Theriault: Sarkisian Must Be Called to Account for His Abuse of Armenian Human Rights

Armenian President Serge Sarkisian has spent the past year of his presidency negotiating a deal with Turkey (1) to accept Turkey’s perennial denial that its predecessor state the Ottoman Empire and nationalist forces under Ataturk executed a genocide of Armenians beginning in 1915, and (2) to give up all claim to formerly Armenian territories depopulated of Armenians through the instrument of this 1915 genocide. These two features combine to indicate that no other compensation for the tremendous suffering imposed by the genocide and wealth expropriated by Turks and others through it will be negotiated. There is, of course, no mention of the 1894-96 massacres, significant issues in themselves, nor subsequent abuse of Armenian human rights inside Turkey to this day, including the assassination of Hrant Dink motivated by Turkish penal code Article 301, which is clearly prejudicial against Armenians inside and outside of Turkey. In essence, Sarkisian is completing the work of Talat, Enver, and Jemal by ensuring that (1) all the gains in land and wealth made through the 1915 genocide are retained by Turkey and (2) the genocide will remain unrecognized by Turkey. What even they could not do—break the will of those Armenians who survived so that they would accept the destruction of the genocide and slide quietly into history—Sarkisian is making every effort to accomplish. He is helping the perpetrator group consolidate and make permanent all that it gained through the Armenian Genocide.

Yet, can this latest harm to the basic dignity of all Armenians—and, by implication, all victims of genocide around the world—and this dangerous undermining of the viability of both the Armenian Republic and survival of Armenian identity in the future be a surprise to anyone who has watched Sarkisian in action over the past year and a half? Before Sarkisian began his role in finalizing the genocidal destruction of Armenians, what was he doing? After gaining power in Armenia in an election credible evidence indicates was tainted by fraud, Sarkisian violently suppressed widespread protests. He used government forces to attack protesters, most of whose “crime,” by reliable accounts, consisted of exercising their right to dissent in their own society, that is, to exercise the basic rights of (1) freedom of expression, (2) peaceful assembly, and (3) participation in their government enshrined in Articles 19, 20, and 21 of the United Nations’ Universal Declaration of Human Rights. He then jailed numerous political opponents and protesters apparently without legitimate cause or due process.

Sarkisian’s actions in the early part of his presidency demonstrate clearly that he has no regard for Armenian human rights and will violate them any time he desires. His actions were little different from those of Turkish political leaders and institutions that today suppress the basic human rights—freedom of speech, freedom of religion, right to property, and even right to life—of Armenians within Turkey. What is more, history shows us clearly that regimes that demonstrate disregard for human rights in one instance almost inevitably repeat this disregard in future instances. The Turkish state and society, in part shaped by the Young Turk perpetrators, has gone on violently to repress basic Kurdish human rights as well as the human rights of many Turks. The Serbs who committed genocide against Bosnian Muslims applied the same mentality and kinds of actions against Kosovo Albanians. The Germans started with a genocide against the Herero and moved on to the Europe-wide Holocaust of Jews and others. The Indones
ian government committed politicide against 500,000 to 1,000,000 political dissenters and others labeled as “communists” in 1965, and moved on to genocide against the East Timorese starting in 1975. The English committed genocides against Native Americans and then against the Irish. The United States committed genocide against the Cherokee and then the Navajo and then…

Serge Sarkisian’s complicity with genocide deniers and in the genocidal expropriation of Armenian land and movable wealth could have been prevented if enough people inside and outside Armenia had stood up against his initial human rights abuses. I myself am guilty of not doing enough, beyond merely challenging denial of these abuses by the Armenian representative to the UN at the New York City 2008 Genocide commemoration. The Armenian Revolutionary Federation (ARF) should have understood the lessons of history above—that there is no way to work with human rights abusers to protect human rights—instead of wishfully thinking that it could temper and even change the nature of Sarkisian’s abusive rule by participating in the government. This approach never works. And, one has to ask, where were the Swiss then, when they could actually have helped Armenians and promoted democracy and human rights? Instead, they have piled onto the Armenian population around the world to help Turkey push them into accepting the violation of their rights and memory represented by the protocols.

