The ‘Exact Translation’: How ‘Medz Yeghern’ Means Genocide

Yes, until World War II, the Medz Yeghern of 1915 was unprecedented not only in the history of our people, but in the entirety of humankind. An entire people, an entire nation coming from the depths of millennia was killed, was dying.

We condemn genocide [genotsid] or zhoghovrtasbanutiun with all our heart and soul.

There is and there cannot be either juridical justification or any motion of prescription for genocide.

Genocide, be it the horrifying slaughter of Armenians in Der or in the banks of the Euphrates in 1915, or the torturing death by massacre of the other peoples during World War II in Majdanek and Büchenwald, must always be condemned without reservations, and its perpetrators must be condemned by all of humankind.

Nagush Harutiunian (1965)1


The president of the Presidium of the Supreme Soviet of the Armenian Soviet Socialist Republic proclaimed these words at the official commemoration of the genocide on April 24, 1965 in Yerevan. Harutiunian did not hesitate to pair “genocide” (he used the Russian loanword genotsid and the Armenian translation zhoghovrtasbanutiun, literally “democide”; tseghasbanutiun was not yet commonly used in Eastern Armenian) and “Medz Yeghern.”

Almost 50 years later, the official use of Medz Yeghern and genocide as synonyms would show ideological continuity regardless of time and political situation. Serge Sarkisian, the president of the Republic of Armenia, in a speech given in Marseilles in December 2011, said: “We were strong enough to survive the Medz Yeghern [Great Calamity], and we are just as strong now to demand justice.” After routinely inserting the translation “Great Calamity,” Armenian American commentator Harut Sassounian did not make any further comment on its use and reported that Sarkisian had employed “Armenian Genocide” six times in other parts of his speech.2

The organized annihilation of 1915 was an unprecedented eruption of pure evil that encompassed not only the wholesale killing of people, but also the devastation of their culture and civilization, the dispossession of their property and ancestral territory, and the dehumanization and traumatization of the survivors and their descendants. That evil component ensured the use of Medz Yeghern (“Great [Evil] Crime”) as the name for a crime of such catastrophic and unprecedented proportions, superseding the more pedestrian Medz Vojir (“Great Crime”). An editorial published in 2005, on the 90th anniversary of the genocide, in “Hai Sird,” the official periodical of the Armenian Relief Society (ARS), even asked “whether the word ‘genocide,’ coined decades later, can begin to describe what we, Armenians, call Metz Yeghern, ‘The Great Crime.’”3 The legitimacy of the word was not questioned; rather, its insufficiency to describe the dimensions of the event.


Deconstructing Obama’s April 24 statements

The phony polemics around Medz Yeghern have been exacerbated by a remarkable ignorance of its profound historical meaning and a willful adoption of the Turkish-fueled “Great Calamity” hoax. This has led to an inability to accurately interpret the relation of President Barack Obama’s “Meds Yeghern” of April 2009 (and subsequent years) to presidential candidate Barack Obama’s promise on Jan. 19, 2008—“as President I will recognize the Armenian Genocide.”4 Consequently, the powers that be have chosen “to send a message to the president and all politicians that if you make a promise to the people, you have to keep your promise,” as Sassounian stated in May 2010.5 On the eve of the 2010 congressional elections, a privately paid “political ad” even appeared in the Armenian-American press with the following title: “President Medz Yeghern is a liar. Liars must be punished. On November 2, give him a Republican Congress.”6 Around a month before the 2012 presidential elections, Sassounian reportedly issued the following warning: “Pres. Obama has about 30 days to make good on his pledge to recognize the Armenian Genocide. Otherwise, Armenian-Americans will not vote for him for a second term.”7

We have chosen a rather different path: to read together the five presidential statements between 2009 and 2013. The analysis showed a constant repetition of several key phrases and/or ideas:

1)                  “Meds Yeghern,” non-translated (eleven times)

2)                  “I have consistently stated my own view of what occurred in 1915…” (five times)

3)                  “…And my view has not changed” (five times)

4)                   1.5 million Armenians (five times)

5)                  Massacred or marched to their death (five times)

6)                  “In the final days of the Ottoman Empire” (five times)

7)                  One of the “worst” (four times) or “great” (one time) atrocities of the 20th century;

8)                  “Full, frank, and just acknowledgment of the facts” (five times)

9)                  Armenian contribution “to the world” (two times), “to our nation” (one time), “to our society, our culture, and our communities” (one time)


Reconstructing Obama’s April 24 statements

Here is the reconstruction of the key phrases deconstructed above, namely, the essentials of what Obama has said for the past four years: “I have consistently stated [and I repeat] my own view of that history: the Meds Yeghern was one of the worst atrocities of the twentieth century [that caused] 1.5 million victims massacred or marched to their death in the final days of the Ottoman Empire. [I want] the achievement of a full, frank, and just acknowledgement of the facts [and I recognize] the Armenian contribution to the world.”

This paragraph repeats the facts of history that are opposed to Turkish denial—that there were 1.5 million victims of massacre or deadly deportation in the Ottoman Empire, one of the worst atrocities of the 20th century. Turkish counterfactual history was exemplified by one of its most notorious spokespersons, Yusuf Halaçoğlu, the former president of the Turkish Historical Society and a current member of parliament, back in 2005: 1) “Most Armenians who died, died of disease, whereas most Muslims who died were killed by Armenian gangs”; 2) “Those who keep talking about the nonsense of 1.5 million dead are politicizing this issue. Can you imagine where one would bury 1.5 million people? If you put 300 in the same grave, that would make 5,000 mass graves.”8

The rationale of the reconstructed paragraph lies in the “view of that history” that Senator Barack Obama had stated in his June 28, 2006 letter to Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice (“The occurrence of the Armenian genocide is not an ‘allegation,’ a ‘personal opinion,’ or a ‘point of view.’ Supported by an overwhelming amount of historical evidence, it is a widely documented fact”),9 re-stated as a presidential candidate on Jan. 19, 2008 (“…my firmly held conviction that the Armenian Genocide is not an allegation, a personal opinion, or a point of view, but rather a widely documented fact supported by an overwhelming body of historical evidence. The facts are undeniable”),10 and reaffirmed four times in a row that it had not changed.

“A cursory review of Turkish foreign policy would clearly indicate the prominent role that machtpolitik [power politics] assumes in Ankara’s relations with the Western governments,” political scientist and historian Simon Payaslian said more than a decade ago. “Nor would the policies of Britain, France, Germany, or the United States toward Turkey be considered determined by principles of moralpolitik [moral politics]. … For Armenians, it is an unfortunate machtpolitik reality—but a reality nonetheless—that little has changed in Western policy during the past 80 years, and not much is likely to change in the foreseeable future.”11 Obama was confronted with the impossibility and inability of breaking decades-old American foreign policy as mandated since the time of Harry Truman: “The future of Turkey, as an independent and economically sound state, is clearly no less important to the freedom-loving peoples of the world than the future of Greece. . . . [Turkey’s] integrity is essential to the preservation of order in the Middle East.”12 Daniel Larison, a blogger for “The American Conservative,” noted in the wake of the statement that the word genocide “we know is lacking not for any good historical reason but obviously because of sheer politicking and interest group lobbying.”13 Recalling Otto Bismarck’s dictum that politics is the art of the possible, the U.S. president chose to make reference to his past statements as an implicit recognition of the genocide and to address a call for acknowledgement of facts to the side that does not recognize them.


A unique paragraph

Obama’s 2009 statement also contained a unique paragraph: “Nothing can bring back those who were lost in the Meds Yeghern. But the contributions that Armenians have made over the last 94 years stand as a testament to the talent, dynamism, and resilience of the Armenian people, and as the ultimate rebuke to those who tried to destroy them.” Its legal intent was correctly assessed by the Council of the Bar Association of the Republic of Armenia in early 2010; while stating that it is “time to call things by their proper names,” it did recognize that “Obama the lawyer…has already clearly acknowledged the events of the Armenian Genocide”:

“President Obama used the historical Armenian term ‘Meds Yeghern,’ which is synonymous to ‘genocide,’ a more contemporary term. The term ‘Meds Yeghern’ was used by President Obama twice, and was clearly described as an attempt to destroy the Armenian people. It is obvious that the ‘Meds Yeghern’ term was referred to by President Obama in exactly the same meaning, as we, Armenians, refer to it. The terms ‘Meds Yeghern,’ ‘Hayots Tseghaspanutiun,’ and ‘Armenian Genocide’ have been always absolutely identical. From the legal point of view, President Obama has described a genocide, because an attempt to destroy a people is, by definition, a genocide.

Even though Obama the politician did not use the term genocide, Obama the lawyer, the graduate of Columbia University and Harvard Law School, has already clearly acknowledged the events of the Armenian Genocide. On behalf of the Bar Association of the Republic of Armenia, we would like to express our gratitude to President Obama for his historic statement.

Taking into account the significance of international recognition of genocide in preventing the crime of genocide in the future, we believe that it is the time to call things by their proper names and to condemn the Medz Yeghern defining it as genocide in unequivocal terms.”14

The underlined phrase did not appear again in the next presidential statements. We are inclined to believe that it was not sheer coincidence.


