Lawyers from England, Ireland, Turkey and US Tackle Armenian Genocide within Framework of Law

MINNEAPOLIS, Minn.—The University of St. Thomas School of Law, as part of its “unique mission of integrating faith and reason in the search for truth through a focus on morality and social justice,” co-organized an international conference, in partnership with the International Institute for Genocide and Human Rights Studies (A Division of the Zoryan Institute), to examine “The Armenian Genocide within the Framework of National and International Law.” The conference took place on February 5th, 2010 in Minneapolis, in conjunction with the Cafesjian Family Foundation and the Ohanessian Endowment Fund for Justice and Peace Studies of the Minneapolis Foundation.

John M. Sandy, Editor-in-Chief of the Journal of Law and Public Policy of the University of St. Thomas, stated, “When I first heard about the Armenian Genocide from a fellow passenger on a flight to Los Angeles, and learned the enormity of it, I was shocked that I had not come across this major historical event in my education up to that time. I embarked on research on this subject, and the more I learned, the more astonished I became that this was not taught as part of American history in WWI, and the more I felt there was a great deal still to be researched, especially from a legal perspective. Thus, the idea of holding a conference for the purpose of preparing a special issue of the university’s Journal of Law and Public Policy came to be.” 

Prof. Robert J. Delahunty of the Law School, who served as moderator, reaffirmed the university’s position that the conference proceeds from the understanding that the Armenian Genocide is an established fact. One of the reasons for this position is that the International Association of Genocide Scholars, the world’s foremost body of researchers in the field of genocide studies, has unanimously affirmed that “it is indisputable that the Armenian Genocide is proven history.” 

Mark L. Movsesian, Professor of Contract Law at St. John’s University, described how the reform movement (Tanzimat) intended to provide equality for the non-Muslim minorities in the Ottoman Empire in the 19th century, failed. This was because the ruling elite and society at large could not accept it. The resentment was twofold, a) the reforms broke the covenant between the superior protector group, Muslims, and the subservient, protected groups, non-Muslim; and b) they felt the reforms were imposed by the European Powers and were considered outside interference. This helped make the mass violence of the Hamidian massacres possible, in which some 200,000 Armenians were killed. It can also be seen as a precursor to the Genocide, because the mass killings went unpunished.

Prof. Vahakn N. Dadrian, Director of Genocide Research at the Zoryan Institute, an expert in history and international law, described the significance of the Allied Powers’ declaration on May 24, 1915 that they would hold personally responsible for “these new crimes of Turkey against humanity and civilization.” This set a precedent in the development of international law on crimes against humanity. He then described how the national law of the Ottoman Empire, particularly the Military Tribunals, dealt with the Armenian mass killings by prosecuting those crimes immediately after WWI.

William A. Schabas, Director of the Irish Centre for Human Rights at the National University of Ireland, Galway, and currently President of the International Association of Genocide Scholars, addressed the subject of “The Retroactive Applicability of the UN Genocide Convention to the Armenian Genocide.” He affirmed that what happened to the Armenians in 1915 can properly be termed genocide, and that the actions of the Ottoman Government constituted the crime of genocide. Prosecution for this crime under the UN Genocide Convention is not likely, however, as there are no longer individuals alive to prosecute. However, given that the Turkish State is the inheritor of the Ottoman Empire, it could be possible to prosecute the Turkish State for crimes against humanity.

Geoffrey Robertson, QC, one of Britain’s leading human rights lawyers, submitted a video recording of his speech, “Politics, Government, and the Armenian Genocide in the United Kingdom.” Robertson discussed in particular his exposé of how the British Foreign Office suppressed information and misled Parliament on the truth of the Armenian Genocide, affecting British foreign policy greatly and resulting in Britain’s stance of not recognizing the Genocide, but merely calling it a tragedy. This position is at odds with the position of the British government at the time of the Armenian Genocide, when they called it a crime against humanity and civilization. Robertson’s research into this discrepancy shows that the current position of the British government is driven by political and commercial interests. 

Eren Keskin, an award-winning Turkish human rights attorney, participated by telephone from Turkey. She spoke forcefully about the Armenian Genocide and the importance of Turkey’s apologizing for it. She explained the militaristic foundation of the Turkish Republic, the continuity of the military mindset of 1915 and that of the Turkish State today. This militaristic mindset causes the Turkish state to suppress dissent and punish what it considers insults to Turkishness.  Ms. Keskin spoke movingly about the threats and abuse she has endured personally as an advocate for human rights in Turkey.

