Forty Years on: Gourgen Yanikian and Us

On Jan. 27, 1973, two diplomats of the Turkish Republic traveled to Santa Barbara, Calif., to meet with an individual claiming to possess Ottoman artifacts he wished to donate to the country for posterity. Mehmet Baydar and Bahadir Demir played into the hands of Gourgen Yanikian, who had planned their murder as an act at once of vengeance, of retribution, and of justice.

Gourgen Yanikian
Gourgen Yanikian

It is hard, as an Armenian today, to write about Yanikian without judging his actions using those three less-than-consistent characteristics noted above. Vengeance is not exactly a Christian concept, is it? Justice is ordered by a legitimate, recognized authority. As for retribution, well, it is not for no reason that “Operation Nemesis” was the name of the immense undertaking following the Armenian Genocide to do away with those responsible for that horrific crime: Nemesis is the Greek deity of divine retribution.

I do not know if Armenians can claim divinity. But I can say that Yanikian took it upon himself to address an issue that had lain cast aside for far too long. Listening to him, as one can on YouTube, one notices his fascinating accent. As someone who grew up and studied in Karin (Erzurum) and Russia, it is not surprising that he speaks in Eastern Armenian. At the same time, many of the ways in which he says words are clearly more akin to the Western Armenian pronunciation. Isn’t that telling? For, the story of this man is echoed in the story of so many Armenians of the 20th century, among them Soghomon Tehlirian, whose actions, one can forcefully argue, inspired Yanikian.

But listening to the content of what Yanikian has to say, as a young Armenian 40 years later, the immediate reaction I have is: “Sir, Baron Yanikian, much as I can be in awe of you, things have changed since you were around.” Soviet Armenia, where Yanikian spent time and much appreciated, is no more. There is an independent republic today. We have an additional struggle, armed and otherwise, for Artsakh that offers its own existential meaning for our people.

I do not think it is a coincidence that the acts of violence that Yanikian inspired, and which plagued Turkish diplomats through the 1970’s and 1980’s, ended as the movement for Artsakh began, as the Soviet Union collapsed, and Armenians took on the responsibilities of statehood. The issue of relations with Turkey has, for 20 years now, been an issue at the inter-state level, a matter of international diplomacy. There exist today other tools at one’s disposal (some might say “complementing,” others “supplementing,” the bullets) that Yanikian could not have invoked in 1973.

Forty years on, in reading Michael Bobelian’s Children of Armenia and Tatul Hakobyan’s The Armenians and the Turks (a provisional title in English, as the book is still only available in Armenian), I can only conclude that the Turkish foreign minister sat down with the representatives of the yet-“classic” Diasporan-Armenian political parties in Zurich in 1977, only because their ambassadors and consuls were shedding blood. Why did such an initiative never take place between 1923, when the Republic of Turkey was founded, and 1977? It is unfortunate that Ankara saw so much instability itself—undergoing three coups d’états in as many decades—otherwise perhaps a modus vivendi could at least have been accommodated.

But I conclude at the same time that the plans so prevalent in the minds then of even the all-too-“classic” organized diaspora of an azkahavak (a mass movement of the Armenian people to Soviet Armenia) alongside a hoghahavak (the occupation of traditional Armenian lands by none other than that superpower, the USSR) in the run-up to a free, independent, and united Armenia…well, such thoughts seem dated, especially given the fact that the Armenians are probably the only people in the world whose diaspora population ended up increasing with independence, sadly an ongoing trend.

I cannot say I am proud of every aspect of the history, politics, and society of the Armenian people, but I can say with great confidence that I am far from ashamed when it comes to much that my people have accomplished. It is important to bear in mind today where we stand, what exists around us, what instruments are available, and, most importantly, how we wish to address an issue that has dogged us and our neighbors for far too long in a way that will be meaningful for all concerned, and in a way that will lead to a lasting peace. I hope that Gourgen Yanikian would agree.

Nareg Seferian
Nareg Seferian has lived, studied and worked in New Delhi, Yerevan, Santa Fe, Boston, Vienna, Istanbul and Washington, DC. His writings can be read at


  1. This piece says absolutely nothing. No premise, no conclusions, no point of view. Just feeble hints leading nowhere, stray bullets hitting nothing.

  2. While I can understand Mr. Yanikian’s actions as the product of diminished capacity caused by unbearable suffering, I condemn the actions themselves, not that it matters.

    The diplomats of 1973 did not murder my family members. If they did, they were fair game as much as Eichmann or Talat were.

