Sassounian: Armenians Should Now Pursue Legal Claims Rather than Further Genocide Recognition

Armenians experienced unforgettable days last week during the Centennial commemorations of the Armenian Genocide. In many respects, Turkish denialists’ much-feared “Tsunami” became a reality! While Armenians around the world were busy organizing commemorative events in recent years, their efforts were amplified by some unexpected developments, including Turkish President Erdogan’s irrational rhetoric and reaction.

The year began with Erdogan’s childish maneuver, switching the Gallipoli War Centennial to April 24, to derail the observances planned for the Armenian Genocide Centennial. The international media quickly exposed the Turkish president’s ploy, providing extensive publicity for the upcoming genocide anniversary.

Flowers left behind at the Armenian Genocide memorial monument at Dzidzernagapert (Photo: Harout Kassabian)
Flowers placed at the Armenian Genocide Memorial m=and Monument at Dzidzernagapert in Armenia (Photo: Harout Kassabian)

In early April, the Kardashians’ visit to Armenia generated thousands of articles and TV reports, and millions of social media posts. A few days later, Pope Francis created his own “Tsunami” by uttering his courageous words on the Armenian Genocide. Once again, Erdogan made matters worse for Turkey by insulting not only the Pope, but also 1 billion Catholics and the nation of Argentina, the Pontiff’s birthplace. Shortly thereafter, the European Parliament adopted a resolution on the Armenian Genocide, providing further media coverage of this issue.

Being in Armenia for the first time on April 24, and on the occasion of the Centennial, was a deeply moving experience. The Armenian government did monumental work inviting 1,000 dignitaries from 60 countries, including prominent scholars, legal experts, political leaders, parliamentarians from 30 countries, and survivors of other genocides. On April 22-23, the distinguished guests participated in a Global Forum “Against the Crime of Genocide,” where I delivered brief remarks castigating President Barack Obama’s failure to keep his promise on using the term “Armenian Genocide.” I explained that contrary to a widely held misperception, the United States has repeatedly recognized the Armenian Genocide.

On April 23, all six political parties represented in the Austrian Parliament issued a joint declaration recognizing the Armenian Genocide. As expected, Turkey overreacted by withdrawing its ambassador from Vienna. This is the second Turkish ambassador to be recalled to Ankara this month. As an increasing number of countries recognize the Armenian Genocide, Turkey may soon have fewer envoys, isolating itself from much of the world!

Also on April 23, German President Joachim Gauck delivered a powerful speech at a memorial service in Berlin, acknowledging not only the Armenian Genocide, but also Germany’s complicity in the Ottoman-Turkish genocidal campaign. Despite heavy pressure from Turkish leaders, the German Bundestag is expected to adopt a similarly worded resolution that would send shock waves throughout the 1,000 rooms of President Erdogan’s newly built palace, since Germany was Turkey’s ally in 1915, and continues its close relationship until today.

In the evening of April 23, the Catholicos of All Armenians Karekin II and the Catholicos of the Great House of Cilicia Aram I jointly presided over a historic rite of canonization in Etchmiadzin, declaring the 1.5 million Armenian Genocide victims to be Saints. Following this moving ritual, at the exact hour of 19:15 or 7:15 p.m., churches throughout the world began ringing their bells 100 times. Later that night, the System of a Down band performed a free concert at Yerevan’s Republic Square. The thousands of young people in attendance were highly energized despite the heavy downpour. The concert was aired live, disseminating the band’s genocide message to millions of people worldwide.

The Catholicos of All Armenians Karekin II and the Catholicos of the Great House of Cilicia Aram I jointly presided over a historic rite of canonization in Etchmiadzin, declaring the Armenian Genocide victims to be Saints. (Photo: Varant Meguerditchian )
The Catholicos of All Armenians Karekin II and the Catholicos of the Great House of Cilicia Aram I jointly presided over a historic rite of canonization in Etchmiadzin, declaring the Armenian Genocide victims to be Saints. (Photo: Varant Meguerditchian )

On April 24, a memorable observance took place on the grounds of Dzidzernagapert, the Armenian Genocide Monument in Yerevan, with the participation of hundreds of religious leaders, ambassadors, officials, and the presidents of Russia, France, Cyprus, and Serbia. While the heads of two superpowers came to Yerevan on April 24, Turkey was unable to attract to Gallipoli the same caliber of leaders, despite its considerable efforts. It was perfectly fitting to this solemn occasion that the distinguished guests at the Yerevan Memorial spent several hours huddled in blankets like refugees, in freezing temperatures, sheltered under a large canvass from the rain.