Mark C. Fleming is a partner in the Boston office of Wilmer Cutler Pickering Hale and Dorr LLP. He prepared an amicus curiae brief on the appeal in the Griswold v. Driscoll case, in which the Massachusetts Board of Education was being sued, based on the First Amendment, to allow “contra-genocide” materials on a list of suggested educational resources for teaching the Armenian Genocide. Initially the case was dismissed and Massachusetts was free to list the resources of its choosing, but the case is now under appeal. 

Roger W. Smith, Professor Emeritus of Government at the College of William and Mary, spoke on the legal and philosophical aspects of laws penalizing genocide denial. While genocide denial is dangerous and continues the victimization of the target group, he said, preventing free speech in such cases has its own, serious, negative consequences.

Ziya Meral, a Turkish researcher, writer, and PhD candidate in Political Science at Cambridge University, as discussant for the conference, masterfully commented on numerous issues that were raised by the other speakers. He spoke about the need for the people of Turkey to accept the reality of the Armenian Genocide and said that only Turkish society have the power to change Turkey’s policy of denial.

The papers from this conference will be published in the summer issue of the university’s Journal of Law and Public Policy. Through this publication, it is hoped that awareness among policymakers will be raised to strengthen the legal framework, so that all cases of genocide are treated with justice and that politics or economic interest do not obstruct the application of the law nationally or internationally.

The International Institute for Genocide and Human Rights Studies (A Division of the Zoryan Institute) is dedicated to the study and dissemination of knowledge regarding the phenomenon of genocide in all of its aspects to create an awareness of it as an ongoing scourge and promote the necessity of preventing it.

11 Comments on Lawyers from England, Ireland, Turkey and US Tackle Armenian Genocide within Framework of Law

  1. This is a Great lawyers team, we should organize others team to study  others US matters.

  2. When are these folks going to devise and implement a plan for land reparations and monetary restitution for our long lost family assets that were stolen from our forefathers by the descendants of unrepentant Turkey? When are these lawyers going to put the indisputable facts of the Armenian Genocide behind them and start talking about what really matters: our rights to our land and assets. Wheres’ the plan? What’s the timeline? Who’s leading the effort? For how much longer will our community remain sound asleep re-acknowledging the Armenian Genocide?

  3. Indisputable facts?  Then how come they are being disputed so successfully?  How come there is no shred of evidence for this indisputable fact?  How come then this myth requires so much legal and constitutional protection?

  4. Uh Mark,

    You seem to only see one aspect of things (albiet incorrect). What you really should be asking are the realistic questions: “When are these folks going to devise and implement a plan for Armenians to come clean in front of the UN, with their addmitance that they perpetrated a century-old con job upon the Christian nations of the world?”. This should then be followed up by “When are these lawyers and dashnak hard-liners going to put the bogus claims of an alleged Armenian genocide behind them and start talking about what really matters: The establishment and advancement of relations between Armenian and Turkey and Azerbaijan, with the withdrawl of all Armenian troops from NK, leading to further positive recognition by all nations, as well as all Moslem nations, with the resultant economic agreements to follow (which will surely improve Armenia’s desperate economic situation)?”. “Where’s the plan?”. What’s the timeline?”. “Who’s leading the effort?”. “For how much longer will our community remain sound asleep in acknowledging that what we did as Armenians was wrong, and that we must now drop this selfishness and child-like whinning and share the forward-looking vision of President Sarkissian and do what is right and best for Armenia?”! Do you get it now?!!

  5. Epistle to Dr. Arbuthnot poem by Alexander Pope (1688-1744)
    This is very famous poem for pope.
    I need expert analysis of this line.

    ‘Bear, like the Turk, no brother near throne.’

    Did Pope mean that, the Turkish sultan’s use to kill their other sons leaving only the elderly alive to stay on the throne!
    Is there such story in Armenian History  ‘killing the sons’!