    True enough, they served a state which was denying the Genocide, profiting from theft, and that state oppressed Armenians and other Christians and Jews every day. But unless they were personally involved in heinous acts against Armenians about which no lesser redress than killing was possible, their murder cannot be justified morally. Even Jesus would likely speak against Operation Nemesis, I think. I’m not sure.

    I will pray for Mr. Yanikian, for all of our family members, all 1,500,010 of them, and also for the murdered diplomats. They too were made in the image and likeness of God.

  3. Nareg, thank you for reminding us a forgotten past and a sad part of our history. I am glad that young people can think differently now. Terrorism in any shape and way is unacceptable. Although, ” Operation Nemesis” is a different issue and can not be put in the same context, but we need to mention that killing innocent people can not explain anything. Very good topic and needs more discussion.

  4. The Turkish diplomats and ambassadors were actively involved in blackmailing, bribing foreign leaders and rewriting history as if Armenians never existed. These diplomats, as representatives of the Turkish republic created in 1923 on the corpses of its indigenous murdered Christians, were consciously pursuing the politics of outright denial of the mass extermination of 1,500,000 Armenians from their ancestral homeland and the destruction of their ancient civilization of thousands of years. Even to this day, they are unrepentant and their domestic policies in regards to Christian minorities, the Armenians in particular, suggest they want to finish off what their predecessors started less than 100 years ago. They used mass deportation and extermination techniques in the name of Turkism and under the banner of Pan-Turanism, under the cover of a world war when no one was watching, to accomplish their task back then and today they are creating ad-hoc laws and using intimidation and clandestine tactics to accomplish the same thing while under the watchful eyes of the world.

    The Turkish diplomats as representatives were no different from the successive criminal Turkish governments who were engaged in covering up their past crimes while building their illegal state from the riches of the innocent people they murdered. They deserved what they got and every single Armenian who dedicated his life to pursuing justice for the Armenian nation is a hero.

    I can’t believe how simple-minded you are bringing Christianity into this. The problem with some Armenians is that they have short memories. Did you forget when the Turkish Imams, under direct orders from the government officials, would make hateful speeches against the Armenian “infidels” in mosques and unleash their “devout” and “loyal” Turks upon helpless and defenseless Armenian women and children?

    The “Operation Nemesis” came about as a result of the fact that the genocidal Turkish leaders and child killers instead of being detained, court-martialled and executed for their monstrous crimes against humanity were let go to hide in European and other cities around the world to enjoy their miserable lives in hiding while planning a coup to return to their criminal posts.

    The lives of all Armenians, those inolved in “Operation Nemesis” in particular, who dedicated themselves to bringing some degree of justice and dignity to the Armenian nation should be celebrated and may Gourgen Yanikian rest in peace.

    • Ararat,

      “I can’t believe how simple-minded you are bringing Christianity into this. The problem with some Armenians is that they have short memories.”

      I lost my hope already. Thousands of Armenians have their vacations in Antalya. They forgot everything and now are actively contributing to the Turkish economy. People who speak against it are labeled not racist but something even worse “outdated or old-fashioned” Unfortunately, we have quite a lot of those up-to-date Armenians in Armenia. I wonder what is going to happen when the border is open. The problem with our society is that we do not have many average people like in many other societies-most of us are either very good or very bad.

    • What is the evidence that the slain diplomats personally committed heinous acts against Armenians, beyond working for a government that did? If service to the government is sufficient to justify murder, why wouldn’t every Turkish civil service member be ok to kill?

    • Stella,

      It is unfortunate if that’s the case. In fact, what you wrote reminded me of what the Turkish Prime Minister Erdogan once cunningly said of the Armenians. In his mind, he categorized them as the good, the bad and the indifferent referring to the Armenians in Turkey, in the Diaspora and in Armenia respectively. Of course, I don’t believe this is the case and what he said was nothing more than en empty political statement in attempts to create division among us not knowing that when it comes to the Armenian core issues in relation to Turkey we speak with one voice. A further proof of this was the fact that the Turkish-Armenian protocols signed in 2009 have been put on the back burner, if not failed or dead altogether.

      To your main point, I would say these people are in the tiny minority and that’s probably because there has been some disconnect between the homeland and the Diaspora in the past, which is narrowing due to close contacts, the representation of the traditional Armenian political parties in the Armenian government and also due to the collapse of the Soviet Union, which not only discouraged but banned nationalist ideologies.