One of the most stunning developments last week was Turkish Prime Minister Ahmet Davutoglu’s declaration that the Armenian “deportations were a Crime Against Humanity”—which, under international law, is tantamount to recognizing the Armenian Genocide. No one should be surprised if Erdogan dismisses Davutoglu after the June parliamentary elections.

Now that the Centennial is behind us, it is high time that Armenians turn the page on Armenian Genocide recognition and begin to systematically pursue their claims from Turkey through international, regional, and local tribunals.

Harut Sassounian

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 Armenia Artsakh Fund, a non-profit organization that has donated to Armenia and Artsakh one billion dollars of humanitarian aid, mostly medicines, since 1989 (including its predecessor, the United Armenian Fund). He has been decorated by the presidents of Armenia and Artsakh and the heads of the Armenian Apostolic and Catholic churches. He is also the recipient of the Ellis Island Medal of Honor.


  1. I always believed that pursuing reparations was something that should have been done from the onset, in particular the rightful owners with deed in hand asking for the u.s. air force base.
    wow! I mean what a good start.
    reclaiming one’s personal property would be a good beginning leading up to mt.Ararat and western Armenia.

  2. I totally agree with Sassounian as persueing legal claims is the best avenue without conceding to any terms and conditions. My fear is that just recogniseing the Genocide may lead to Turkey investing in our country and not only Western Armenia will be in Turkish hands. But the small land what is left of greater Armenia that we call our homeland or Eastern Armenia will also be in Turkish hands.

  3. Hats off to Harut Sassounian for yet another brilliant, sober and well written article concerning Armenian affairs!

  4. Mr. Sassounian is right: the focus should be on reparations.

    One approach must be to sue for our private property in Turkey. These lawsuits would have to be brought in Turkish courts, and once the Turkish courts dismiss them, they can be appealed to the European Court of Human Rights. The most likely remedy would be compensation (rather than return of the specific property).

    Territory is a much more difficult question. Turkey will never consent to the jurisdiction of the International Court of Justice on this question. The answer will have to be some sort of political settlement, but successful domestic lawsuits can shape the bargaining.

  5. Yes,our commemoration events worldwide surpassed our wildest dreams. We must keep the momentum going by casting Turkey as a country who doesn’t respect humanity and human rights. Turkey still lives the illusion of its past empire that was built by killing and plundering other nations. They still harbor the instinct to kill and to get away with murder (1956 mob violence, Cyprus 1974, ethnic cleansing of the Kurds, expropriation of Armenian community properties). They have not changed in 1000 years. Accepting the genocide will put them on the path to become a civilized society committed to human values. Will they change? That’s the big question.
    As to filing claims against Turkey in international tribunals is a good idea if there are those few lucky ones who have the documents to prove ownership of the property. I know one family who owned the land where Inchirlik airport stands today near Adana. They filed a claim against the US government for illegal use the property. The US government dismissed their claim. This was 15 years ago, perhaps the current conditions will be more favorable.
    Always enjoy reading your articles.

  6. {“Now that the Centennial is behind us, it is high time that Armenians turn the page on Armenian Genocide recognition and begin to systematically pursue their claims from Turkey through international, regional and local tribunals.”}

    I disagree with Mr. Sassounian.

    As far as I know, to date court judgment record for Armenian property claims is at best mixed. Also, the record for our cause in the legal/tribunal arena is not good. And the legal arena is fraught with landmines.
    There is this myth that judges/courts are impartial and rule only by the letter of the law. Not true at all (….even here in the US).
    I suspect in Europe, where most of the tribunals having jurisdiction over the State of Turkey are, it’s no different.