The Canadian precedent of ‘Medz Yeghern’

Ironically, Armenian-Americans have never bothered to look across the border and notice that Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper had already recognized the genocide with the name Medz Yeghern on April 19, 2006: “I would like to extend my sincere greetings to all of those marking this somber anniversary of the Medz Yeghern. Ninety-one years ago the Armenian people experienced terrible suffering and loss of life. In recent years the Senate of Canada adopted a motion acknowledging this period as ‘the first genocide of the 20th century,’ while the House of Commons adopted a motion that ‘acknowledges the Armenian genocide of 1915 and condemns this act as a crime against humanity.’ My party and I supported those resolutions and continue to recognize them today.”15

He repeated his statement almost literally in 2011.16 However, we did not find any protest against Harper’s use of Medz Yeghern (without translation) and his reluctance to call it “genocide” as a label of his own. His quote of parliamentary resolutions and his statement of support to them seem to have satisfied or silenced potential complainants.

In his efforts to circumvent the explicit use of the word “genocide,” Obama has referred interested parties to his “view of that history” and used Medz Yeghern nine times to name the genocide, in the same way that Prime Minister Harper referred interested parties to parliamentary resolutions and used Medz Yeghern twice to name the genocide.

The outcome was different: Harper’s use of Medz Yeghern was given the Freedom Award of the Armenian National Committee-Western Region in 2007.17 Obama’s use of Medz Yeghern to name the genocide has been relentlessly bashed during the past four years, even though Sassounian wrote in his 2009 open letter to Obama: Armenians actually gain nothing by having one more U.S. president reiterate what has been said before. As you know, presidential statements, just as congressional resolutions, have no legal consequence.”18

Interestingly, Turkish columnist Murat Yetkin wrote in April 2012: “And American President Barack Obama’s ‘Meds yeghern’ statement yesterday made neither Armenians nor Turks happy; the term is synonymous with genocide in Armenian, but does not have any meaning in international law.”19

Yetkin’s argument is convoluted, as genocide denial is prone to be. Although it is undeniable that, as law scholar Thomas Buergenthal has written, “the Holocaust and its aftermath transformed genocide from a nameless crime to a crime whose very name evokes the horrors not only of the Holocaust, but also of the Armenian Genocide, of Rwanda, of the Former Yugoslavia and of the countless other terrible tragedies which have victimized mankind before and after the Holocaust,”20 a denier could say, by the same token, that the words Shoah and Holocaust do not have any meaning in international law (they do not appear either in the Convention for the Prevention of Genocide or in the Rome Statute of the International Criminal Court). In any case, the legal meaning of Medz Yeghern vis-à-vis genocide in international law seems to be irrelevant, even for those who adamantly demand the use of the latter.


Towards another understanding

A few people have, however, understood Obama’s statements, including the use of Medz Yeghern, in a different way. For instance, Daniel Larison highlighted the legal content of Medz Yeghern and linked it to genocide: “Contrary to the Turkish Coalition’s awful statement, Obama did not ‘defer’ to historians (by which they mean embrace whitewashing of the record), but he made quite clear that he regarded it as one of the great atrocities of the last century and used an Armenian phrase, Meds Yeghern, to describe it, that conveys the message that these were criminal acts. Not unfortunate incidents or unavoidable wartime excesses, as the hacks and paid-off spokesmen would have it, but crimes and atrocities. That implies willful mass murder directed against an entire people, which in the end is quite close to what people understand when someone refers to genocide. In my modern Eastern Armenian dictionary, yeghern means ‘slaughter, carnage, genocide,’ or a ‘crime’’ or ‘evil deed,’ and the word yeghern has been and can be used in the context of referring to the genocide.”21

French Armenian historian Claude Mutafian, who criticized the U.S. president’s plea for Turkey’s membership in the European Union, was brutally frank in 2009: “This is what Obama has said. He has openly accused the Ottoman Empire of committing a ‘great crime,’ one of the most barbarous actions of the century (sic), which has caused a million and a half victims (re-sic). I say: hats off! Whereas these traitors of the government of Armenia have scandalously soaped the board by giving him, with this criminal ‘road map,’ a pretext to say the strict minimum as his predecessors, nevertheless he had the courage to say everything. I repeat: hats off! The Turkish authorities have not been fooled anyway; they have immediately cried foul, because they have made a much better analysis than the innumerable do-gooders of the diaspora bent over the word ‘genocide’ while the president of the United States has said the same thing. Against so stupid reactions, Obama will end by concluding, in all fairness, that if Armenians are so primitive, then they do not deserve to be thought of. Is this what we want to achieve?”22

On May 7, 2010, reader Antranik Jarchafjian criticized the newspaper Asbarez’s title “Obama Refuses to Recognize the Armenia Genocide” in a letter to the editor: “We should not let our anger get in the way of having the necessary agility to draw the maximum benefit from this and other presidential statements. Unfortunately, Asbarez not only failed in this regard but also set the tone for other media outlets by providing an Armenian source to frame the statement as refusal to recognize the genocide. While Asbarez can go on and egg the president to its heart’s content, the misguided characterization does the recognition campaign no favors. Instead of taking the president’s statement as an actual recognition of the genocide and force the deniers to prove that it isn’t, Asbarez undermine[s] the effort and aids the deniers by turning the statement on it[s] head and announcing that the president ‘refuses to recognize the Armenian Genocide.’”

The editorial response was that “the president’s continued use of the word ‘Medz Yeghern’ as a means to dodge his promise…damages the Armenian Cause,” citing Suat Kiniklioğlu’s utterances about Medz Yeghern and “positive language” as an example.23 It omitted to mention that Kiniklioğlu had been well served by the misuse of Medz Yeghern as “Great Calamity” in the Turkish apology campaign of 2008 and the uncritical repetition of “Great Calamity” in the Armenian press, Asbarez included.

Even Turkish punditry certified that the U.S. president had used the Armenian phrase for genocide. In an open letter addressed to Obama in April 2010, the former Turkish ambassador to the United States and veteran denialist, M. Ŝükrü Elekdağ, recognized that the U.S. president had used the word “genocide” in 2009: “Unfortunately, the subsequent statement that you made on April 24th regarding the events of 1915 in Eastern Anatolia seriously disappointed the Turkish people and cast a shadow on the positive impression formed during your visit for the following reason: Although your statement omitted the highly charged word ‘genocide,’ you twice employed the expression ‘metz yeghern‘ which is the exact translation of ‘genocide’ in the Armenian language.”24 A few days later, Bülent Kenes, the editor-in-chief of Today’s Zaman newspaper, and its columnist Fatma Dişli Zıbak wrote that Medz Yeghern is “the proper rendering of genocide in the Armenian language,” even though they repeated that it meant Büyük Felâket, translated as “Great Tragedy.”25

In early 2012, Seth J. Frantzman, op-ed editor of The Jerusalem Post, acknowledged and underscored the unique significance of Medz Yeghern: “For many years Armenians referred to the genocide as ‘the great crime’ in Armenian, the ‘Meds Yeghern’ (Mec Yeğeŗn). When the Jews suffered genocide, the Armenians didn’t feel a need to apply their term to the Holocaust. The Meds Yeghern remains an Armenian word for the evil that was done to their nation.”26


Language myths

In April 2011, Sassounian had complained that “Armenian substitute words such as ‘Meds Yeghern’ are simply meant to fool some gullible Armenian-Americans. This is a cheap trick that is beneath the dignity of the presidency!”27 Interestingly, it appears that it did not fool Armenians like Michael Mensoian, a contributor to the Armenian Weekly (“For nearly a century our survivors of the Meds Yeghern (Great Catastrophe) have suffered the psychological and emotional trauma of the first genocide of the modern era”),28 or non-Armenians like Brandy Hilboldt Allport, a reviewer of Chris Bohjalian’s novel, The Sandcastle Girls (“Bohjalian deftly widens a telescopic lens to encompass the ‘Meds Yeghern,’ or ‘Great Calamity’ of the Armenian genocide . . . .”), who nevertheless seem to have been misled by the “Great Calamity” mistranslation of the same Armenian word that Sassounian used around a dozen times between 2005 and 2012.29

The Knights and Daughters of Vartan, sponsors of the genocide commemoration in Times Square, and the co-sponsoring and participating 15 major Armenian organizations of all political leanings from the New York area were not fooled either: The commemoration has been publicly announced since 2010 as the Anniversary Commemoration of the Armenian Genocide (Medz Yeghern).”

The same Armenian-American commentator wrote the following in his 2009 open letter to Obama: “You may want to know that ‘Meds Yeghern’ does not mean genocide; it means ‘Great Calamity.’ ‘Genocide’ in Armenian is ‘Tseghasbanoutyoun,’ which is a much more precise term than ‘Meds Yeghern,’ in case you decide to use it in the future.”30 However, this language lesson displayed two myths:

a)                  Myth: Medz Yeghern means “Great Calamity.”

Fact: Medz Yeghern literally means “Great Crime,” as per the definition of yeghern in most Armenian-English dictionaries of the 20th century.

b)                  Myth: Tseghasbanutiun is the proper Armenian name of the events.

Fact: Tseghasbanutiun is the Armenian translation of genocide, the juridical definition of a crime against humanity, whose most common Armenian proper name is Medz Yeghern. Equally defined crimes against humanity are called, for instance, Shoah (Jewish Genocide), Porrajmos (Roma Genocide), Sayfo (Assyrian Genocide), or Holodomor (Ukrainian Genocide).