    • Jda,

      The Turkish diplomats consciously and deliberately denied the state-sponsored and systematic annihilation of the Armenians in 1915. They not only dismissed the atrocities committed against them but they even falsely portrayed the Turks as victims of these 1,500,000 butchered Armenians.

      They were active participants in the cover-ups and denials as dictated by the government they represented and their malicious views and statements were recorded in numerous TV interviews and documentaries. Their views and statements make them accomplices in the fabrication and denial process and their actions were heinous acts not only against the murdered Armenians but their descendants and the Armenian nation as a whole.

      Even today, with much more liberal criminal laws, one could be charged, prosecuted and given a prison term for obstructing justice equal to the prison term given to a person actually committing the crime.

  5. Jda,

    “Even Jesus would likely speak against Operation Nemesis, I think. I’m not sure.”

    With all due respect and love for Jesus I think we have to leave Jesus out of this. Otherwise I cannot help asking what God was doing when Armenian women and unborn children were burning in churches. I do not know maybe all these are happening because human life on earth has very little value to God since the “real life” starts in heaven. After all Son of the God did not have a comfortable life on our earth either.

    • It’s interesting that you must excise God in order to see the benefit (to whom, exactly?) in what Yanikian did. I’m more interested to explore how Christian ethics can possibly be reconciled with the murders. I think you rightly concede they can’t.

  6. My previous post here was unfit to be here so was not admitted to the debate.Never mind. But when I saw the you tube above and its contents that those who go to Antalya are rascals,I remembered a 20 year old kid who drove me to his father´s farmland in some 20 miles out of yerevan 7/8 yrs ago,when the radio or some ad material we passed by reminded the Antalya was there at lower prices. he said and I quote ¨¨Esh en ,nrank¨¨ those who go are donkeys.How corectly have both Sella and Ararat defined the Paremid (Kind hearted) not to say Barzamid (simpleminded) Armenians who have within a short span of time forgotten our <GOLGOTHA….
    Agood frienn of ,mine highlyu polished professor of (X) born in Yerevan studied in Moscow then U.S. and pretty famous(now repatriated to yerevan)..his wife(a Western armenian child) when I ws at their home-in light of protocols talk those days some near 3 yrs ago said the MOMENT THE BORDER WITH great Turkey is opned the hoards start invading into Armenia (This time as investors not armed Mongols Seljuks ,mind you but as business people and start buying off all kinds of Businesses land, real estate eetc.,.I shall bid farewell to armenia and leave!!!
    As to kourgen ,that´s about whom my post (unadmitted here)was ….never midn maybe better that way.I´ll say this much Our angry young men ´s was not the kind of ¨¨blind¨¨terrorism that in many countries has been enacted.meaning towards real innocent people.Like the Basques, whi indiscriminately in spain thre bombs into supermarkets , had bombsen to stop and join with the freedom fighters in NK, thankfully.clever kids!!!!
    All they wanted was to let know that our CASE was not closed.Not extinct,as many bad doers thought and West and east kept silence…it ws on world T.V. channels ..and the Wlorld learnt that the Armenkians had a CAUSE*Case
    So much for that .thanks Sella and Ararat.Where is Avery….

  7. Turkish diplomats that were assassinated were State Agents: proximate legitimate targets. The entire Turkish diplomatic corps , including the assassinated Turkish diplomats, was and is actively engaged in the denial of the AG, a form of continuation of the crime of genocide. The diplomats were not assassinated because they were Turks or mere Turkish civil servants: they were assassinated because as Turkish diplomats, high level officers working for the Turkish State, they were actively engaged (as part of their duties) in an activity that had the specific purpose to deny that a Turkish State had any responsibility for the AG, and thereby facilitate and enable future existential threats against worldwide Armenians, and particularly Armenians in South Caucasus.

    And isn’t engaging in a campaign of Genocide denial a conspiracy to obstruct justice ? Aren’t there very draconian US Federal Statutes that punish the offense of obstructing justice ? Not engaging in the crime itself, but the act of obstructing/covering up.
    And all our legitimate, peaceful efforts to correct the wrong are still being proactively obstructed by the Turkish State: is there any doubt that the Genocide Denial bill would be law in France today if not for the Turkish State pressuring/bribing 2-3 French Constitutional Court judges ?