These appear to be lessons for other groups who will face a similar challenge in the future, unfortunately. But that does not mean that nothing for Armenians can be done now. If the Armenian Republic will be immeasurably weakened by Sarkisian’s perfidy, that does not mean that it will cease to exist immediately. Sarkisian is forcing the republic into a desperate political, economic, cultural, and military situation. It will require every effort of its own citizenry as well as the diaspora to save it. The only way that its citizens can act to save their own society is if Sarkisian’s illegitimate abuse of human rights and suppression of their political dissent stops. However great Sarkisian’s moral violation against Armenians for complicity in the final consolidation of the Armenian Genocide, it is not a prosecutable crime. Sarkisian’s use of state violence against Armenian citizens and the jailing of opposition, however, would seem to be.

To save Armenia and Armenians from the continued rule of a leader so cavalier about violations of their rights, Armenians and Armenian organizations inside and outside of Armenia, as well as international human rights organizations and foreign governments, should begin pressing for a credible investigation into the allegations of Sarkisian’s use of violence against protesters and violations of the rights of those jailed for political reasons under his presidency. If sufficient evidence is found that he has violated human rights, he should be indicted and stand trial for his violations. If he is found guilty, he should be punished in accord with the law, including with jail time if warranted by law.

Henry Theriault is a Professor of Philosophy at Worcester State College.

Henry Theriault

Henry Theriault

Henry C. Theriault is currently Associate Vice President for Academic Affairs at Worcester State University in the United States, after teaching in its Philosophy Department from 1998 to 2017. From 1999 to 2007, he coordinated the University’s Center for the Study of Human Rights. Theriault’s research focuses on genocide denial, genocide prevention, post-genocide victim-perpetrator relations, reparations and mass violence against women and girls. He has lectured and given panel papers around the world. Since 2007, he has chaired the Armenian Genocide Reparations Study Group and is lead author of its March 2015 final report, Resolution with Justice. He has published numerous journal articles and chapters. With Samuel Totten, he co-authored The United Nations Genocide Convention: An Introduction (University of Toronto Press, 2019). In 2017, Theriault was elected President of the International Association of Genocide Scholars (IAGS), and was re-elected in 2019. He is founding co-editor of the peer-reviewed Genocide Studies International. From 2007 to 2012 he served as co-editor of the International Association of Genocide Scholars’ peer-reviewed Genocide Studies and Prevention, and has guest-edited for the International Criminal Law Review and the Armenian Review.


  1. Dear Prof. Theriault,

    With all the respect let me disagree. The idea to call the current Armenian president for responsibility for his crimes is as wonderful as unrealistic. How many dictators do you know ruling in the world today? How many of them (or previous ones) were ever hold responsible for their wrongdoings? This does not mean at all that we should not persue the goal, but rather realize that it is more of a matter of principle. Also, before calling Sarkisyan for responsibility we need to bring two former presidents to do so.  Surely, I agree with you that Diaspora should have done more after Sarkisyan’s ‘election’. They should clearly denounce it as false and totaly frauded.  So, when the ‘President’ is doing his Diaspora tour then the Diaspora would have full rights to say ‘Who are you? We do not recognize you as a President. You have no legitimacy and and whatever you say or sign is illegal’

  2. When Armenian protesters were being clushed in Yerevan, much of the Diaspora was silent. Now, when the same group has a disagreement with the administration in Yerevan, the Diaspora nationalists have decided to stand up for democracy in Armenia!

    This shows how little the Diaspora actually cares about the people who live in Armenia. And the same goes with the protocols. If the Diaspora cared about the average Armen in Armenia, they wouldn’t be against the protocols.

  3. The Diaspora mostly lives in developed countries with strong economies.
    I am one of those people living in California miles away from the difficult situations in Armenia.

    If the protocols will help the Armenians living in Armenia then let it!
    How dare we who live here in comfort and safety get in the way of their well being?

    If we are not Armenian enough to go and live in Armenia then how can we just meddle in policies that will improve the life of the average Armenian living in Armenia.

    Shame on the ARF…go away!

  4. Ara, you miss the point. All diaspora Armenians want the people in Armenia to live a better life. However, the current and past presidents have all been in power because of fraud.  Sargisian alone has lost the Armenian nation over 60 million US dollars in the mellenium package, money earmarked for that nation, because of his fraud elections. Now he is further hurting ALL Armenians by negotiating on things that do not belong to him; The facts and history of the Armenian genocide, the Western land boundries and possibly Karabagh itself. It is because of the diaspora that potically Armenia has clout not the other way around. All this Turkish diplomacy is a result of the political strength of the diaspora that Turkey can’t ignore. Not because of Sargisian. Last, 90% of  diaspora Armenians are against the protocals, not just ARF.