Back to square one

The three words genocide, yeghern, and tseghasbanutiun can and are used as synonyms. For instance, on April 20, 2010, the Armenian Ministry of Diaspora and the Armenian Genocide Museum-Institute organized an international conference on “Cultural Genocide” or Mshagutayin Yeghern (“Cultural Yeghern”). The director of the Museum-Institute, Hayk Demoyan, read a paper in Armenian entitled, “The Cultural Tseghasbanutiun, Challenge of the 21st Century.”31

And now, with four years of delay, we come close to square one. On Feb. 5, 2013, during a stop in his electoral campaigning in the district of Malatia-Sebastia of the city of Yerevan, Serge Sarkisian answered a question about the forthcoming centennial of the Armenian Genocide and the echoes of the United States, and reaffirmed what any literate Armenian has known for a long time, according to Panarmenian.Net: “We have not used the word tseghasbanutiun for 40 or 50 years, we have used the word yeghern. We used to say, ‘Let’s go to the yeghern complex,’ not ‘the tseghasbanutiun complex.’ Those two words are the same for us.”32

As C. K. Garabed had written in June 2010 in these same pages with reference to Obama, “to [have] applaud[ed] the president for using our word for the Armenian Genocide” would have ended like the tale of the emperor’s new clothes: “Can you imagine the fits the Turks would have, and the quandary the president’s advisors would be in? If it really turned out that they had cautioned him about using the term genocide, could they now declare that it was not what he really meant?”33



1 Nagush Harutiunian, “Batsman khosk” (Opening Remarks), Patma-Banasirakan Handes, 2, 1965, p. 38.

2 The Armenian Weekly, December 16, 2011.

3 “Editorial,” Hai Sird, October 2005, p. 2 (emphasis added).

4 See

5 The Armenian Weekly, May 3, 2010.

6 USA Armenian Life, November 15, 2010.

7 Haykaram Nahapetyan, “Obama vs Romney: Armenian American Community Pressures Candidates to Recognize 1915 Genocide by Ottoman Turkey,” PolicyMic, September 29, 2012 (

8 Quoted in Ayse Gul Altinay, “In Search of Silenced Grandparents: Ottoman Armenian Survivors and Their (Muslim) Grandchildren,” in Hans-Lukas Kieser, Elmar Plozza (eds.), Der Völkermord an den Armeniern, die Türkei und Europa / The Armenian Genocide, Turkey, and Europe, Zurich: Chronos, 2006, p. 124.

9 See (emphasis added).

10 See (emphasis added).

11 Simon Payaslian, “After Recognition,” Armenian Forum, 3, 2001, p. 41-42, 46.

12 Lamont Colucci, The National Security Doctrines of the American Presidency: How they Shape Our Present and Future, vol. 2, Santa Barbara, Ca.: Praeger, 2012, p. 528.

13 The American Conservative, April 26, 2009 (italics in original).

14 See

15 See

16 Asbarez, April 28, 2011.

17 Asbarez, October 5, 2007.

18 Huffington Post, April 28, 2009 (emphasis added).

19 Hurriyet Daily News, April 25, 2012 (emphasis added).

20 Thomas Buergenthal, “International Law and the Holocaust,” Joseph and Rebecca Meyerhoff Annual Lecture, October 28, 2003, United States Holocaust Memorial Museum, p. 15. (

21 The American Conservative, April 26, 2009 (italics in original).

22 Claude Mutafian, “Obama et le mot génocide,” Europe et Orient, 8, 2009 (

23 Asbarez, May 7, 2010.

24 Hurriyet Daily News, April 20, 2010 (emphasis added).

25 Today’s Zaman, April 26 and April 27, 2010.

26 Sun-Sentinel, January 31, 2012.

27 The Armenian Weekly, April 28, 2011.

28 The Armenian Weekly, April 25, 2012.

29 Florida Times-Union, July 22, 2012.

30 The Huffington Post, April 28, 2009.

31 Azg, April 21, 2010.

32 See

33 The Armenian Weekly, June 3, 2010.

Vartan Matiossian

Vartan Matiossian

Born in Montevideo (Uruguay) and long-time resident of Buenos Aires (Argentina), Dr. Vartan Matiossian is a historian, literary scholar, translator and educator living in New Jersey. He has published six books on Armenian history and literature (five in Armenian and one in Spanish), and scores of articles in Armenian, Spanish, and English. He is currently the executive director of the Armenian National Education Committee in New York and book review editor of Armenian Review.


  1. The reason why Obama and the US government prefer to say “Medz Yeghern” and not “genocide” is because the latter has international judicial consequence re compensation. “Medz Yeghern” has no judicial weight. By using “Medz Yeghern” the US is trying to absolve Turkey of the judicial consequences of slaying 1.5 million Armenians, deporting 500,000 and stealing their property–individual and collective.

  2. ReL Jirair

    I also know that the word Genocide is the legal term for ‘genocide’. I also understand well the historical context within which the words Holocaust and Medz Yeghern evolved. The former, much like the latter, has no judicial relevance. However, the use of Holocaust has never been vilified the way the Medz Yeghern was in our own press. In fact the word holocaust has been pursued so relentlessly as a capitalized word that nowadays we associate the word with the genocide of the of Jews whenever we happen to come across it. It is time for us to embrace the term Medz Yeghern, educate the non-Armenian speaking public. It goes without saying that we shall continue to pursue the legal recognition of the genocide of the Armenians. I feel somewhat vindicated by this article.

  3. Destruction always occurs from within. There are already a lot of Turkish Academics that accept the genocide (metz Yeghern) or whatever. We must continue publicizing the events and sooner or later we shall succeed.

    • “Destruction always occurs from within. There are already a lot of Turkish Academics that accept the genocide”

      I agree with Levon. It is the best strategy to destroy your enemy .

      (Thanks Levon)

  4. Assuming you are right, Jirair, in your analysis of Obama’s intentions, there is still a question of the political gains from playing a zero-sum game with the administration. You can get rightfully angry about this but it will only make things worse for the Cause. The issue is therefore not to engage in the blame games but to understand some of the hard constraints stemming from the short-term national interests and to change the game. It is possible but it takes a different mindset and professional skills.

  5. You wrote: “In recent years the Senate of Canada adopted a motion acknowledging this period as ‘the first genocide of the 20th century,’ while the House of Commons adopted a motion that ‘acknowledges the Armenian genocide of 1915 and condemns this act as a crime against humanity.’ My party and I supported those resolutions and continue to recognize them today.”15

    Prime Minister Harper routinely uses the word Genocide. The Genocide of the Armenian people is freely acknowledged in Canada. When I speak to my Member of Parliament, I don’t water it down; I use the word Genocide. I have never noted any hesitation in the use of the same word by any Canadian politician. Let us not fall into the trap of the Genocide deniers by diluting or diminishing the acknowledgment of more enlightened countries and their leaders. Prime Minister Harper is to be applauded, and should be emulated by the less enlightened weasel, Obama.

    Genocide is the only correct word to describe what was done to us. It is the only word that holds the perpetrators accountable.

  6. Vahe (May 15) raises a very crucial point: The use of Holocaust has never been vilified the way that Medz Yeghern has been in our own press. One can feel however one wants about Obama’s use of “Medz Yeghern”, but it is unnecessary and even barbarous to trample it to death, and that as a supposed act of patriotism. It is simply vulgar and self-destructive and dishonors the memory of our victimized ancestors.

    I, personally, don’t care if Obama actually used “tseghaspanutiun” [literally, genocide] in the Remembrance Day statement. It would still communicate next to nothing to the American people. His duty is to communicate in English. And there is no comparison between the average American’s acquaintance with the word Shoah or Holocaust and their acquaintance with Medz Yeghern. That is simply a fact because of very different historical and cultural conditions. But there is no excuse for desecrating and falsifying the true meaning of Medz Yeghern.

  7. Perzouz, Genocide is the legal term to use but that does not make it the only right word to use because such a claim would attempt to belittle if not distort the term generations of us have used-Medz Yeghern. Dr. Vartan Matiossian’s groundbreaking study of the term Medz Yeghern in several articles concludes, “The three words genocide, yeghern, and tseghasbanutiun can and are used as synonyms”. There cannot possibly any argument to the contrary.

    It absolutely serves no purpose to claim in Armenian press that the U.S. Officials should use the G word. We know that. What readers should comment and build a consensus is what we can do to make the best possible use of the Presidents’ proclamation. Of they late they have been using the term Medz Yeghern. Let our legal minds present arguments in mainstream media that when a president uses the term that millions of us have accepted as the term to use to describe genocide, well before the word Genocide was coined, it is becomes a legally binding term. At least open avenues to exchange opinions in that regard instead of vilifying the President by calling him a weasel or what not that also does not add value in contributing to the greater cause we have been striving for almost a century now.

  8. the word that is used to describe what was done to my people, is Genocide. Period. This is the word that millions of people throughout the world use to describe the Armenian Genocide. It is the word that holds the murderers of my family accountable.
    Any man, president or pauper, who stands up in public and gives his word that he will acknowledge the Armenian Genocide by properly calling it Genocide, and then does not, is a weasel.

  9. In my opinion, in modern times the word “Medz Yeghern” could be used as a synonym for Genocide “without any complex” IF AND ONLY IF the word ‘genocide’ is digested by the whole world (which is not yet the case) as corresponding to what the Armenians were victims of in 1915 under the Ottoman Empire. At this time, ‘Medz Yeghern’ could be used naturally, as the word ‘Shoah’ is used to describe the genocide of the Jews.