    Anyone doubt that Turkish diplomatic corps is engaged in an active AG Denial campaign today ?
    [Turkey Meddles in Pasadena City Business]
    {PASADENA—An official from the Turkish Consulate in Los Angeles met with a Pasadena City official in an effort to thwart plans by city to erect an Armenian Genocide monument.} (April 22, 2012 Asbarez)

    States assassinate and murder individuals all the time, whether they are actually enemy agents or only suspected – with impunity. There are no trials: you are considered a legitimate target if you work for a State or an organization with whom your own State is engaged in an undeclared war – cold or hot.
    Turks murdered and ‘disappeared’ thousands of Kurds during its ‘dirty war’ against Kurdish nationalism in 80s and 90s: some of those killed were no doubt militants, but most were merely suspected and most likely innocent victims.
    Have any of those Turk criminals – supported and abetted by the Turkish state – been apprehended, prosecuted ? Do pigs fly ?
    Have the leaders and organizers of the Hrant Dink murder conspiracy – supported and abetted by the Turkish state – been apprehended, prosecuted ? Do pigs fly ?

    Israel routinely assassinates Palestinian leaders, whether they have murdered any Israelis or not: Sheikh Ahmed Ismail Hassan Yassin, the spiritual leader of Hamas was assassinated by Israel. He, btw, was a wheelchair bound quadriplegic, and was nearly blind, since the age of 12. Physically incapable of murdering anyone. But he was assassinated simply for being the founder and spiritual leader of Hamas.
    If Holocaust denial was not universally condemned in the West and illegal in most European counties, is there any doubt that Israeli special services would assassinate all those actively involved in any JH denial campaign ?

    President Obama ordered the assassination/murder of U.S.-citizen radical Islamic cleric Anwar al-Awlaki in Yemen: al-Awlaki was not even accused of harming any Americans. He was murdered for his proselytizing activities. No charges, No trial, No verdict, No appeal. Executive execution.
    So, if a US Citizen can be assassinated for Anti-American proselytizing, why cannot agents of the Turkish State be assassinated for anti-AG, Anti-Armenian proselytizing ?

    The State of Azerbaijan openly and on record is declaring and is giving itself the right to commit a purely terrorist act: shooting down an Armenian civilian airplane. How many Western countries have condemned that terrorist threat ? Who other than Armenians cares ?
    In a lawless World that we live in, who do you call to ‘assassinate’ a State that is openly engaged in advocating the murder of Armenian civilians ?

    And calling what Gourgen Yanikian did ‘terrorism’ is an insult: it was (delayed) righteous retribution.
    Have those Armenians who call the act ‘terrorism’ listened to his Youtube explanation of why he did it ?
    When US attacked and scattered the Taliban shortly after 9/11, pretty much all countries of the world, even Islamic ones (yes, including Iran), supported the attack as a case of righteous retribution. Nobody asked if those killed in Afghanistan were actually connected to 9/11: there was a tenuous, proximate link – and that was good enough.

    To be clear, I am against any violence against any Turkish diplomats now: at this juncture, it will be counterproductive and will harm the Armenian cause. We have the moral high ground and need to maintain it.
    And we now have an independent State that represents the Armenian people: it can and does address the issue at the UN, and at various World bodies, no matter how unfair and politicized those bodies might be.
    Armenia, as a State, has levers that individuals lack.
    So the time for individual acts of righteous retribution is past.
    We need to direct our efforts in strengthening that State, so it can do what no individual or groups of individuals can.
    And continue our individual legal and political efforts in the Western Diaspora against Turkey and Azerbaijan.

    • Avery,

      Your usual persuasive gifts do as good a job as anyone can, but fail you here.

      1. I did not say, and do not think that Mr. Yanikian committed an act of terrorism. It was an act of retribution, even misguided justice.

      2. By your logic, Lewy has committed an act of Genocide because he has denied it. While I agree that those who through negligence, credulity, greed, or evil deny the Genocide have thereby participated in the last stage [actually, vilification and oppression of the victim group is the final stage], that does not mean that they fall into the same moral category as persons who committed heinous acts of violence, and are beyond the reach of justice, or are about to do so. All they have done is speak, albeit hatefully and to promote the destruction of memory and frustrate justice. There is no act legitimate act of national defense which includes murder. While state and federal obstruction can be felonies, they are not death penalty issues.

