Collective Calls for Justice in the Face of Denial and Despotism


From the Armenian Weekly 2017 Magazine Dedicated to the 102nd Anniversary of the Armenian Genocide

As we have seen time and again, genocide is often a crime that involves widespread participation and victimizes whole communities. In light of a greater understanding of the conditions that lead to mass atrocities and genocide, the international community increasingly presses to collectively adopt preventative measures or employ means to stop the crime of genocide in its tracks. Although the globalized world we live in allows us to exchange information at an unforeseen rate, and we are today summoned as witness to crimes internationally—not necessarily though physical presence but by a digitized proximity (social media)—billions become mere spectators to violence.

‘The international community has yet to achieve justice for the Armenian Genocide. The perpetrator state, Turkey, has unjustly profited from this crime, while the victim group continues to suffer its consequences.’ (Photo: Darwinek)

We watch with a sense of manufactured helplessness, as genocidaires, one emboldened by the other, employ the all too familiar practices of the past, at times in new and more sophisticated ways, to destroy. Nation states continue to fail to intervene, and thus we then witness the transgenerational consequences of genocide.

The failure to intervene is not the international community’s sole challenge, unfortunately; we have failed to establish justice in the face of genocide as well. Establishing justice in post-genocide societies is a requirement to move toward a much-needed social transformation. This transformation is the process through which societies learn from the mistakes of the recent past. Identifying the conditions that had led to the violence, learning to rise above the false ideas about the other, learning lessons of equality, equity, and universal human rights are all ways to prevent future cases of violence. Social transformation is only initiated through justice, which establishes truth in the perpetrator state surrounding the events, acknowledging the acts of violence, and apologizing and providing reparations to victims.

The aggressive state-sponsored denial of the Armenian Genocide continues to make it a unique case. The century-old absence of post-genocidal justice, along with a manufactured and imposed transgenerational amnesia on the issues, has led Turkey to circle back to the very acts of rights abuses that foster an atmosphere of hatred and justification of violence against minorities.

As outlined in a 2015 report by the Armenian Genocide Reparations Study Group—comprised of leading scholars of international law and genocide—justice has several components: responsibility, recognition, reparations, reconstitution, and rehabilitation.

The international community has yet to achieve justice for the Armenian Genocide. The perpetrator state, Turkey, has unjustly profited from this crime, while the victim group continues to suffer its consequences. The private, cultural, and religious properties belonging to Armenians remain confiscated. The Armenian Diaspora, a by-product of the genocide, struggles to preserve language and identity in the four corners of the world. In a world where laws and authority are meant to protect the vulnerable, Armenians are consistently left to defend themselves. Hate speech in the form of genocide denial, inflicted against Armenian communities around the globe, continues to be condoned, victimizing generation upon generation of Armenians and fueling the cycle of genocide.

The Republic of Armenia and its people continue to live uncertain times. The republic covers only one-tenth of the historic Armenian homeland. It continues to suffer the consequences of the Armenian Genocide economically, politically, and socially. Despite being blockaded by hostile neighbors who still vow to complete what was started a century ago, Armenia strives to flourish and strengthen against all odds.
But justice—with its components of responsibility, recognition, reparations, reconstitution, and rehabilitation—remains fragmented. The Turkish government continues to deny the Armenian Genocide at home and abroad with the greatest impunity. Emboldened by international inaction, it has become coercive and reckless. Turkey continues to bully academics and journalists who challenge its actions and policies through the use of defamation, threats, and imprisonment. The Turkish government has been providing ISIS with strategic, financial, and military support to combat Kurds and to destroy Armenian communities in Syria.

State-sponsored and -sanctioned discrimination and intolerance towards minorities—which are institutionalized in the legal and educational frameworks of Turkey—continue to play their role in inciting hatred and violence against Armenians. The real threat of physical destruction continues to show its face, the gravest example of which was seen between April 1 and 5, 2016. During this time, Azerbaijan, with the full support and encouragement of the Turkish Republic, carried out its most violent ceasefire violation against the people of the Nagorno-Karabagh Republic (NKR/Artsakh) to date. The international community once again witnessed the consequences of crimes gone unpunished: mutilations, beheading, destruction of civilian life and properties, and torture. With an unwillingness to single out the aggressor, the international community is fiddling with the safety and security of the people of Armenia and Karabagh.