  10. Obama’s choice to use Medz Yeghern has a history inside the beltway that I am privy to because I personally met the person who suggested it to him. When I met her, and I am not mentioning her name because her job is sensitive, I was more concerned about asking why he did not use the term genocide rather than why he used Medz Yeghern. Yet, this quickly shifted when she informed me that she was observing the WATS (Workshop on Armenian Turkish Scholarship) listerv and peered into a conversation among Armenians and Turks about “the g word.” From that conversation five years ago, one camp suggested that Medz Yeghern could be an alternative term that could serve as a place marker to initiate conversations between Armenians and Turks without the added legal ramifications. Also, the historian in me has to add that “holocaust” is a very problematic term and this has been discussed at length by Giorgio Agamben who points out, with some irony, that the term has a long history in medieval antisemitic literature. Also, linguistically, holocaust as “the burnt offering” makes the “burning” of Jews at Auschwitz sacred when in fact it was profane. I think that this terminology should be reconsidered rather than envied.

  11. Re: Elyse

    Let me take the liberty of sharing with you my understanding of the use of Medz Yeghern instead of Genocide by a U.S. President.

    On April 22, 1981, President Ronald Reagan (January 20, 1981 – January 20, 1989) proclaimed for his first “National Day of Remembrance of Man’s Inhumanity to Man” commemoration, as passed by Congress in 1975, that “Like the genocide of the Armenians before it, and the genocide of the Cambodians which followed it — and like too many other such persecutions of too many other peoples — the lessons of the Holocaust must never be forgotten.” That was the only time that a U.S. President used the word Genocide in reference to the genocide of the Armenians.

    President Obama has done what his predecessor did. George W. Bush became the first President to use the word Medz Yeghern. It would not surprise me that the candidate Barack Obama, the astute lawyer he is, had already the term Medz yeghern in mind when he promised us to acknowledge the Genocide.

    Don’t we all know that Genocide is the right legal term to use to communicate in understandable language the genocide of the Armenians? I bet we all do know that. The Armenian press is not a forum to vent frustration. Commentators may do so, but its useless exercise and takes us nowhere. Our press, I believe, is a forum to build consensus as how to best deal when a President uses a term – Medz Yeghern- that we cannot possibly negate that we have used to describe what a legal word – Genocide – was later coined to convey just that, genocide.

  12. Thank you to Elyse Semerdjian for her unique, real life glimpse into the circumstances surrounding the introduction of Medz Yeghern into Obama’s lexicon.

    Given the context of the ‘apology campaign’ at the time, the repetitive chorus of columns in the Turkish press ballyhooing the virtues of buyuk felaket (great catastrophe) as a supposed translation of the Armenian term (a completely false one, as this series has abundantly demonstrated), the adoption and dissemination of this false translation by a host of English speaking columnists and opinion makers (including Armenian ones), the term in its corrupted form is clearly revealed as a place marker for a state policy which adamantly forbids any reference to 1915 as a genocide, a policy that transcends any particular administration of either party. That being the case, it seems disingenuous of the person originally offering this account to indicate its use as merely a tool for getting a conversation going. To give it a name, the camp in favor of this conversation can only have been the Turkish camp, that being due to its well-founded expectation that the whole thing would get bogged down in a ‘pre-genocidal’ no-man’s-land leading to endless talk but no accountability, legal or otherwise, and render Medz Yeghern a touching but impotent epitaph over the Armenian Genocide issue. It will not work. Medz Yeghern means Great Crime, the great crime of genocide.

  13. Even if the term Medz Yeghern means Genocide, I am still against its use, because it is undefined in any other language, and thus meaningless and without ramifications.
    In response to the above passage: “one camp suggested that Medz Yeghern could be an alternative term that could serve as a place marker to initiate conversations between Armenians and Turks without the added legal ramifications.”
    Firstly without legal ramifications, we do not need recognition, nor apology for the Genocide and if we entertain this idea that ‘an apology is enough’ for one second then we are collectively wasting our times and efforts, meaning such Armenians engaged in this nonsense are actually working against our cause for justice.
    Second, our first business is not with Turkey, it is with Europe and USA, which is as yet unfinished, as the allies have their own responsibility in the Genocide. And this is so because without the World War, in which Armenians had no part, the Armenian Genocide would never have been successfully or as effectively implemented. In fact being told that we Armenians and Turks need to find some kind of dialogue is the biggest insult that I can receive as an Armenian. Did the Jews and Nazis sit down over coffee and cupcakes to discuss their differences?
    Unlike Turkey, today does Germany even dare to glorify any of its past Nazis, especially in the face of Jews? Unlike Turkey where schools and parks are named after its genocidal mass murderers, how many parks in Germany are named after Hitler? For all intents and purposes, where we as Armenians are concerned, the Turks are the equivalent to us as Nazis to Jews. Except we don’t have the same luxury as the Jews to distinguish between good Turks and bad Turks the same way as Germans and Nazis, because the better of 95% of Turks are Genocide deniers, and they are actively trained, indoctrinated and coerced by their state as artificial mouthpieces for the tyrannical and genocide denying Turkish government to hate Armenians and deny their past crimes of Genocide.

  14. Hagop D. I agree with your posting. We don’t need cupcake diplomacy.
    Obama addressed the nation in English until he came to what he should call the murder of our people. In order to keep Turkey smirking and not screaming, he chose terminology so obscure in an English speaking country that it takes reams of columns in an Armenian newspaper to explain and defend it.
    Let me know when the International Association of Genocide Scholars reaches a consensus vote to stop calling the barbaric murder of my family Genocide. Let me know when their hundreds of thousands of students no longer need to know Lemkin’s decision as to the correct word that applies to Turkey’s repeated attempts to annihilate the entire Armenian race.

  15. I agree with Hagop and Perouz. It doesn’t matter what Medz Yeghern means to Armenians when it is not understandable by non-Armenian speakers. Genocide is the internationally understandable term with legal implications that correctly describes what Resoman minimizes as ‘massacres.’

  16. This issue had been discussed in length in several threads. Most commentators agree that while “medz yeghern”—the great crime—is synonymous to “genocide” only in the Armenian psyche, it does not deliver the semantic connotation of the term “genocide”, i.e. killing of race, as well as its associated legal implications, to non-Armenian audiences. As Boyajian put it, “genocide” is such internationally understandable term, which also has legal repercussions for the perpetrator. End of discussion. Armenian-Americans will never be satisfied with any U.S. president’s choice to use the adjectival phrase “medz yeghern”. Besides, the very term “genocide” has been coined by Lemkin—and later used by the UN for its Convention—based on his extensive research of the deliberate mass murders of Armenians and Jews. How ethical is it for a U.S. president to substitute Lemkin’s invention, which has become an international law term from 1948 onwards, with a phrase “medz yeghern” that only Armenians use in a narrow national context?

  17. Boyajian’s saying it doesn’t matter what Medz Yeghern means to Armenians comes awfully close to saying it has no definite meaning in Armenian and that therefore its meaning is up for grabs. That is false. That is probably not what B. means, but a word of caution is in order. It does have a specific meaning and that needs to be acknowledged and not obscured due to resentment at Obama’s not speaking in plain English.

    John, on the other hand, seems to understand very well what Medz Yeghern means: great crime, synonymous with genocide. But he oddly attributes that meaning to the “Armenian psyche’ rather than directly to the Armenian language itself, one wonders why. He further confuses things by referring to Medz Yeghern as a so-called “adjectival phrase”, which is simply false.

    Thanks mostly to this exhaustive series, we at last seem to have reached a point (with much kicking and screaming) at which it is no longer possible to blindly and ignorantly parrot that yeghern means calamity, catastrophe, cataclysm, tragedy, disaster, and are able to see that it means a crime against humanity, a genocide.

    • The adjectival phrase “medz yeghern” is attributed to the Armenian psyche rather than directly to the Armenian language itself, because only in the Armenian psyche and traditionally only among Armenians does this phrase bear a connotation synonymous with genocide, and also because the precise linguistic term in the Armenian language for “genocide” is “tseghaspanutyun” (killing a race), not “medz yeghern” (great crime).

      Diran asserts that referring to “medz yeghern” as adjectival phrase is false. We’ll hold out for his expert opinion as to how else a collocation “great crime” is grammatically called. Isn’t an adjectival phrase a phrase with an adjective as its head (great) that modifies a noun (crime)? Exactly what is “false” here?

      Thanks to this exhaustive series, we have reached a point at which it is possible to reassert that yeghern means a crime. Just a crime. Not “against humanity”, and only synonymous with genocide only among Armenians. Every crime—great or small—has its specific legal name, e.g. assault, kidnapping, homicide, rape, larceny, robbery, burglary, arson, etc. The crime of systematic and deliberate extermination of a particular ethnic, national, religious, and racial group also has its specific legal name: genocide. In Armenian language: “tseghaspanutyun”.

      And Boyajian is 100% correct. The internationally understandable term with legal implications for the perpetrator-state for her specific crime is genocide, not some uncorroborated great or small crime.

  18. “However, we did not find any protest against [Canadian Prime Minister] Harper’s use of Medz Yeghern (without translation) and his reluctance to call it “genocide” as a label of his own.”

    — Because Canada has officially recognized the Armenian Genocide. I wouldn’t mind if a US president uses medz yeghern, medz vochir, jarter, vochragotsutyun, arhavirq, you name it, without translation AFTER the US officially recognized the Armenian GENOCIDE. But to promise to recognize the genocide and then substitute it with medz yeghern is unseemly.

  19. An adjectival phrase is a group of words used to modify a noun. What noun does John think Medz Yeghern modifies? There is none, because Medz Yeghern is what is known as a proper noun, a name, like The Great War as a name for World War One. It is as simple as that but maybe not clear enough for John to stop putting that notion out.

