I found the article “Before We Talk about Genocide Reparations, There Is Another Accounting Due” by Henry Theriault an intellectually challenging read that raised several questions in my mind.
His philosophy background, vast experience, and involvement in issues related to genocide, and unique thought process and reasoning have resulted in a distinct approach and conclusions. I had to read the article several times to comprehend his argument. And even though I felt I agreed with some of the points he made, I cannot agree with his conclusion (or what I understood it to be).
Dr. Theriault says he believes and clearly states that reparations are just. But he strongly expresses his opinion that it is not the right time for action to be pursued because any compensation would be misused: “Political elites will enrich themselves instead of using it for what is desperately needed by the general population.”
His main argument is that the system and government in Armenia are full of rampant corruption and so they cannot be trusted. He makes a strong indictment by his statement that “the large-scale theft of assets through corruption, privatization and commu-capitalist exploitation of labor is a significant factor in the economic vulnerability and desperation of the Republic today.”
His analysis suggests that the situation is desperate. Admittedly, the points he makes are valid. My intent is not to argue against or question his analysis. However, I still hope and pray that the untenable current situation will change for the better. It has to. What is the alternative? The new government has announced major reforms and changes to governance. Hopefully, they will be implemented. Change is never easy, and it takes time.
Those thoughts led me to think about the Armenian Legal Center for Justice and Human Rights (ALC), announced in Sept. 2016. I feel, as many Armenians do, that reparations are an absolute must. And even though we have a very late start compared with the Jews and Israel (regarding Holocaust reparations from Germany), our cause is equally and clearly as just. Whatever the Turks do or say, the historical facts cannot be erased, altered, or denied.
Therefore, I contacted Kate Nahapetian, Executive Director of the ALC, to get some feedback on questions I had about developments since the ALC’s formation.
I sent Kate the following questions, which she kindly and most graciously answered. Her answers are reproduced verbatim.
V.A.: What was the response to requests for contributions/funding? Is the funding adequate to start the work needed?
K.N.: The initial funding for the creation of the Armenian Center for Justice and Human Rights came from the Armenian National Committee of America (ANCA) Endowment Fund, which continues to support the ALC. Following the initial grant, we have received additional donations from individuals. Like so many nonprofits, funding is tight, so we welcome any donations big or small. Seeking reparations in the face of a powerful and intransigent foe such as the Turkish Government is a monumental task. It is not inconceivable, however. There are many examples of previous historical atrocities which were addressed decades later and after previous failed attempts. We currently have one staff member, but rely on many volunteers.
V.A.: Have we started to put together a legal team?
K.N.: The ALC has an international board with attorneys and experts on the Armenian Genocide in the US, Armenia, Canada, Austria, Australia, and Lebanon. We have collaborated with and have partnerships with law schools. We have partnered with some of the best law schools in the United States, including the University of Southern California Human Rights Clinic, which is drafting a report on the legal basis for Armenian Genocide reparations, and the George Washington University Law School, with which we cosponsored a talk by Harvard Post-Doctoral Fellow Umit Kurt, highlighting the injustice of Turkish laws used to plunder Armenian wealth during the genocide. We are in continuing communications with international lawyers from Argentina to Germany, in addition to lawyers with successful track records pursuing property claims against Turkey in both Turkish and European courts.
In addition, we have a team of lawyers and law students who have been examining issues surrounding the Treaty of Sevres, the Kars Treaty, and Turkish property laws.
V.A.: Is progress being made on legal actions to be taken?
K.N.: We have developed some potential cases and continue to work with international lawyers and clinics to develop innovative strategies for redress.
In addition to the mass murder and destruction of Armenian lives and cultural heritage on lands the Armenians inhabited for thousands of years, the Armenian Genocide was an evil enterprise of industrial, government-sponsored property theft.
The ALC seeks to catalogue the [property] deeds that still exist today. The records exist in Turkey’s land registry, which are virtually impossible to access. When Turkey considered allowing public access to these records as part of its bid to join the European Union, the military quickly intervened and stated that maintaining the secrecy of these records was a matter of national interest. Reports continue that even parties with deeds in hand are prevented from accessing Turkish land records, which would confirm family ownership.
Many individuals across the globe have deeds of family properties in their possession. By collecting all these individual records in one place, the ALC hopes to both learn of potential claims, which can be pursued for reparations, in addition to being a clearinghouse for this information for potential future negotiations.
The ALC’s website (https://armenianlegal.org/) has a link where people can provide documentation of their properties (https://armenianlegal.org/document-preservation-form/), whether it is a deed, sales contract, photograph, or family testimony. The key information we need are the names of the property owners, the town where the property is located, a description of the property, and, if possible, its exact location.
The more documentation we have collected in one place, the stronger our chances of recovery will become. As a community, we are empowered when we collect this information in one place.
I am most thankful to Kate for her responses and updates on the work accomplished by the ALC.
This needs to be pursued vigorously, with no hesitation. For it to be successful, and it must be successful, it needs the full active support of all Armenians worldwide, morally and financially. It is a formidable task, but it can be accomplished. We have to make it happen.