Armenian Genocide Recognition: Necessary but Not Sufficient

With the approaching Centennial of the Armenian Genocide in 2015, Turkish leaders are coming under increasing pressure from the international community to face their country’s sordid past and acknowledge the genocide. Significantly, public statements regarding the Armenian Genocide were made in the last few days by the heads of three European states: France, Germany, and the Czech Republic.

During his visit last month to Turkey, French President Francois Hollande, without using the word “genocide,” called on Turkish leaders to confront their history: “Memory work is always painful…but must be done. What we need is to carry out reconciliation through research and recognition of what has happened… By recognizing the historical events you will be elevated not only in your own eyes, but also in the eyes of the world.”

Hollande also held a private meeting with Rakel Dink, the widow of martyred Turkish-Armenian journalist Hrant Dink.

Similar wise counsel was offered last week by German Chancellor Angela Merkel to visiting Turkish Prime Minister Recep Erdogan: “Turkey must come to terms with its history.” Ironically, Erdogan was the one who brought up this issue by complaining that Germany was planning to allocate funds for the commemoration of the Armenian Genocide Centennial.

The president of the Czech Republic, Milos Zeman, went even further than the French and German leaders by actually using the term “Armenian Genocide” during President Serge Sarkisian’s visit to Prague two weeks ago: “Next year marks the 100th anniversary of the Armenian Genocide. In 1915, 1.5 million Armenians were killed.”

While international pressure on the Turkish government is expected to become progressively more intense with the approach of the Centennial, Armenians should be wary not to be misled by such well-meaning, but at times, self-serving statements. If such pressures prompt a Turkish leader to admit to the Ottoman government’s intent in committing massacres or even genocide, it would be insufficient to satisfy the just demands of the Armenian people. In fact, the raising of expectations for Turkish recognition could be counter-productive, because if and when Turkey does acknowledge it, everyone including Armenians may wrongly assume that our long-anticipated objective has been realized!

Several decades ago, when the world was still unaware of the basic facts of the Armenian Genocide, its recognition by the international community and the Turkish government was imperative. However, at this stage, when over two dozen countries, many international organizations, and the International Association of Genocide Scholars have acknowledged the Armenian Genocide, mere recognition is no longer the ultimate goal.

Rather than recognition, Armenians and all people of goodwill now seek justice for the genocide committed by Ottoman-Turkish leaders. Just as Germany paid compensation to Holocaust survivors, the government of Turkey, as successor to the Ottoman Empire, has to pay billions of dollars in restitution, and return the stolen Armenian properties and occupied lands.

To strive for restitutive justice, Armenians should use all possible means—political pressure, economic boycotts, public protests, and lawsuits—to convince Turkey’s leaders that they would be better off negotiating with representatives of the Armenian government and Armenian Diaspora, seeking a just resolution for this long-lasting injustice. As there are considerable disparities between the political, economic, and military capabilities of the two sides, Armenians may not be able to obtain all their demands overnight, but should insist that Turkish officials offer them as much restitution as possible in a phased manner towards eventual full justice.

The just settlement of the Armenian Genocide issue would have many benefits for Turkey, which would be hailed by the international community as a progressive and civilized country. Its leaders may even be considered for the Nobel Peace Prize. Recognition followed by restitution would also facilitate Turkey’s entry into the European Union. Otherwise, the continued refusal to come to terms with the Armenian Genocide would prolong the Turkish people’s embarrassing predicament of being constantly reminded of the crimes committed by their forefathers and continuously humiliated before the entire world as genocide denialists.

Should Turkish leaders have the courage to resolve their Armenian conundrum, the Armenian people would finally begin obtaining long-awaited compensation for their losses, enjoy an economically and geopolitically more viable and secure homeland, with the expectation that a repentant neighbor will be more inclined toward peaceful coexistence.

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Harut Sassounian

California Courier Editor
Harut Sassounian is the publisher of The California Courier, a weekly newspaper based in Glendale, Calif. He is the president of the United Armenian Fund, a coalition of the seven largest Armenian-American organizations. He has been decorated by the president and prime minister of the Republic of Armenia, and the heads of the Armenian Apostolic and Catholic churches. He is also the recipient of the Ellis Island Medal of Honor.