    Furthermore, John’s reference to the Armenian psyche is still misplaced. The fact is, within a purely Armenian context tseghaspanutiun and yeghern are used completely interchangeably. It has nothing to do with psychology or subjectivity; it is a linguistic fact, the way the language works. I agree that Obama should have said the g-word and abysmally broke his promise, but he didn’t and won’t because of American foreign policy that transcends his administration. We should have the political maturity to recognize that and not think that by stomping all over Medz Yeghern we can achieve our goal. The only goal accomplished by that is to kill off another part of the Armenian heritage and do it in front of the whole world.

    I will remind John that Medz Yeghern has not just been forever confined to the ‘narrow national context”, the “Armenian psyche”. It has been actively sought out, exploited and redefined in Turkey as an ideal vehicle for conveying the idea that 1915 was anything but genocide. It is not just a matter of our
    ‘backyard” anymore.

    • An adjectival phrase is a group of words with an adjective which modifies the noun. Example: “This is the beginning of a very LONG ROAD”. John, therefore, thinks that in the phrase “medz yeghern” medz (great) obviously modifies yeghern (crime). Example: “Armenians cherish the innocent victims of the GREAT CRIME”.

      Proper noun is a name used for an individual person, place, or organization, spelled with initial capital letters. Examples: man-Joe, woman-Jill, officer-lieutenant Daniel Stone, country-Armenia, state-Massachusetts, river-the Mississippi River, mountains-McKinley, store-Neiman Marcus, company-British Petroleum, institution-University of Virginia, chair-La-Z-Boy. Therefore, “The Great War” cannot be a proper noun, because the name of the 1914 war, using examples above, is World War One (war-World War One). The Great War, consequently, is an adjectival phrase. So is The Great Crime.

      Language does not exist by itself, autonomously, outside some person’s or some nation’s mind/psyche. After all, language is communication of thoughts and feelings through a system of voice sounds, gestures, or written symbols. Thoughts and feelings! These are not linguistic notions. Yes, within a purely Armenian context “tseghaspanutiun” and “yeghern” are used interchangeably. Exactly! And this is the point that’s being missed in relation to what Obama uses in his annual April 24th proclamations. To whom are these proclamations addressed in his official capacity as POTUS? To Armenians? We KNOW what our people have been through. But when an English-speaking president issues an English-language proclamation, isn’t he addressing it to all of his English-speaking citizens? As U.S. Senator and presidential candidate, was he not aware of American foreign policy that transcends presidential administration? Then why did he promise to recognize the Armenian Genocide? He could have said: “As President, I will recognize the Ottoman Great Crime that I know Armenians call Medz Yeghern”. Or, as an alternative to the term “genocide”, since American foreign policy transcends presidential administrations in the Armenian case but trails in others, Obama could have used the term that America’s own Ambassador to Constantinople used: “campaign of race annihilation”. Or, if that would offend America’s beloved Turks, the president could have used the term that the Allied Powers used: “crime against humanity and civilization”. No, Obama administration used none of these terms because they are English-language terms and are, therefore, widely understandable. Instead, Obama used “Medz Yeghern”, a borrowed phrase that no one except Armenians understands.

      I don’t know if “Medz Yeghern” in the sense of Great Crime has been “actively sought out, exploited and redefined in Turkey as a vehicle for conveying the idea that 1915 was anything but genocide”. I know that Great Calamity was such a vehicle which Turks conveniently extended on their own losses as a result of Turkey’s entry to WWI.

  20. Diran,

    Mets Yeghern cannot mean ‘crime against humanity’, because an equivalent in the Armenian language for ‘crime against humanity’ is ‘mardkutyan dem vochragorcutyun’ or ‘mardkutyan dem hancanq’. Likewise, an equivalent in the Armenian language for ‘genocide’ is ‘ceghaspanutyun’. ‘Mets Yeghern’ was used by our grand- or great grandparents to describe the Turkish crime at the times when there was no legal term for the annihilation of a nation. But the world now has such a term, genocide, and those in high positions in foreign countries must use this very word, not some obscure ‘great crime’ that ‘Mers Yeghern’ means.

  21. Yeranuhi,

    You did a good job of literally translating crime against humanity into Armenian, but despite its literalness it does not nullify the fact that Medz Yeghern designates a crime against humanity, the Armenian Genocide, not something on the order of shoplifting. There is a difference between saying “Medz Yeghern is Armenian for ‘crime against humanity’ ” and saying “Medz Yeghern means (designates) a crime against humanity”. Medz Yeghern indicated a crime against humanity, a genocide, in our great grandparents’ day and it still does. The Genocide Convention is based on the doctrine that there have been genocides throughout history, well before the word was invented, the Armenian one being the most prominent. The Turkish crime of annihilation of a nation was genocide and that fact does not depend on the legal formulation of the concept 30 years later or whether or not our ancestors had that English or Western European word at their disposal at the time. They directly perceived the genocidal intent and named it accordingly. Let’s get real about this. . .

  22. Diran,

    I don’t understand your point. If there are terms in both the Armenian and English languages accurately denoting both ‘crime against humanity’ and ‘genocide’, then what’s the need for a foreigner to borrow a term in Armenian that only designates (means) crime against humanity and solitary amongst us, Armenians? If for ‘crime against humanity’ there is a full-fledged term ‘mardkutyan dem hancanq’ and for ‘genocide’ ‘ceghaspanutyun’, then why not borrow these terms?

    And I disagree that the Turkish crime of annihilation of a nation does not depend on the legal formulation of the concept of genocide. No international law statute defines Mets Yeghern (great crime) and designates punishment for it. Genocide Convention does.

    I see a dangerous tendency of diminishing—linguistically and semantically—the term genocide to some ‘great crime’, because ‘great crime’ politically suits key world players, such as the US, as well as the Turks since it has no legal consequences for their crime. No proper name for the crime – no ramifications. Otherwise, for every crime with a proper legal name: burglary, rape, arson, homicide, genocide, etc. there are legal ramifications.

    We cannot and will not allow this to happen.

  23. Yerhanoui: You are exactly correct.
    Lemkin coined only one word to describe the annihilation of an entire race of people. It’s the only word that Turkey will not permit Obama to use. Turkey snickers when Obama uses Medz Yeghern. Obama knows what Turkey’s response will be if he uses the G word.

  24. Yes, Yeranuhi, you really do not understand my point and clearly never will. Nevertheless, if Obama says the g-word next April, good luck waiting for all the legal consequences you think will automatically take place in accord with the Genocide Convention when the individual perpetrators are no longer available for trial.

    I suspect you haven’t had the time to give the arguments in this series a careful reading but would like to leave you with a short quotation that says a great deal.

    from “Genocide and Gross Human Rights Violations in Comparative Perspective ” By Kurt Jonassohn, Karin Solveig Björnson, p. 140

    Scholars of comparative genocide studies soon applied this new term [genocide] to genocides that had occurred since antiquity. This practice was objected to by some less than inspired critics on the grounds that a phenomenon could not exist before it had a name. [following emphasis supplied] THAT A PHENOMENON HAS TO HAVE A NAME IN ORDER TO EXIST IS TOO RIDICULOUS A PROPOSITION TO REQUIRE FURTHER REBUTTAL

    • Diran,

      You never laid your point out for me so I understand it. Yes, I joined this discussion late, but have read all 20+ comments in it. Your point, as I see it in this thread, is that Mets Yeghern means a crime against humanity, a genocide (as in May 28, 2013 at 10:33 pm post). For Armenians, perhaps. Although both terms ‘crime against humanity’ and ‘genocide’ have full-fledged linguistic equivalents in the Armenian language. For the international community and international law, it doesn’t. For the international community and international law it translates as some obscure ‘great crime’ with no name and no legal consequences for it.

      That the individual perpetrators of the genocide are not available for trial is not an obstacle for the International Criminal Court. Under the Rome Statue, as I understand it (not an international lawyer myself), genocide can be decided by legal principles or by a court of justice, not necessarily by physical presence and trial of the individual perpetrators.

      In 1915, the phenomenon did have a name and acquired rebuttal from major power centers. The name was ‘crime against humanity and civilization’ as it figures in the May 24, 1915 Triple Entente Declaration. Mind you, crime against humanity and civilization, not just some great crime Mets Yeghern.

  25. Ferriman Duckett, a diplomat & traveler wrote a volume about the massacres in Adana circa 1910-11 & published it in London in 1913.
    The title of the book is:
    ‘Young Turks & the Truth about the Holocaust at Adana in Asia Minor’
    This volume was re-publishe in 2009 by ‘The Armenian Genocide Museum’ in 2009.
    ‘The use of the term Holocaust to describe the Adana massacres is noteworthy since it is one of the first uses of the Biblical term to describe modern crimes against humanity.The latter expression was in circulation in late May 1915 when Russia, Great Britain & France appeared with a joint declaration condemning “new crimes of Turkey against humanity & civilization”.’
    Hayk Demoyan (in the foreword of this same volume published in yerevan in 2009)

  26. Diran, Just to let you know that had there been provision to click “like” after each comment, I would have done so for your comments posted above.

  27. It appears that our legal minds have opted not to attempt to voice their opinions where it matters as to the implication of using a term long used by millions to mean exactly what Lemkin would coin to base his legal arguments and legalize the same.

    I suggest Vartan Matiossian to have his study published as book. I would be of one those who would purchase copies to send to elected officials.