Countries who have recognized the Armenian Genocide must now become advocates for the just resolution of the Armenian Genocide. We must acknowledge that it is only through pressuring Turkey to face the truth that we can encourage much-needed social transformation in that country.

The Turkish government insists that statements in support of genocide recognition are divisive and counterproductive. We have witnessed the contrary: These calls have strengthened the will of brave Turkish citizens and civil society groups that are demanding Turkish recognition of the Armenian Genocide.

Applied to the case of the Armenian Genocide and according to the Armenian Genocide Reparations Study Group, these five Rs materialize as follows:

  • The Turkish government’s responsibility must be restored as it was clearly established through international treaties and military tribunals after World War I.
  • The Turkish government “must fully admit all aspects of the genocide and its ethical wrongness through sincere apology, ensure meaningful knowledge and engagement with the history among its population, and promote substantial awareness of it globally.”
  • It “must return all [available] expropriated … property [and land belonging to Armenia, Armenians and the Armenian communities and] compensate victims … for (a) death and suffering of persons, (b) material expropriations that cannot be directly rectified … (c) slave labor, and (d) loss of cultural, religious, and educational institutions and opportunities.”
  • It “must create conditions and take actions designed to support the reconstitution and long-term viability of the Armenian people.”
  • It “must initiate a rehabilitative process to root out all elements of genocidal ideology and propaganda, in order to transform the society’s attitudes toward the victim group.”

These are the conditions for a just resolution of the Armenian Genocide. Nothing less. These conditions are what will allow neighbors to co-exist peacefully. These are the conditions that will ensure Turkey respects the human rights of its citizens and ends its assault on those who should be championed as heroes. These are the conditions that will restore the Armenian borders and safeguard Armenian heritage and identity. These are the conditions that will prevent the kind of aggression we continue to witness in Artsakh.

Most importantly, these are the conditions that will finally respect and fully honor the memory of the one-and-a-half million Armenians who were brutally murdered. These are the conditions that will also finally honor those who survived. Armenian Genocide survivors—the symbols of resilience, rebirth, and endurance—not only lived with the haunting memory of the past, but lived in a world that allowed the perpetrator to deny their pain and inflict more uncontested violence.
True justice through the five Rs is also honoring the legacy of all those who were ready to give their lives for this cause more than 100 years ago.
The role of education in achieving justice for the Armenian Genocide is a strictly important one. Although with challenges, employing education on this topic outside of Turkey has become far less difficult as efforts to expose the harms of Turkish state denial have become widely understood. The greatest challenge is establishing education on the Armenian Genocide within the Turkish borders. With a deliberate, deep-rooted, transgenerational amnesia and denial of the Armenian Genocide within Turkish society and a legal system that vows to vilify those who dare challenge the government discourse, attempts at educating are deadly.

Within Turkey, a great deal of effort is employed by certain human rights groups, academics, and activists to challenge Turkish government denial, but at great costs. One example is an umbrella group of Turkish human rights organizations, working under the name “100th Year – Stop Denialism,” which has called for Turkey to apologize and make compensation for the genocide in 2015. Collective commemoration and calls for justice support the rights and desires of these agents of change who, despite threats of legal consequences, embody the righteous Turks of the genocide era—memories of whom have been drowned in state denial, while the perpetrators have been lionized.

These heroic upstanders, the torchbearers of the forgotten righteous of 1915, are today villains in Turkey. To describe how and why this intended Turkish amnesia and denial set in, Turkish historian Taner Akçam associates it with the formation of the Turkish national identity, which he states played a role first in the decision to execute genocide and subsequently in the effort to erase the memory of it.

“I would characterize amnesia as a social disease in Turkey,” Akçam states. “A discussion of the Armenian Genocide could reveal that this Turkish state was not a result of war fought against the Imperial Powers, but, on the contrary, a product of the war against the Greek and Armenian minorities. It could show that a significant part of the National Forces consisted either of murderers who directly participated in the Armenian Genocide or of thieves who had become rich by plundering Armenian possessions.”