  6. avatar arek avedian // February 16, 2010 at 2:21 pm // Reply

    Where are the facts murat? where are the armenians that have lived in anatolia for the last 3000 years? either murdered or in the diaspora.  My family was murdered and converted to islam that is a fact.  your ignorance and your inability to be open to the truth is for me incomprehensible.

  7. Sylva,

    No, he does not mean sons, they are needed to carry on the dynasty.  He says “brothers”.  Yes it was made legal around 15th century to take the life of your siblings for the sake of stability of the state.  A civil war that broke out among the Sultan’s sons after the death of Sultan Beyazit in the hands of Mongols, almost brought an end to the young Ottoman Empire and this was a solution.  Leter they were kept under house arrest or under close guard.  Being royalty was not always a blessing.


    When I say no evidence what I mean is there was no official or unofficial Ottoman policy of physical extermination, no such decisions, records or evidence, no such orders, no concentration camps, no gas chambers, no mass graves, no 1.5M Armenians dead or alive,  but millions of descendants all around today. 

    There are very few Armenians today in Turkey, because they were ethnically cleansed from Eastern Turkey, and where they were forcibly moved at the time is not within Turkey’s border’s today.  As you know, having lost their very bloody war against the Ottomans many escaped back to Russia with the withdrawing Russian armies, their nominal ally, and many also immigrated after the War of Independence, as life was already hard there even without being Armenian.  As you also know some stayed and mixed with the Muslim population, and yes, many also died of famine, disease and plain murder in the hands of brigands, Kurds or vengeful civilians. 

    As Ottoman empire collapsed and nationalism spread, millions of Muslims (both my grand parents famililes) were ethnically cleansed from their ancestoral homes throughout Caucuses, Crimea, Balkans, Middle East and Aegean and poured into Turkey, and similarly, millions of non-Muslims poured out.  In some cases this was orchestrated by home states in the form of population exchanges.  That was the cost of having a nation-state.  Ottomans did not invent it, they were the victim of it.

  8. Murat and Robert represent your typical misinformed Turks that the majority of Armenians feel sorry for when they open their mouths. Taking pride and much effort in espousing their backwards revisionist propaganda to anyone that can stand their hate filled rhetoric at the expense of their time and every one elses patience, we entertain them. They are convinced that by monitoring this website day in and day out they will prove something to the world. At the end of the day however, what they repeatedly prove to the world is that ignorance has no limits.

  9. Hye Sevag, abrees.  We know the Turks’ stances, their leaderships over the years, their convoluted education of their students about Turks’ own history, and their treatments of their own  enlightened
    citizens  – which says it all.  Turkey is all glitter on the outside, decayed and decaying from within…
    In their desparations the leaders jump from one PLOY to another Ploy, bullying,  allied with ‘allies’/just as quickly “disallied” with ‘allies’ – over and over.  And, the need for the Turk leaders to teach their citizens to hate Armenians – as though the Armenians had committed a genocide against the Turk!
    It was the Armenians who were the victims for generations of the Turkish tyranny – into the Turkish Genocide of the Armenian nation 1918-1923!  But strangely, the Turks’ need to continue to pursue their policiy of ‘eliminating’ Armenians… 1890s into today 2010… still in ancient Ottoman bullying mentality.
    As the world watches – asking… WHY?

  10. avatar George Apelian // February 21, 2010 at 6:00 am // Reply

    This is great. To hear  the truth about a great cause, as the Arm. Genocide, gives us some hope that after all, justice can, one day prevail.

    As a direct result of this horrible act ( Genocide) 1.5 million perished. There is another way of  destruction. Today there are thousands of kurds & arabs in Syria, of Armenian origin.  They are the descendents of boys lost during the deportations of 1915. They even have their own tribe: The  Armenian Moslem tribe! I found about this last may. I have already raised a special report about this issue to poliotical & religeous authorities. These people,  lead a marginal life. They remember their fotefathers’ epics! Actually they endure eternal martyerdom, from generation to generation.  These people deserve much attention!

  11. Murat, stop blaming this and that peoples for the wholesale murder of Armenians in 1915. Your elementary and mediocre reasoning blaming anything and everything on th Kurds is absurd, to say the least. It was the Turkish government that devised and implemented the Armenian Genocide, period. And no matter how much false information you feed your Western friends, bear in mind that they have no love for your Genocidal tendencies, all they are interested is OIL my friend.

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