    To wit: The French AG Denial criminalization law.
    Both French Senate and Assembly passed it overwhelmingly.
    Yet Turks and their allies were able to block the law by appealing to the French Constitutional Court.
    Mr. Sassounian himself at the time wrote that several French CC judges had commercial interests with Turkey and should have been disqualified.
    One of the French CC judges in fact is a high ranking board member of a Turkish-French commercial organization (…don’t remember the name).

    To wit: the Perincek case.
    Is there any doubt that the judges on the panel that ruled for Perincek had pro-Turkish and/or anti-Armenian biases ?
    Or were somehow manipulated ?
    Their illogic and their questioning the Armenian Genocide, which was completely out of their jurisdiction in the first place, leaves no doubt.
    And it doesn’t necessarily have to be Turkish interests: there are lots of other interests that do not want Armenians to succeed in this arena.

    I believe we need to continue to add more countries, regions, municipalities, organizations, etc, particularly in Europe.
    More AG recognitions; more AG Denial criminalization laws.
    Continue working on Bulgaria, for example: they weaseled out at the last moment and replaced ‘genocide’ with ‘mass killings’.
    (Turkey chided them even for the ‘mass killings’ wording: funny).
    Work on their parliament to change it to ‘genocide’ next time.

    We need to keep reinforcing Erdogan’s, AKP’s, and other denialist nationalist Turks’ well established sense of paranoia, sense of isolation and encirclement.
    They are already convinced that the Western/Christian world is out to get them: it isn’t, but we need to feed the paranoia.
    Turkey’s top cleric, Mehmet Görmez, imprudently lashed out at the Pope and called the Pope’s statement re AG, quote “immoral” (!)

    Turkey needs to become a pariah state in Europe and the West.
    Turkey needs to be further isolated: it will not be easy, due to various commercial and geopolitical interests, but we have come a long way since 1965.
    We need to build on our successes.
    We need to build on recent European bodies’ AG votes: we need to convince them to explicitly tie Turkey’s EU ambitions to Turks’ unequivocal recognition of AG, and all the costs/obligations that come with it.
    Turks have nowhere to go.
    The Arab world already got a bad taste of AKP Neo-Ottoman ambitions.
    Neither Russia nor China will let Turkey into their club: both will trade at arms length, and that’s it.
    Both countries rationally fear the rise of radical Islamism on their borders.
    Russia cannot allow Turkey to gain a foothold on Russia’s vulnerable Southern underbelly.
    And China cannot allow Turkey to come near its Uygur region, for obvious reasons.
    Anglo-Americans are their only ‘friend’: we need to work on changing that too.

    We need to continue our efforts to strengthen RoA and NKR: demographically, militarily, and economically.
    We need to continue our efforts to politically encircle and neuter both Azerbaijan* and Turkey.
    Nobody can predict the future, but the world always presents opportunities to those who are prepared to take advantage of those opportunities.

    * [Azerbaijani MP urges Turkish government to expel all Armenians]( 17:25 28/04/2015)
    {Why does Turkey still tolerate the Armenians on its land? For what reason does it hold them? Let Turkey be a country without Armenians, member of Azerbaijani Parliament Elman Mammadov told the newspaper Hurriyet, according to
    He said Turkey and Azerbaijan could together wipe Armenia off the face of the Earth at a blow, and the Armenians should beware of that thought.}

    • Avery,

      On The Armenite website you wrote that, regarding the alleged choice between strengthening Armenia and fighting for Genocide recognition, it is not “either/or” but rather “and/and.” Well, it is the same regarding lawsuits and fighting for Genocide recognition. Both can proceed simultaneously, with one exception (below).

      The two lawsuits you mentioned were not successful because the defendants were able to frame them as free speech cases. Defendants will not be able to do this regarding lawsuits over property. And the Perincek case is being appealed.

      One country where you are correct that recognition must take priority over lawsuits is in the United States. Unfortunately, by refusing to review the Movsesian vs. Munich Re case, the Supreme Court has tacitly admitted that anything related to the Armenian Genocide is a foreign policy question that is reserved exclusively for the federal government. Therefore, what’s paramount in the United States is getting the genocide recognized by the federal government.