Hülya Adak, associate professor of comparative literature at Sabancı University and guest professor of genocide studies at University of Potsdam, has written about the challenges of teaching the Armenian Genocide in Turkey in an interesting article titled, “Teaching the Armenian Genocide in Turkey: Curriculum, Methods and Sources.” Here, Adak insists on the importance of teaching students to approach Turkish national historiography critically. More importantly, she has worked on bringing back Armenian voices to the teaching of the subject through memoires of survivors, but also ensuring access to literature that examines the genocide in such a way that students identify the names and roles of perpetrators and actors. The latter is necessary in helping students in Turkey understand that there not only was a systematic and planned destruction of the Armenians, but there was individual and state responsibility—and thus the need for justice.

In 2014, Taner Akçam conducted a thorough assessment of Turkish elementary and middle school textbooks in Turkey to give insight on what Turkish students were learning about the Armenian Genocide. He states how “the textbooks characterize Armenians as people ‘who are incited by foreigners, who aim to break apart the state and the country, and who murdered Turks and Muslims.’ Meanwhile, the Armenian Genocide…is described as a lie perpetrated in order to meet these goals, and is defined as the biggest threat to Turkish national security.”

It is no surprise, then, when Adak, in her piece, states how most students “came to college either not knowing anything about the Armenian genocide or denying it altogether. Denial of the Armenian genocide is still pervasive in Turkey; 1915 is identified in history textbooks as the year of the Battle of Gallipoli, the most important Ottoman victory against the British and French naval forces during World War I. For most of the twentieth century and up until 2005, when the seminal Ottoman Armenians Conference opened a public discussion of the topic, silence regarding the deportation and genocide of the Ottoman Armenians prevailed.”

With such Turkish state control on education and meticulously crafted denial and hate weaved into student textbooks, Turkey, through its foreign embassies and affiliates, works diligently to apply this form of hate speech to curricula abroad.

I have discussed Turkey’s continued attempts to impose genocide denial on curricula in one city—Toronto, Canada—in detail in my chapter “Benefits and Challenges of Genocide Education: A Case Study of the Armenian Genocide” in the book Understanding Atrocities: Remembering, Representing and Teaching Genocide.

On July 13, 2005, the Toronto District School Board (TDSB) put forward a motion that sparked the development of the Grade 11 “Genocide and Crimes against Humanity” course and, on Dec. 14, 2005, it decided to integrate the Armenian Genocide into the high school-level history curriculum. Once the inclusion of the Armenian Genocide was clear and after the writing of the course had been completed in 2007, the government of Turkey began its usual offensive.

On Aug. 27, 2008, Ottawa’s Embassy Magazine reported on the issue in an article titled, “Turkey Decries Toronto School Board Genocide Course.” The author, Michelle Collins, reported that the Turkish Embassy had begun lobbying against the course together with the Council of Turkish Canadians (CTC).

Although more than eight years have passed since the introduction of this important course, efforts to alter the curriculum continue to this day.

As Turkey descends into a dictatorship with the most recent referendum, we will unfortunately see a consistent rise of Recep Tayyip Erdoğan’s use of his increased executive powers to escalate his assault on freedom of speech. Tens of thousands have already been victimized since the attempted coup of 2016; thousands more await the same fate.

The shamefulness of the international community’s decades of appeasement towards Turkish government brutality and abuses in the name of a NATO alliance is now becoming ever more indisputable. The Armenian Genocide and its byproducts form the very foundations of the Turkish Republic and the dangerous state it is currently in. Countries who have aided in silencing Turkey’s genocidal past must now join their voices with the persecuted advocates for justice and reparations in Turkey and become agents of change. It is never too late. Pressure to establish justice for the Armenian Genocide with all its components—responsibility, recognition, reparations, reconstitution, and rehabilitation—must be the starting point when addressing Turkey and its dictatorship today. If we cannot address the past, draw lessons, and start with respecting the rights of past persons, we cannot ensure the rights of persons in the future.

Raffi Sarkissian

Raffi Sarkissian

Raffi Sarkissian is the principal of the ARS Armenian Private School of Toronto. He is the founder and former chair of the Sara Corning Centre for Genocide Education ( He is an educator, human rights advocate, public speaker and poet. He holds a BA Hons. in history and a MEd from York University, and a BEd from Trent University. Raffi is also a Doctorate in Education Candidate from Western University (2022).

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