      3. If the US or Israel murder persons not actively murdering Israeli or US citizens, their acts are also wrong.

      4. Advocating a position, hateful as it is, does not justify murder. It requires more speech from us.

      5. The Yanikian episode cost the lives of Armenians who were lynched in Turkey that day. Subsequent ASALA activities got us nowhere, divided the community, and made Turks just a tad more reluctant to abandon their racist, violent approach. He and they set them back two generations. It made the peacemakers among them reluctant to speak, and when they did so, objects of hatred and violence. In short, we gave them a weapon.

      6. It is all moot, in light of your agreement it is not appropriate for us today.

      7. Does your nom de plume have anything to do with Van Avery, the actor?

    • jda:

      1. the post was generic in addressing issues raised by many posters. You did not say it: Ani did, in so many words. Since Mr. Yanikian was the subject of the article, and since Ani specifically excluded Nemesis, when writing about terrorism…who else could she be referring to ?

      2. Lewy is a private citizen. Turkish diplomats are on the payroll of the Turkish State. High level officers of the State.

      3. Right or wrong they in fact murdered. If Yanikian was sent to jail, why not Pres. Obama. If terrorism if wrong for individuals, why is it permissible for the State.

      4. Again, Diplomats are State actors. Different than private citizens. For example, Ergun K is probably the worse of them all, but he is a private citizen, so I wish him a long, if miserable, life.

      5. Fascist Turks never need an excuse to murder Armenians. What was the excuse for murdering Marissa Kuchuk ? What was the excuse for murdering 2 million ? And I disagree that Yanikian’s act was counterproductive. Up to that point, the West had no idea about the Armenian Genocide, outside of academic circles. His act shook the foundations of Western complacency. Later ASALA took up the mantle, whose actions unfortunately degenerated into pure terrorism. But people in the West were shocked into confronting the AG, and the decades long Turkish campaign of denial. And the rest is history, as they say.

      6. Agreed: at this point it is moot.

      7. Nope: not a nom the plume. My first name.

  8. Thanks Avery,
    For a very well explained and defined logically and to the point with quotes/you tube.
    I agree presently no such ¨correctional acts of violence¨are admissible.
    What´s more i did also mention that our angry Younmen knew when to stop and JOIN WITH THE JOGAD IN MOUNTCAINOUS KARABAGH/Artsakh.Which was the right thing to do,As the battlefield was where they could carry on their quest and desire for LIBERATING AT LEAST THAT LITTLE PIECE OF LAND,Armenian for millenia.
    Approaching the 100th Anniversary, we need more space in the Int´l media,above all and also good films,plus Symposium, Conferences and our historians travelling from city to city overseas,country to country and having their discourses and introduction of our CAUSE/CASE as best they can.
    That is our next objective.Though in my theses,alsoRE ORGANMIOZATION OF OUR DIASPORA TO BECOME A SUPERSTRUCTURE…hopefully.

  9. Hope this one below would comply with AW rules:::
    Sireli Kourgen,
    Hampartzoumin zavak(bzdik ei …chu gidem g´hishes)…Ink G¨ yrger…
    May both you rest in peace.Our Quest for JUSTICE WILL GO ON….
    T H E W O R L D O W E S J U S T I C E T O A R M E N I A N S!!!!!!

  10. @jda…when you write “Subsequent ASALA activities got us nowhere, divided the community, and made Turks just a tad more reluctant to abandon their racist, violent approach” you merely reveal the bankruptcy of the diaspora and your over optimism regarding the possibility that the “Turks’ would have come around to the Armenian way of thinking had it not been for ASALA. May Monte sleep peacefully after sacrificing so much for the cause of Armenian liberation. The diaspora missed a golden opportunity when it failed to step in and offer an alternative to ASALA and when it failed to use the heightened awareness of the Genocide to its advantage. The bankrupt political parties and other conservative elements in the diaspora were quick to condemn the tactics of ASALA but they had nothing to put on the table in terms of what they and the diaspora as a whole were seeking in terms of compensation and a just resolution of the matter. Not could the diaspora argue that the political line of ASALA;was inherently incorrect, i.e. that Turkey and its patron state the U.S would never do anything to threaten the territorial integrity of the Turkish occupier of western Armenia. This wasn’t the shortcoming of ASALA but of the decades-old decaying “political” leadership of the diaspora. As to your argument that ASALA divided the community…well in the end those who chose to be co-opted by the U.S. and who continue to believe that more lobbying is the answer were shown to be the complicit backers of Turkish colonialism and U.S. hegemony. ASALA gave the traditional diaspora leadership a real run for their money and attracted thousands to their way of looking at the Armenian Question. If you call that dividing the community, then I say, let’s have more of the same.

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