      But lawsuits over property should absolutely proceed in Turkey and in other countries. The alleged bias of Europeans has not prevented Armenians from making great gains in the area of recognition, after all.

      It is also worth thinking about two questions: (1) Is there a trade-off between international recognition and Turkish recognition of the Armenian genocide? (2) If the consequences of the genocide can be undone through coercive means, namely by lawsuits, then does it even matter whether Turkey recognizes it or not?

      After all, the whole point of the cause is to undo the consequences of the genocide. The point is not to shame Turkey just for the sake of shaming Turkey.

      That is why, for example, the emergence of “hidden” Armenians in Turkey is such a powerful development. This is one tangible way in which the consequences of the genocide–the erasure of Armenian identity in Turkey–is being undone.

    • You make good points, [Alex].
      The way I read Mr. Sassounian is that we abandon recognition efforts and concentrate on legal.
      This is in the title: [“Armenians Should Now Pursue Legal Claims Rather than Further Genocide Recognition”.]
      Maybe I read him wrong, but don’t see how else to interpret “….Rather than”.

      But if we do “and/and”, then I am all for it.
      And as Mr. Musurlian wrote below, we can multitask: “ We can rejigger priorities, but let’s not abandon anything.”

      As to your other points: quite correct that the ultimate purpose of all our efforts is not to merely “shame” Turkey.
      The ultimate purpose is to undo the consequences of the Armenian Genocide to the extent possible*.

      * One of the things that has been bothering me all this time is one consequence we cannot undo, and it really grates on me.
      And that is the murder of about 2 million of our people between 1894-1923 alone. Left to natural growth, those 2 million would be at least 10 million by now.
      Possibly up to 20-30 million.
      We lost 2 million of our unique, precious genetic pool.
      Basically even in the best-case scenario, Turks are getting away with murdering 2 million human beings.
      Something is wrong with that picture, but I don’t know how to fix it.

    • One other consequence we cannot undo, most unfortunately, is all those precious local dialects and customs that were irretrievably lost.

    • Free Speech? Well one thing is very obvious. When Armenians were next in queue to receive justice in the law, all of a sudden “free speech” mattered. But when the Holocaust was being given special privilege, “free speech” was thrown out the window and was of no concern at all. Translation: double standards, hypocrisy and corruption in the legal process. I am not convinced that this corruption hasn’t spread into all other legal concerns. After all, we are talking about two-Faced Europeans who screwed Armenians out of all their lands after WWI, why would we be surprised? Cilician Armenia was literally in the hands of France after WWI, and they also literally gave it all away to Turkey, without regard for Armenians or their needs to form their own homeland on their own ancestral land after the Genocide in order to live as a free people.

  7. My family had extensive holdings in Marash area. I assume the Turks destroyed all the records. But, assuming I hired a Turk lawyer, how would they research old land records in the provinces? Could I trust the Turk lawyer?

    • {“Could I trust the Turk lawyer?”}

      Well, Catholicosate of Cilicia has hired a Turk lawyer, Cem Sofuoglu, a Turkish human rights lawyer and local counsel to represent their case in Supreme court of Turkey.
      So I guess if Catholicosate can trust one, so can you.

      But my guess is you will have a hard time: will cost a lot of money with no records to prove ownership.

  8. April 2015 has been amazing in the progress we have made in getting the issue aired to the general public. We have momentum that we should use. Pushing the issue repeatedly with Obama until he is out of office may be productive. Turkey is telling the United States what our foreign policy ought to be. Obama’s human rights and foreign policy legacy will be tainted if he doesn’t stand up to Turkey.


    What we have seen Armenians (worldwide) build-up to, from near extinction, over the past 100 years…is truly amazing.

    What we say on April 24, 2015, was truly amazing.

    If we have seen anything at all, it is that Armenians can multitask. The Diaspora can purse, reparations, poetry, prose, music, athletics, film, tv, and much more…without missing a beat on recognition. We can rejigger priorities, but let’s not abandon anything.

    43 states, can be 50.
    25 countries, can be 100.
    Why not multitask?

    Peter Musurlian

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