  5. My father Ashot Manukyan of Vanadzor has been protesting for honest government, the environment and human rights in Armenia since at least the ’70s (against Soviet! authorities).  He has always been honest and could have easily ‘made’ millions like the rest of them.  We did not even cut ONE tree in Vanadzor during the mid 90s, but rather sat through the cold instead of destroying the town or stealing electricity – and he was deputy marzpet!
    This story is familiar to thousands in the Diaspora surely.  We have tried tirelessly to gather support since his 5 year sentence last year.  Unfortunately, the VAST majority of responses (in the rare case there has been one) from Diasporan Armenians has been along the lines of “Please remove me from your list”.
    The people of Armenia are being suffacated by merciless corruption and greed.   If they’re slowly eradicated by cultural and moral genocide, who is going to be left as an anchor for any Diaspora at all?  Thank you Mr. Theriault for speaking up.

  6. The diaspora was silent because the “protestors” were calling for a known foreign operative to become president again.   The perception by the diaspora was that Sargsyan was the lesser of two evils.  Now, however, we see that Ter Petrosyan’s attempt coup was apparently a great leveraging tool by Turkey’s allies to pressure a delegitimized Sargsyan to either capitulate and agree to the Protocols or lose his presidency.  He of course, lacking any moral fiber, refused to abandon his tenure as president and sold out.   The protestors of February-March actually did more to bring about this situation than the president himself.

  7. Mr. Theriault — how refreshing to finally have somebody who acknowledges that, at the very least, we are making a legitimate point.  I thank you.
    As for what you said however:  ”Henry Dumanian, I appreciate your response.  To clarify, I did not say that Abisoghom explicitly argued that ARF people have no right to speak against the protocols because of past support for Sarkisian.  I said that his post “suggests” this.  I think a fairly straight-forward reading of his post supports this interpretation:  he is suggesting that the ARF is an illegitimate critic now because it did not oppose Sarkisian before.  My point is that that past history imposes an obligation to try to fix the problems that have resulted.” — Point taken.  I would like to add, however, that the issue I raised  was that Hamparian is guilty of doing things he is shunning other people (like me) for doing now — until the ARF addresses this hypocrisy honestly and truthfully it cannot, in fact, move forward and continue to address the current problems with any effective measure of force or legitimacy.
    As a question, I was wondering where I could go for more information about the massacre you discuss.  I was aware of arrests and beatings of opposition activists, but did not know that there was widespread killing.” — You can view the human rights ombudsman’s report ON the official government report regarding March 1 (in which he accusses of them deflating the number of people killed — note, although it would be helpful of reading his own report on March 1, I am specifically referring to his report ON the government report).  And also, you can look to how the people of Armenia (and arguably even the government) refer to March 1 with almost the same tone and scourn that the words “April 24″ recieve.  It is considered a massacre, and at the core of a huge chain of oppressive measures including the usual beating and intimidation, to sporadic murders and assasinations.  Americans live in a post-9/11 world, the peopl of Armenia live in a post-March 1 world.  I have repeatedly stressed how important it is to understand how the events of March 1 play in to the psyche of the inhabitants of Armenia.
    And, regarding my “assumption that the protocols will ensure that Armenia will prosper.” I never suggested that the opening of the boarder will give Armenia prosperity (at least not in the short term, but definitely not under the terms outlined in the protocols).  I was only suggesting that such a position by the ARF would be along the lines of the position they had on March 2nd — admitting the faults, but choosing to work within the framework already set for the greater good.  No?

  8. The diaspora was silent because the “protestors” were calling for a known foreign operative to become president again.   The perception by the diaspora was that Sargsyan was the lesser of two evils.  Now, however, we see that Ter Petrosyan’s attempt coup was apparently a great leveraging tool by Turkey’s allies to pressure a delegitimized Sargsyan to either capitulate and agree to the Protocols or lose his presidency.  He of course, lacking any moral fiber, refused to abandon his tenure as president and sold out.   The protestors of February-March actually did more to bring about this situation than the president himself.

    Wow — that was sad and disgusting.  THIS is exactly the type of rhetoric that I can’t seem to fit into my head, especially knowing that this garbage is spewed and believed by some in the upper tier of the ARF.  Blaming the protestors?  Really?  I don’t remember you guys blaming Vazgen and his supporters for undermining Levon during the Kharabagh negotiations.  So…the government rigged the elections, and the people shouldn’t have protested so as to not undermine this bandocracy? Poor Serzhik.  Those mean protestors said bad things about him!
    You guys seem to be following the same pattern the Turkish government follows.  Refusing to admit you made a mistake, denying it, and then, when all else fails, justifying it.  Cool!

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