    I believe there has been enough attempts to educate the educated, the well informed and the knowledgeable as to why elected officials whether in the United States or Canada opt to use the term Medz Yeghern instead of Genocide.

  28. Vahe; You are incorrect. The word genocide is routinely used in Canada by elected officials. It is also used every April 24 by our Prime Minister. He is the only elected official I have ever heard to use Medz Yeghern, and, even then, he far more liberally uses the word genocide. The Prime Minister of my country has never “opt[ed] to use the term Medz Yeghern instead of Genocide.” as you write. He has on isolated occasions used it alongside the word Genocide, not “opted” to use it. Your inference is blatantly incorrect.
    I had a solo art exhibition in an entire public art gallery for two months. Over 1,500 people came. Politicians at every level of government were at the opening. Bus loads of students were brought by their teachers. Car loads of university students and faculty came. Outside, in red neon letters, for almost two months, it said ARMENIAN GENOCIDE. Several newspapers wrote lengthy articles; radio stations announced the opening. Not one person used the word Medz Yeghern.
    I also had a major solo exhibition in honour of the 15th anniversary of independence. Politicians from many countries were there, the general public, and again, school children. Newspapers and radio again reported the event. Not one person used the word Medz Yeghern. Who are these millions you are speaking about who have long used it? I have never heard one Armenian or one odar use it in place of Genocide. Perhaps the Genocide deniers use this word in Turkey? Turks would love to know that we would even consider substituting another word for Genocide. As Yeranhui says; “We cannot and will not allow this to happen.”
    Also, I point out to you that it is arrogance on your part to assume that you know “exactly what Lemkin would coin to base his legal arguments and legalize the same.” Lemkin has already coined the accurate word. There is nothing for you to assume. It’s Genocide, nothing else.

  29. Yeranouhi,

    I appreciate your thoughtful response. In suggesting that you had read very little of this series, I was referring not just to the 20 or so comments here but to the present article itself and the entire series leading up to it. For your information, the series began on
    Oct. 12, 2012, then ran to Nov. 7, Nov. 27, Dec. 12, Dec. 20, Jan. 4, 2013, Jan. 12, May 15 (the present one). You say Medz Yeghern is obscure. This is certainly an exaggeration and not one that can be justified on the grounds that it is a foreign word to non-Armenians. Not knowing what a foreign word means and calling its meaning obscure are two different things. For now, consider these lines from the present article which you do not seem to have taken into account: An editorial published in 2005, on the 90th anniversary of the genocide, in “Hai Sird,” the official periodical of the Armenian Relief Society (ARS), even asked “whether the word ‘genocide,’ coined decades later, can begin to describe what we, Armenians, call Metz Yeghern, ‘The Great Crime.’” This is far from showing that Medz Yeghern was an obscure term to the ARS. It states the very opposite, and very eloquently. The notion that Medz Yeghern is somehow inherently mysterious and incomphrehensible and can never really be understood is a myth. If we all believe that, no wonder the engineers of Turkish denialism snicker when the word is used, as Perouz suggests. Should we help them, or should we wipe the smile off their faces with the truth? That is the question.

    My point: that the genocide of the Armenians by the Ottoman government was a genocide when it happened and its having that character is not something that needs to be retrroactively conferred on it by American or European politicians. If politicians were honest, they would forthrightly use the word genocide, but there is obviously a problem there. Should we then trash. deny and obfuscate the main name Armenians have used for generations to designate the Genocide? Should we abandon any attempt to, at least, put it side by side with the word genocide to explain its meaning, all because we believe that if our president uses the g-word (and only the g-word) once–hopefully twice–this will somehow send the case to the International Court of Justice? It was genocide, whether the president uses the word or not, and if it goes to the ICJ, that will be the issue, no matter what he says or doesn’t say. I also am not a lawyer, but my understanding of the ICJ is that only state actors can submit a case for arbitration and that this must be by mutual agreement. Can you imagine Turkey ever agreeing to that? Until then we have to continue struggling for truth and justice and cannot afford to throw the name Medz Yeghern on the wayside as another abandoned orphan of the Genocide.

    • Diran, I now better understand your point, but you clearly will never understand mine, because you fail to admit that while we (ARS, ARF, AGBU, AAA, ANCA, RoA, you name it) may accept Mets Yeghern as synonymous with Genocide, the outer world has no knowledge of what this foreign word means, therefore, the word is essentially obscure for them. In other words, obscurity is the consequence of unawareness by non-Armenian audiences. Poster Boyajian put it plain and simple: “it doesn’t matter what Medz Yeghern means to Armenians when it is not understandable by non-Armenian speakers.”

      What exactly do you mean by this: “The notion that Medz Yeghern is somehow inherently mysterious and incomprehensible and can never really be understood is a myth”? How many non-Armenians do you know for whom the phrase (it is not a notion) Mets Yeghern is clear and comprehensible? Maybe it can be understood, but you’re not seriously suggesting that we spend another 100 years educating the world that, you know, Mets Yeghern is how we, Armenians, designate Genocide? Turks will be very happy with delaying justice for Armenians as a result of your suggestion. The engineers of Turkish denialism snicker not when the word Mets Yeghern is used, but when the possibility of the word Genocide looms as the next step.

      My point: If we agree that the genocide of the Armenians by the Ottoman government was genocide when it happened, than it needs to be called by the proper international legal name that denotes the crime and was invented to denote the crime, not by the name Armenians—and Armenians only—have used for generations to designate the Genocide. If we agree that Genocide is a crime against humanity, i.e. of concern for every nation in the world and for all of the mankind in general, than the international legal term for such crime must be used.

      You say: “If politicians were honest, they would forthrightly use the word genocide, but there is obviously a problem there.” Not at all. For some politicians representing about 25 foreign governments using the word genocide doesn’t seem to be a problem. While for others, including the US President, it does. But the US President himself has created a problem by making a promise to recognize the genocide and reneging on it afterwards.

      You also say: “Should we then trash, deny and obfuscate the name Armenians have used for generations to designate the Genocide?” No, WE, Armenians shouldn’t and won’t. But for the international community we should use and make demands to use the proper, internationally-understandable term.

      You further say: “It was genocide, whether the president uses the word or not.” If it was genocide then the president must call it genocide in his native language, based on his promise. Or he shouldn’t have promised anything at all if he had a problem with calling a spade a spade.

      I was referring to ICC not ICJ. ICC’s Rome Statue states that genocide can be decided by legal principles or by a court of justice. Turkey can keep it agreement to arbitration to herself.

      No one is throwing the name Mets Yeghern on the wayside, because in our midst we need not learn what the name means. The point is to use the proper legal term understandable by non-Armenian speakers in order But in order to continue struggling for truth and justice worldwide we need a proper legal term understandable by non-Armenian speakers. Do you appreciate the difference or I wink to a blind horse?

  30. Yeranouni,

    I stand corrected on confusing ICC with ICJ. I still believe that if the Armenian Genocide is headed to either body, the terminology the president uses will not be determinative. There is no question that
    genocide should be used by world leaders. But I believe you are taking a position that will inevitably
    discredit the name Medz Yeghern in the eyes of the world. It is not as if the term never left
    a strictly Armenian context. Concerning the remaining points, I have given my answers and I believe they still hold.

    • {“I still believe that if the Armenian Genocide is headed to either body, the terminology the president uses will not be determinative.”}

      Armenian Genocide is not headed to either ICC or IJC.
      Here is why:
      ICC statute clearly states [The Court’s jurisdiction does not apply retroactively: it can only prosecute crimes committed on or after 1 July 2002].
      And ICJ is meant for legal disputes between states, not criminal matters like Genocide. (Its temporal jurisdiction starts in 1947).
      So in reality there is no mechanism to charge the State of Turkey for the crime of Armenian Genocide of 1915-1923.
      And even if there was, who is going to enforce it ?
      The world is run by guns and gold.
      We Armenians do not have nearly enough of either.
      We should work on that as long-term national goals.
      We put too much faith and stock in legalities.
      If we had sufficient gold and/or guns, there is already more than enough legal grounds – for political cover – to enforce our AG rights.
      NKR did not go to ICC to enforce the self-determination rights of its citizens: it was enforced by Armenian men and women with guns.
      (In fact, while Artsakh’s Armenians were being massacred and ethnically cleansed by Axeri invaders in 1992, with 50% of NKR occupied, the world looked the other way.)

  31. I agree with Yeranouhi:
    Although the posts/debates and articles by Mr Vartan Matiossian about Medz Yeghern and Genocide are highly satisfying intellectually, in the realm of practical they are a waste of time.
    For me, it really makes no difference if linguistically, morally, or legally Medz Yeghern and Genocide are equivalent or not.
    For me, the most important reason to consistently used ‘Genocide’, at least in the English speaking world, is not its legal or linguistic ramifications: it is the fact that Denialist Turks object to it – and only to it – and are obviously terrified of that one word.
    They are not bothered by the use of Medz Yeghern, yet go ballistic when ‘Genocide’ is uttered.
    Turks are not stupid: there is a reason they go to great lengths to smother the word ‘Genocide’ from public discourse.
    They have been trying for decades to come up with any other description that does not mention Genocide.
    They know the English speaking world at large has no neurolinguistic anchor associated with the word Medz Yeghern, for example.
    But ‘Genocide’ does. (btw: we are appealing to the masses and via them to their elected representatives for AG related matters: not the courts).
    Denialist Turks have a multimillion dollar industry, including hired slime in academia, trying to come up with words to supposedly describe what happened, without using the dreaded word ‘Genocide’.
    At times, their efforts go into the realm of the comically absurd. Just recently, İsmet Uçma, a founding member of Turkey’s ruling AK Party came up with something new to avoid using the expression “Armenian Genocide”: “Geno-Deportation”
    US Ambassador to RoA, Mr. John Evans, was fired for uttering the word ‘Genocide’, not ‘Medz Yeghern’.
    Since its use causes so much mental anguish to Denialist Turks and their sycophants, why not consistently use it and insist on its consistent use by others.
    What other word drives Denialist Turks insane ?
    What better incentive for its use than that ?
    I think in the political arena, where currently our main AG struggle undoubtedly is, ‘Genocide’ has the most potent punch.

