The Pursuit of Reparations

Our Greatest Contribution

Special to the Armenian Weekly

The Armenian Weekly recently hosted an event, “The Universality of Translating Reparations for Mass Violence,” featuring Dr. Henry Theriault and Alejandra Patricia Karamanian.

During his remarks, Dr. Theriault made a brief yet striking statement that deserves to be echoed: Armenians are always extremely proud of the many contributions we have made to this world, he said, including architectural innovations, wine, the first shoe, and so forth. However, he added, perhaps the most important contribution we can make would be to the global reparations movement.

The statue of Lady Justice atop the Old Bailey courthouse in London (Photo: Wikimedia Commons)

Understanding our pursuit of reparations for the crime of the Armenian Genocide within the framework of a much larger movement, and as an important contribution to the world in the 21st century, can help define our nation’s own understanding of what constitutes justice for genocide.

We are experiencing an important shift in our pursuit of justice, and a new narrative has been gradually taking shape over the past several years: an evolution from recognition to reparations. The work for recognition carried out by previous generations is unassailable. We owe a great deal to the movement that took us from complete silence to near global recognition. Today’s conscious move toward the pursuit of reparations builds upon the work of the vanguard who achieved recognition by dozens of countries, 48 American states, the European Parliament, the Pope… The list goes on.

Now, this progression and strategic shift needs popular support. The pursuit of territorial restoration, monetary compensation, return of stolen properties, etc., is too often scoffed at and depicted as the pipedream of Armenian nationalists.

However, the Armenian pursuit of reparations is not divorced from a global reparations movement. It plays a critical role in justice for victims of human rights violations worldwide.

I would go so far as to say the Armenian pursuit of justice through reparations is particularly important for setting the right precedent in international human rights advances, because it demonstrates that no amount of time passed should negate state—and successor-state—responsibility for the crime of genocide. Thus, there is immense contemporary significance in the pursuit of justice for an international crime committed a century ago.

Here, I can predict pragmatic readers making the argument that our responsibility now is to what remains of Armenia—the current Republic—and that we should focus on strengthening and repopulating our developing state. It’s undeniable that growth and prosperity in Armenia are critical at this juncture. However, it is a disservice to our national potential to adopt such one-dimensional narratives. Our participation in the reparations movement and the development of Armenia should not be seen as conflicting—but, rather, as complementary to one another.

Moreover, the often-heard position of needing to develop current-day Armenia before seriously thinking about the return of lands sends a clear and dangerous message to all perpetrators of genocide. It can be translated as a victim group succumbing to the consequences of genocide. It says we have come to accept the current, illegitimate, status quo and our weakened condition has convinced us that we are undeserving of what was once ours.

Such collective negligence will have generational consequences. It can—and some might argue, already has—led to a dystopian society, in which acts of unspeakable violence are carried out with impunity.

We cannot abandon a universal obligation to human rights merely because of our current weakened political and economic position. In fact, our current fragility is in large part a consequence of the genocide itself.

This fight is for everyone, and it’s time to fully embrace it. Emerging from the farthest margins of political power, the Armenian nation, alongside a growing human rights community, can demonstrate resolve against even the most determined and pernicious deniers. Our position can serve as a beacon of hope for countless victim groups.

A scene from “The Universality of Translating Reparations for Mass Violence,” featuring Dr. Henry Theriault and Alejandra Patricia Karamanian (Photo: Karine Vann/The Armenian Weekly)

Our people have paid with their bodies, as have the people of the Caribbean, Cambodians, African-Americans, Chileans, and many others. The fight to be compensated, impossible as it may seem, is what will mark a new era in human rights.

And this fight is not strictly confined to the realms of law and politics. Justice for genocide belongs to all. It is a cultural fight, an ethical fight, a philosophical fight. Our passionate dissent might be defeated, but it also might change the world.

The Armenian pursuit for justice has universal relevance. More than our groundbreaking inventions and centuries-long influence on global commerce, our greatest contributing to the world in this modern age can be our leading role in the global reparations movement. Our contribution, our role as the ultimate victims’ advocate, can help push the idea of restorative and reparative justice beyond its current limited boundaries. Ultimately, this undertaking serves the greater purpose of not only challenging an illegitimate post-genocidal status quo, but also helping to deter future crimes against humanity.

This fight is pure, it is un-shameful, it requires love, dignity, and courage. This fight is what will push us toward the pinnacles of human achievement, and we have the opportunity to be its leading crusader.


