Nabih Berry; Minister Jean Oghasabian, representing the president of the Council of Ministers, Fouad Sanioura; parliament member Sebouh Kalpakian, representing the appointed president of the Council of Ministers, Saad Rafic Hariri; parliament member Shant Chinchinian; ambassadors of the United Kingdom, Cyprus, Uruguay, and the Czech Republic; the president of the Union of Armenian Evangelical Churches in the Near East, Rev. Megrdich Karagozian; the Prelate of the Armenian Apostolic Church of Lebanon, Bishop Kegham Khatcherian; the president of the Armenian Protestant community in Syria, Rev. Haroutune Selimian; representatives of embassies, Armenian and Lebanese political parties, and cultural associations; former members of parliament; ministers; religious leaders; and guests of the conference.

The inaugural session of the conference took place at the hall of the First Armenian Evangelical Church of Beirut. Public lectures by some of the participants of the conference took place during the first week of September.

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