    • Avery, if denialist Turks object to the word “genocide” and are terrified of that word, then there should be some legal aspect (e.g. retributions, financial compensation, etc.) to their fears. Otherwise, why would they be terrified of the word? For that reason, we cannot wipe the legal aspect off the slate. And the debate, as I understand it, is not about whether Mets Yeghern and Genocide are equivalent or not, but whether Mets Yeghern can be used internationally—not amongst solely Armenians—as a substitute for the legal international term Genocide. In my earnest conviction, it cannot.

      As for no mechanism to charge Turkey for the crime of Armenian Genocide, Prof. Alfred de Zayas and several other intenrational lawyers I came across would certainly disagree with you. (see, for example,

      While it is true that “NKR did not go to ICC to enforce the self-determination rights of its citizens: it was enforced by Armenian men and women with guns”, your statement has a deficiency. Had there not been the1948 UN Universal Declaration of Human Rights and the 1975 Helsinki Final Act—two major legal statues pertaining to the right of peoples to self-determination, on which the Artsakh Armenians based their demands, NKR would most probably figure in the relevant UN resolutions as a “separatist state”. A country’s diplomacy and the conduct of foreign relations are not less important than guns.

  32. Re: Perouz

    I am a product of Armenian schooling and graduated high school in 1965 in Beirut when we commemorated the Armenian Genocide in a way unprecedented until then and maybe since. The term Medz Yeghern reverberates in me in way that no other Armenian term I can recall at this very moment does. It embodies to me sentiments that the other Armenian word tsegasbautium does not, neither the G word does. It really pains me that you infringe on the sanctity of the term when as an Armenian you claim that you “have never heard one Armenian use it in place of Genocide” and wonder instead “ Perhaps the Genocide deniers use this word in Turkey?”
    You claim that leaders, and I presume you are referring to the Western leaders in this multi-polarized world, should use the G word. I am not sure if an Indian or a Chinese official will one day refer to Lemkin’s term in the Latin derived G word or would reference to it in Hindu or Mandarin. But I also agree with you that Presidents George W. Bush and Barack Obama should have used the G word because it’s in their language but they do not.
    All arguments as to why they should have used or should use the G word should be directed to them, not to me. Such comments may serve a purpose if posted say in NY Times, but would serve no purpose if posted in the Armenian Weekly for the Armenian readership.
    While my expectation is for the English speaking elected officials to use the G word, I know that I do not have the leverage to make them use it. My plea to them arguing for its use for “justice sake” will be futile. But I can educate those who heard the term as to what the last two U.S. Presidents have said and attempt to elevate the term Medz Yeghern on par to Genocide because as a matter of fact for an Armenian they are one and the same.

  33. Vahe: I grew up in a household where both parents were Armenian Genocide survivors. They never used the term Medz Yeghern. Neither did my grandparents. I also never heard it used by the extended Armenian community, who at that time, were also mostly Genocide survivors. The fact that you used it in an Armenian language school in Lebanon does not equate its use by “millions” as you claim. While you believe that – “the term Medz Yeghern on par to Genocide because as a matter of fact for an Armenian they are one and the same.”; I assure you that millions throughout the world do not equate Medz Yeghern to Genocide. As for the Indian and Chinese and other non-Western leaders you speak about; I know of no world leader today who does not speak English. When addressing English speaking audiences, they speak in English. As has already been pointed out several times, it doesn’t matter what Armenians call the Genocide of our people in the Armenian language; it’s what the world calls it in the English language. The world does not understand Armenian. In fact, increasingly, Armenians do not understand Armenian.
    Avery is correct: John Evans was fired for using the big G word, not Medz Yeghern. Turks will accept any word in any language, but not Genocide. It’s the only word with legal impact that is understood by millions throughout the world.

  34. Avery, I appreciate your clear summation of the situation as it stands in relation to the ICC and ICJ. That has been one of my central points ( June 3, 8:55 am). But concerning your next comment ( June 3, 9:05 am) while I understand the urge to force the use of the g-word precisely because that is what drives Turkey crazy, I think it has to be admitted this is not a realistic political strategy, given the facts of US-Turkish, British-Turkish relations in the present period. And that is what the essence of the struggle is–political. It is simply foolish, in my opinion, to act like the g-word will live to the extent that Medz Yeghern is weakened, a form of robbing Peter to pay Paul. Do we really need to stomp the one to get the other to grow? What kind of thinking is that?

  35. Re Perouz

    It seems that Vartan Matiossian well researched article nor President Serge Sarkissian proclamation on behalf of the claimed 3.5 million Armenians in Armenia, have made a dent on your predisposition that Medz Yeghern does mean Genocide. Hence you and I have no grounds for constructive dialogue. Let us for once leave alone what elected officials have used or should have used when referring to the 1915 happening.
    In an article in Spurk in 1970’ the late historian Dr. Antranig Chalabian wrote that he attended an exhibit about Yeghern in the West Hall of the American University of Beirut. I understood him to say that he attended an exhibit that not only dealt with attempted decimation of the Armenians, but also usurping them of their possessions and eradicating its millennial old native folk culture. Recently I read Antranig Dzarougian’s moving novel titled “Love in Yeghern”. I immediately knew that the novel related to genocide of the Armenians. He would not have used the word Yeghern otherwise. Perouz, you would not have related to Dr. Chalabian, nor to Antanig Dzarougian the way I did because you were not brought up with the term Medz Yeghern. That is perfectly understandable. One has to understand the other to be understood.
    The issue is more profound than a mere inability for two Armenians to communicate. In 1990 the representatives of the ARS wondered if word Genocide would do justice to the term Medz Yeghern. A mere 25 years later we have been, if not vilifying or outright rejecting the term but belittling it from its true meaning. Sadly, the Western Armenian language is endangered and its culture is on the verge of extinction. Most of us do not read in Armenian anymore to relate to the sentiments that a term like Medz Yeghern conveys. That is where the tragedy of 1915 is unfolding and coming full circle to its true fruition. It was indeed a Big Crime but more sadly it is a Medz Yeghern

  36. John, regarding your response of May 29, 8:34 pm, I don’t know how many times you want to be wrong. An adjectival phrase is a phrase which acts as an adjective to a noun which is not part of itself. End of story. I ask you once again: In relation to which noun or nouns does Medz Yeghern act as an adjectival phrase?

    • What makes you think I’m wrong, Diran? Your idée fixe that “Medz Yeghern” is a proper noun? I believe I proved you wrong in my May 29, 8:34 pm post. Proper noun is a name used for a person, place, event, or organization, normally—but not necessarily—spelled with initial capital letters. Given this definition, “The Great Crime” is not a name used for crime, but burglary or Genocide are. “The Great War” is not a name used for war, but World War One or First World War is. And no matter how often you repeat that “Great Crime” is not an adjectival phrase, it won’t become such just because you wish it to be. A question you keep asking me: “In relation to which noun or nouns does Medz Yeghern act as an adjectival phrase?” is absurd. “Great crime” is—in and of itself—an adjectival phrase, in which an attributive adjective “great” precedes the noun “crime”, thus accomplishing the major task of an adjectival phrase: to modify a noun. End of story. But you may go on living in a virtual reality.

  37. And what are we Armenians hoping to accomplish by this repetitive and ceaseless debate about terms? Agree to disagree. Move on. There are more important battles to be waged. Realize that two people can speak the same language and still not understand each other. That is not the end of discussion, but rather the beginning of a more nuanced one: as long as the goal is to understand one another as opposed to proving oneself right.

    • Boyajian,

      As I understand it, this repetitive and ceaseless debate about terms is in essence a debate about a much larger and very serious political issue: a dangerous propensity towards gradually implanting in the minds of the people the idea that the phrase “Medz Yeghern” that only Armenians use to describe what was brought upon their ancestors in the Ottoman Empire, can in time be used as an internationally understandable term as a substitute for the legal term “Genocide” and that the Armenians need to educate the international community in the next 100 years or so that strictly national “Medz Yeghern” is an equivalent of international “Genocide”. This is not an “agree to disagree” situation. As you can see, there are people on these pages actively pushing the idea forward because it suits the U.S. political agenda in that (1)by acknowledging “Medz Yeghern” the Establishment would say that they in fact acknowledged the Genocide and (2)by using the phrase “Medz Yeghern” America’s buddy Turkey can sleep tight and be relieved from any liability for the unsubstantiated crime.