8 Comments

  1. to harut sassounian-
    dear harut- i had mentioned this before, but i will say it again to everyone. had we had a person such as yourself fighting for our cause on every continent of this earth, we would have had recognition a long, long time ago. may God give you the strength to continue your quest. you told me once that this is all you dream about, that this is your life’s work. i think everyone will agree that a big, if not a huge THANK YOU is in order.
    merci mon vieux.
    gerard

  2. Dear Harout , I am a proud reader of your articleles , your courage and vision for our collective future is admirable .
    Armenian communities everywhere NEED leaders like YOU , who are genuine and honest . Recognition of the genocide is NOT Justice . Restitution is the JUST resolution and Justice . Continued success and good health and faith in your mission .

  3. Dear Mr. Sassounian,

    Necessary but not sufficient I totally agree with you however I am quite pessimistic. Especially the point regarding entry into the European Union does not play a role in the Turkish government’s moves. The reason according to me is that they are not trying to get into a civilized union but becoming more and more islam oriented thieves, look at the scandals involving the prime minister and his ministers. But still I keep on hoping that justice will win one day not only for Armenians but also for the (Pontic) Greeks and Assyrians who also suffered.

  4. Dear Unker Harout,

    I wish our people will sooner than later realize that “It takes two to tango”. We will undoubtedly win our sacred cause if or when we follow Yeghishe Charents simple motto “OV HAI JOGHOVURT KO MIAK PRKUTIUNE KO HAVACAKAN UJI MEJ E”

  5. In this article, not only is Mr Sassounian counting chickens before they are hatched (from eggs he does not own) – he is dreaming of owning a whole chicken-ranch full of their descendants. Without first having the “recognition”, or having defined what the “recognition” should consist of, it is on to the usual, worn-out, “billions of dollars in restitution, and return the stolen Armenian properties and occupied lands” rhetoric. Who seriously believes that will happen? Not one dollar will ever be paid by Turkey. The “our occupied lands” label is now, after almost 100 years, just the talk of a racist or a fantasist: does Mr Sassunian intend to resolve the century-old Armenian Genocide by committing genocide on the current occupiers? And who does he think will commit this “judicial” genocide, given that the ROA is hardly in a position to do it. Does he seriously think the EU or America will do it, drive a few tens of millions of Turks and Kurds from their homes? And give them to whom exactly? If individuals or organisations want a return of property illegally taken from them or their ancestors, or be compensation for the loss, why are they not pursuing this now, or at least putting down a marker of intent to pursue if future conditions within Turkey become more favourable. Such actions are not dependent on any “recognition”.

  6. “The just settlement of the Armenian Genocide issue would have many benefits for Turkey, which would be hailed by the international community as a progressive and civilized country. Its leaders may even be considered for the Nobel Peace Prize. Recognition followed by restitution would also facilitate Turkey’s entry into the European Union. Otherwise, the continued refusal to come to terms with the Armenian Genocide would prolong the Turkish people’s embarrassing predicament of being constantly reminded of the crimes committed by their forefathers and continuously humiliated before the entire world as genocide denialists.”

    These words show that you don’t realize who we are dealing with. We are dealing with the devil! They are actually PROUD of the genocide. Nobel peace prize? You seriously think they give a damn? Also, you really believe those Islamists actually want to become part of the EU?

    /an Armenian

  7. I am afraid mr. Sassounian is still confusing the moral issue with the issue of the correct label to put on the crimes against and catastrophies endured by the Ottoman Armenians. The obstinate insistence on – and the corresponding obstinate rejection of – the word “genocide” as applicable has become a farce which tends to cloud the real issue.

    As Hollande and Merkel say, Turkey must go into its dark spots, must apologize to Armenians and make repairs. It is time to broadcast the immense suffering of the Armenians and the crimes committed, providing concrete facts about which no authority disputes

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