Centennial of the Treaty of Sèvres: An Online Panel Discussion

By the ADL-ARF Treaty of Sèvres Centennial Committee

An online panel discussion celebrating the centennial of the Treaty of Sèvres was held on September 19, 2020. This event was jointly organized by the New York-New Jersey Armenagan-Hovsepian Chapter of the Armenian Democratic Liberal (ADL/Ramgavar) Party and the New Jersey Dro Gomideh of the Armenian Revolutionary Federation (ARF/Dashnaktsutiun). The event was composed of two sessions: one in Armenian that was held at noon EDT and one in English that was held at 5 PM EDT.

The Armenian session, hosted by Mr. Norair Meguerditchian, featured three professors: Ashot Melkonian, director of the Institute of History at Armenia’s National Academy of Sciences; Taline Ter-Minassian, university professor at the National Institute of Oriental Languages and Civilizations, Paris; and professor Armen Maroukian, historian and director of the Institute for the study of the Armenian cause and genocide of Armenia.

The English session, hosted by Mr. Antranig Kasbarian, featured two professors: Richard Hovhannisian, professor emeritus at UCLA and presidential fellow at Chapman University, Orange, CA; and Henry Theriault, associate vice president for Academic Affairs at Worcester State University, MA, and president of the International Association of Genocide Scholars.

In the Armenian panel, Prof. Melkonian situated the Sèvres Treaty within the context of Allied power rivalries that transpired in the years following World War I. In his conclusion, he pointed to the treaty’s undeniable recognition of Western Armenia, a point which continues to form the basis of Armenian national aspirations. Prof. Ter-Minassian’s presentation raised several points regarding the treaty that still require clarification; for example, its failure to weigh in on territories jointly claimed by Armenians and Kurds and its implicit acceptance of Armenia’s orientation toward the West as the leading adjudicating party regarding Asia Minor/Transcaucasia. Prof. Marukyan, meanwhile, offered a close reading of the treaty’s articles that addressed Armenia specifically, adding his belief that these offer fertile ground for legal representations today. Like Ter-Minassian, Marukyan also challenged the common understanding that Sèvres was supplanted or nullified by the 1923 Lausanne Treaty, which he explained is simply not the case.

In the English panel, Prof. Hovannisian focused on the history surrounding the treaty, especially the Allied powers’ geopolitical rivalries and how these influenced the negotiations over territory. He concluded with a mixed assessment, noting the treaty’s importance on moral grounds while expressing skepticism about its present-day applicability. Prof. Theriault spoke in a more optimistic vein, noting that Woodrow Wilson’s arbitral award reflected great care and sensitivity, especially in its aim to create a viable Republic of Armenia with expanded territories and access to the Black Sea—explicitly as protection and as reparations for the crime of genocide. He also discussed the Sèvres Treaty in comparative perspective, noting cases of other dispossessed peoples that have sought reparations, sometimes successfully.

More than 300 people signed up and attended these two events via Zoom. The event was also carried live on Facebook, where 900 participants tuned in. While most participants were from the continental USA, there were participants from Canada, South America, France, Greece, Lebanon, Armenia and Russia. It is interesting to note that Professor Ter-Minassian gave her presentation in front of the building that hosted the Sèvres Treaty (today the National Ceramic Museum of France). In a short video dated from 1930, Avedis Aharonian (president of the Armenian Parliament of the First Republic) reminded the Armenian nation of the importance of this treaty to the Armenian cause.

The Treaty of Sèvres, signed on August 10, 1920, is a historic document, marking the official recognition of the Republic of Armenia – both by Turkey and the Great Powers – and remains, to this day, a herald of historical justice and territorial restitution.

On Sunday, September 20th, Vartan Abdo from Parev TV (New Jersey) interviewed both session hosts. The two panel discussion sessions were also recorded and will be available online soon.

Finally, we would like to indicate that a third session will be held sometime in the fall of 2020. This enlarged session in English will include Armenian as well as foreign scholars. The goal is to view the treaty in a larger historical and ethnic context.

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Guest Contributor

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