  38. Vahe:
    Since you acknowledge that few Armenians now read in Armenian, and that the language is in serious decline, why would you want the Armenian Genocide to be referred to in a language that, sadly, fewer people are fluent in every year? Not only is the English language increasing in use throughout the world, but so is the use of the word Genocide. Since you state that very few of us
    ” … relate to the sentiments that a term like Medz Yeghern conveys,” how can we expect odars to relate to either the word itself or its sentiments when we don’t? I understand your sadness at the loss of language and culture. The erasure of both is intended in the act of genocide. This is just one of the reasons why genocide scholars throughout the world maintain that the effects of genocide are carried down through many generations. It’s also the reason why it is important for us to never allow the word genocide to be removed from what the barbarians did to us. It’s not over. We still suffer. I did not hear the words Medz Yeghern while I was growing up as you did, but I saw my grandfather curled in a fetal position pounding the floor in anguish as he called out the names of the murdered. Lemkin gave the world a name for what I saw in my house. And for those of you who think it unimportant for that name to carry legal weight; I ask you, did you know last week that there would be an uprising of thousands in Turkey this week? Did you know two days ago that Turkish scholars and intellectuals would rise up by the hundreds and publicly denounce their government for having more writers in prison than any other country in the world? Did you know yesterday that thousands of Turkish youth would seethe in anger as their own government hosed them and exploded tear gas on them? The winds of change are blowing in corners and in ways we cannot see. Justice may be ours sooner than we think. The word Genocide makes clear our entitlement to that justice, in a way that no other word can.
    I agree with Avery’s astute assessment that, “Although the posts/debates and articles by Mr Vartan Matiossian about Medz Yeghern and Genocide are highly satisfying intellectually, in the realm of practical they are a waste of time.”

  39. John, bingo! Wrong again, big time! Talk about idée fixe! Maybe someday you’ll figure it out.

  40. Those who claim that “Mets Yeghern” and “Genocide” mean the same thing are in effect undermining our nation’s efforts to achieve recognition and justice. Just because “Mets Yeghern” and “Genocide” REFER to the same event does not mean that they have the same MEANING. These people are also validating Serzh Sargsyan’s declaration that the two phrases were the same, which was an act of backstabbing against the Armenian Cause.

  41. Despite my impatience with the contentious tone of this current thread, I reiterate my agreement with Perouz that ‘Genocide’ is the internationally understandable, thus necessary, term to use to describe what happened to the Ottoman Armenians. Using other terms, whether synonymous or not, especially when they are offered as mollifying substitutes for the ‘Armenian Genocide’, only serves to cloud the issue for acknowledgment and compensation.

  42. Breaking news in Asbarez – Pope Francis uses the big G word. He knows the right word.

    excerpt from article: “During the visit, the pope met with members of the delegation, when one of them said that she was a descendant of Genocide victims, to which the pontiff responded: “The first genocide of the 20th Century was that of the Armenians,” thus reiterating his earlier recognition of the Armenian Genocide while he headed the Catholic Church in Buenos Aires as Cardinal Jorge Bergoglio.”

  43. Re: Avery, Boyadjian, Perouz, Vahagn
    Your comments are emblematic of a much deeper issue.
    Dispersed because of the Genocide, alienated from its roots and under tremendous influences of cultures of their host countries, the Armenians, I believe, unconsciously are so much traumatized that they have lost the will to attempt to make others understand a term that the immediate survivors of the genocide coined from the get-go to describe its horrid reality. Hence comes an article directed to Armenian Weekly readership but addressed to President Bush- saying ‘Mr. President it was not Medz Yeghern, it was Genocide”. Of late, even the President of Armenia is criticized in our press for using the Armenian word for genocide in his own country in his native language because some found him to be backstabbing their efforts!
    Yeghern has inherent sadness to it. Vartan Mationssian may chose not to elaborate further over a passing exchange we had, should he read this because, after all some found his in depth analysis to help readers understand the evolution of an unique Armenian term an exercise of futility for the real world! Sad it may be, but the candor is appreciated. Such comments are from those who appreciatively read the Armenian press and comment and are not all too indifferent to have cared to read let alone comment. I admit though this whole thing has started appearing to me more don quixotian, to claim to serve the interest of a people whose deep-rooted culture one not only has no desire to understand but outright rejects it.
    I believe that the time will come when a President of the United States will use the G word standing on the front lawn at the While House, but what I am concerned that by then it would not matter much because our emotional ties would have gone along the way we let our own unique word for genocide go- down the tube, so to speak……….
    I believe I have exhausted my comments regarding the term Մէծ Էղեռն

    • The Armenian president is not being criticized for using the Armenian word in Armenia. He can use the Armenian word till he turns blue. He is being criticized for stating that it was OK for Obama to use Mets Yeghern instead of Genocide, a direct shot-in-the-foot to the Diaspora’s efforts to achieve recognition. And I am not sure you have any evidence that our people are so cut off their roots that they disregard the term Mets Yeghern. Each word has its proper place to use.

    • I agree with Vahagn on this and for once. Sargsyan’s statement: “The words ‘genocide’ and ‘yeghern’ are the same. By even not pronouncing the word ‘genocide,’ the U.S. President has said everything” can be considered an act of all-national treachery.

  44. John and Vahagn
    An explanation is due to you, I believe.
    Of course there would not have been exchanges, had a U.S. President used the G word. The nature of the comments would have been different.
    As to use of foreign word in one’s native script, and hypothetically speaking in one example and as a matter fact in the other, I would like to cite the following to make my point.
    A Chinese, a member of a powerful nation that is making its presence felt across the globe, for a U.S. President to use a favorable Mandarin term would most likely view as an endorsement for a closes Sino-American ties.
    For a French, an American term, such as ‘fast food’, ‘parking’ sounds intrusion and adulterating their culture, hence it is rejected in favor of using a French term.
    For us as an Armenian, the U.S. President uses one of our terms and we become angry at him that he should not have used our term, however relevant it is for us, because we know that it has no relevance to those who hold the keys to the just resolution of our grievance.
    We cannot make a President use the G word no matter what we say, especially when said in an Armenian press to overwhelmingly Armenian readers. We may call him whatever we want, it would not make a dent. However, we can do what I believe is the best option for us under these circumstances, attempt to elevate the Armenian term to be on par to the word Genocide at least in the courts of public. Is it a far shot? Of course it is, however, it’s a better choice than our crying foul in our own press.

    • You miss an important point, Vahe. Armenians become angry at the U.S. President not because he uses one of our terms, but because, as presidential candidate, he made an unambiguous promise to recognize the genocide. not the great crime, but reneged on his promise once in the office.

      “We cannot make a President use the G word.” We don’t have to. He himself used the word and promised to recognize the G.

      I firmly believe that attempting to elevate the Armenian phrase Medz Yeghern to be on par to the term Genocide is precarious for several reasons:

      One, it is a far shot and, as such, is time-consuming and will drain our limited resources for another 100 years. This only plays to the hands of U.S. administrations and, of course, their beloved Turks.

      Two, these terms are not equivalent, Medz Yeghern may be considered only as a synonymous phrase to Genocide, but it is not “killing of race”. It is only an adjectival phrase that denoted the Turkish crime of mass annihilation at the times when the term “genocide” was not invented. It stayed in our colloquial vocabulary ever since, but the exact term for genocide in the Armenian language is “tseghaspanutyun” not Medz Yeghern.

      Three, great crime is a no-name crime. Not a legal term. Genocide is the name for the crime of deliberate annihilation of a people. Genocide, not some unsubstantiated “great crime”, figures in a relevant UN Convention and in other international law statutes.

      Crying foul in our press is perhaps not the best choice for us, albeit efficient, but efforts at wider international recognition of genocide certainly are. If U.S. administrations enjoy lagging behind the international community on this issue, they may want to re-evaluate their stance as “champions of human rights”.

  45. Whatever you call the deliberate mass murder of 1.5m Armenian civilians merely for being Armenian is of course immaterial when all such terms also mean genocide a more recently concocted word with alleged unique legal meaning.
    No tribunal or legal process would be diverted from its legal meaning being Genocide regardless of whether you describe it a meds yeghern / shoa / holocaust / mass murder of civilians / massacre etc etc. In law it is the act that defines its legal meaning not the random term used to describe it from time to time, people to people, language to language.
    It seems to be that it is also absurd and self destructive to your cause to condemn those who attempt to support your cause in whatever way they can. Not only do you piss them off for having tried to do so, in whatever way they felt thy could but also you turn a positive for your cause into a negative. That would seem utter folly to me. Especially when those who are allies with modern Turkey do so. I would be celebrating the success and be lauding the Turkish allies for having done so. That of course would make your campaign appear so much more successful and so much more supported. Indeed it would also encourage the Allies of Turkey to go further in helping you achieve your aims rather than getting kicked in the backside for their efforts. Unfortunately Armenians have and are being very badly led into snatching unnecessary defeat from the jaws of victory.
    Given that the Ottomans who committed the Armenian Meds Yeghern /genocide / shoa / holocaust/ mass murder of 1.5 million civilians for being Armenian are long dead and buried and the Ottoman Empire is also dead and buried and no longer exists which at best is part transformed into the modern state of Turkey, one wonders whether all these legal complexities will allow for the achievement of your full aims. Can one’s descendants ever be liable for the crimes of one’s ancestors? Certainly the law does not and will not consider my sons responsible for any crime I have committed, though they may decide that any property my sons now owns that can be proven to have been stolen from my victim to be returned to my victims descendants.
    I think a lot of misguided thinking is being promoted, perhaps by the Armenian leaders who have led you so badly to date on this primordial matter and who should have learnt lessons from the Jews in their dealing with Germany. Certainly the Jews would seem to have learnt from the failure of the Armenians to achieve their aims and avoided these failures.
    I am very much a supporter of your cause who is extremely disappointed by the lack of progress that has been made and what appears to me the daft tactics being deployed by your leadership.

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