Editor’s Note: Dr. Henry Theriault serves as the chair of the Armenian Genocide Reparations Study Group (AGRSG), which was established in 2007 by four experts in different areas of reparations theory and practice. Funded initially by a grant from the Armenian Revolutionary Federation (ARF), the members of the AGRSG are Alfred de Zayas, Jermaine O. McCalpin, Ara Papian, and Theriault (chair). The group’s final report Resolution with Justice: Reparations for the Armenian Genocide, is available here


Sanan Shirinian

Sanan Shirinian is the Principal of Ari Guiragos Minassian Armenian School in Orange County. She earned her M.A. from Columbia University and is a member of the Armenian Revolutionary Federation (ARF) Shant Student Association.

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  1. 1) Armenian genicide recognition and reparation, 2) A strong Armenia. These are two sepatrate issues and yet very much interconnected. I would consider myself one of thsoe “pragmatic” Armenians who see the resolution of the genocide issue within the context of a strong Armenia. To me a “strong Armenia” means having a nation governed with a strong sense of democratic principals, diminishing curroption to such levels that it does not impede the nation’s growth and threaten its national security.

    Yes, Ms. Shirinian, if we are on our way towards destroying THIS Armenia, ( by continuously feeding into a system where few rich families control everything in the country, with Russian blessing and encouragement, and as a consequence Armenia gets depopulated) who will stand for the international rights for Armenia and work towards eliminating the consequences of the genocide?

  2. I see this up-and-coming Global Reparations Movement being even more of a lucrative industry for its proponents than the Turkish-Armenian Reconciliation industry was. Both are distractions encouraging pointless detours down roads that always lead nowhere. However, an important difference is that TAR involved no Armenian funding, whereas “Reparations” will consume only Armenian funding and risks bleeding coffers dry for no results other than the financial enrichment of the lawyers and activists involved in it.

  3. Reading this essay a dormant hope and fire starts to stir within me.
    But it’s almost immediately quashed by the awareness that many like myself have no proof or records of what our families lost. How would reparations ever work in our cases?

    • Dear Paula,

      Sometimes the answer lies in Turkey’s land registries, which would have information on your family’s real estate. If you believe your family owned property and know the name of the property owner, it is possible to confirm that information through Turkey’s land registry documents. The problem is getting access to those records, which is very difficult. This could change over time, however.

      This is why the Armenian Legal Center for Justice and Human Rights has started a Property Documentation Database Project to collect testimony about properties. Please consider taking part by submitting information via our website:

  4. Your work done for the purpose of achieving reparations remains in the field of theory.The likes of ordinary folk,like myself,would need step by step guidance to confronting the Goliath of the turkish state .Most of us
    have no proof of lost properties,archives are illegible and unreachable not to mention the cost factor for individuals. The solution should be in a collective approach by the armenians affected,but who is practically organising that? I would appreciate your comments and wish you all the best.

  5. There is unfortunately too much talk and no action.
    We need to walk the talk. Need to come together.
    It is imperative that the Diaspora fully support, morally and financially,
    the Armenian Legal Center for Justice and Human Rights. Visit the web site, make a contribution, provide documents if you have any.
    Admittedly this is a difficult task. But we should never give up.
    Vart Adjemian

  6. DearSanan Shirinian,

    Excellent article. Excellent approaches. Our millions of Genocide victims would be trilled with this article. We have to fight in so many fronts, but we can do it.
    a)We have to psychically go to our motherland and live there,
    b) strengthen our country economically and militarily,
    c)increase our growth from 1.5% to 8% the way it was for centuries. d) learn our language and eliminate impurities in our language in Armenia and in Diaspora,
    e) The few of us that will not be able to immigrate to Armenia should assist financially to achieve the above.
    Movses Keoshkerian Ottawa Ontario

  7. Dear Sanan Shirinian,

    I have to admit your article was very informative. Even though many countries have recognized your version of history through their parliaments, how will Armenians go through with the attainment of reparations?
    I have read the UN’s Convention on the Prevention and Punishment of the Crime of Genocide and if one takes that document as a basis of what genocide is then one can come to the judgement that the Armenian relocation of 1915 was genocide.
    But at the end of the day, when one lies down in bed does he feel guilt of what his great grandfathers did? If the deed was orchestrated for an evil reason like to enrich oneself or kill for being from another race than the answer would be yes. But if the deed was done for survival, then that action was done for self-preservation and it cannot be labeled evil.
    If the relocation did not take place in 1915, then it would have been very difficult for the Turkish war of independence to be orchestrated, because the occupying Powers ( England and France ) would have armed the Armenians to the teeth, the Turks would have been unable or find it very difficult to organize in eastern Anatolia and the Turkish presence would have been wiped out of its homeland, just as it was wiped out of the Balkans.
    Now coming to my question. How will Armenians go about with the reparations? There is no court verdict. For you to get compensated for something, a trial has to take place and a verdict must be given. All the parliaments in the World can pass a bill or an act, but that will not give it validity. I am not saying it won’t do damage to Turkey. It will always be an obstacle for Turkey’s membership to the EU, but other than that it is more of a nuisance every April more than anything else.

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