By Ara Caprielian
“Mass meetings on behalf of the Armenians amount to nothing whatever if they are mere methods of giving a sentimental but ineffective and safe outlet to the emotion of those engaged in them.”
It has been our centuries-old quest to live as a sovereign nation in our historic Homeland. Our contemporary demand for a free, independent, and united Armenia is a relatively modern political formulation of the above.
Centuries of foreign subjugation and a division of Armenia by powerful empires made the desire for freedom and independence a dream of visionaries and patriots, while most Armenians, languishing under the suppression of foreign despotism, were primarily concerned with their physical survival.
There was an important realization that despite our comparatively limited numbers and strength, we were indeed a nation possessing a long history, rich culture, and our Apostolic Church. All of those national attributes acted as a counterweight to the ever-present threats of assimilation and even eventual disappearance from the world stage.
During six centuries of Ottoman domination, Armenians, as a religious community (millet), felt that their Christian faith and membership in the autocephalous Apostolic Church constituted the basic prerequisite for sustaining their national identity. The idea of an independent homeland and the preservation and development of a native culture, constituting the most effective way to assure the survival of the nation, gradually gained wide acceptance in modern times.
The eventual internationalization of the Armenian Question in the 19th century became possible following the 1878 Russo-Turkish War and the subsequent treaties of San Stefano and Berlin. Moreover, the interest of the European Powers in the plight of Armenians, although assuredly for the sake of their own state interests, politicized the Armenian Question. Finally, the creation of the first independent Armenian Republic in 1918, following the Armenian Genocide, solidified the basic mindset of Armenians that as a nation they are entitled to nothing less than a free, independent, and united state. This objective would have become a reality were it not for a resurgent, aggressive Kemalist Turkey, a perfidious Soviet Russia, and the complacency of the leading Western powers. From then on, the unwavering champion of free, independent, and united Armenia by word and deed has been the Armenian Revolutionary Federation.
Since the forced Sovietization of Armenia, it became the task of the diaspora to keep reminding the world that the Genocide of Armenians (1915-23) and the loss of Western Armenian territories despite the Treaty of Sèvres (1920) and President W. Wilson’s Arbitral Award meant that there existed an unresolved Armenian Question that had to be addressed. Armenia, as part of the Soviet Union, understandably could not pursue its legitimate claims—a task that fell upon the shoulders of the diaspora and, in particular, of the ARF and its network of Armenian National Committees worldwide.
Today, the first two components of the Armenian Question—a free and independent Armenia—have been realized, although admittedly much needs to be done to ensure that the citizens of Armenia enjoy the full and equal protection of their lawful rights and that the country is able to formulate a foreign policy, enabling it to reduce an overwhelming political and economic dependence on any one country. Consequently, what essentially remains to be achieved is the eventual territorial unification of Armenia and the acquisition of adequate compensation for the astronomical losses it sustained as a direct consequence of the genocide and deportation of Armenians.
We have every legal, historical, and moral right to demand a border rectification between Armenia and Turkey. The Treaties of Moscow and Kars, delineating the present border between the Republic of Armenia and Turkey, are blatantly illegal, considering the conditions under which these treaties were signed. It is impossible to predict with any degree of certainty the circumstances under which long-overdue justice will prevail. Notwithstanding the overwhelming odds that currently prevent a change in the status quo, as we approach the Centennial of the Armenian Genocide, it is incumbent upon all of us as a unified nation to clearly, resolutely, and unequivocally press our demands for restitution.
Indisputable facts and solid evidence concerning the tragic events of 1915-23 conclusively prove the veracity of the genocide. Objective studies of reputable scholars have affirmed beyond a doubt that what occurred between 1915 and 1923 was nothing less than a premeditated and methodically perpetrated genocide by the Ottoman state. And with genocide recognition by a growing number of countries, we have, for all intents and purposes, moved well beyond the stage of international recognition of the Armenian Genocide. Starting with the Centennial of that event and every year thereafter, our task is to muster our human and material resources for a unified struggle for justice.
As April 2015 rapidly approaches, it is well within reason to expect a statement by the Turkish government expressing regrets and maybe even an apology for the genocide. To demonstrate an enlightened attitude, Turkey might even agree to return a few churches to the Armenian Patriarchate of Constantinople, as well as some properties to individuals in possession of supporting deeds to legitimate their claims. Any statement or even acknowledgement by Turkey regarding the genocide can only be considered guardedly as a first step on the long road toward eventual reconciliation and closure. In the absence of concrete steps or action involving territorial restitution and material compensation, mere words of regret or apology are totally inadequate as gestures to compensate for the consequences of genocide and the deportation of Armenians from their millennial Homeland.
A case must be prepared by a group of eminently qualified experts (international law attorneys, historians, etc.) clearly stating all relevant historical arguments and moral principles and foremost, our legal claims based on the 1920 Treaty of Sèvres, President W. Wilson’s Arbitral Award of large parts of Western Armenia to its rightful owners. Needless to say the Republic of Armenia must become proactive and take the initiative in seeing that such a document, representing the combined claims of 10 million Armenians in Armenia and throughout the world, be prepared. The Pan-Armenian Declaration on Genocide Centennial, adopted on Jan. 29, 2015, is a decisive step in that direction.
Publishing scholarly studies and translating the most significant ones into English, Russian, and other major languages; organizing forums, seminars, marches, demonstrations, concerts, and art exhibits; producing documentary and feature films; erecting monuments; recognizing the individuals and organizations that played a major role in helping the survivors; and placing messages in leading mass media outlets will all assuredly serve to publicize and keep alive our cause. But these commendable, worthwhile activities must be a part of an overall strategy designed to contribute to a larger, all-encompassing objective, which is the eventual return of our lands.
This brings to mind a statement made by none other than Theodore Roosevelt, one of the illustrious American presidents: “… Sympathy is useless unless it is accompanied with indignation, and that the indignation is useless if it exhausts itself in words instead of taking shape in deeds.” All statements regarding the Centennial ought to be measured by the thought expressed in the above quotation.
Hopefully, beginning—yet not ending—with the Armenian Genocide Centennial, we will demonstrate to friend and foe alike our unwavering pursuit of justice by channeling our intellectual and material resources toward that end. No matter how long and painstaking the struggle, we will persevere, for our Cause is just and our commitment is forever.
Dr. Ara Caprielian is one of the founding members of the New York Hamazkayin chapter.