Genocide is the Right Word, Justice is the Ultimate Goal!

Harut Sassounian


President Serzh Sarkisian’s comments generated much controversy last week when he reportedly stated at a campaign stop in Yerevan on Feb. 5 that “tseghasbanoutyoun” (genocide) and “yeghern” (atrocity) are synonymous. He asserted that President Obama, without uttering the word “genocide,” had said “everything.” The Armenian head of state was referring to President Obama’s use of the term ‘Medz Yeghern’ (Great Atrocity) rather than ‘Armenian Genocide’ in his annual April 24 commemorative statements.

The words Yeghern or Medz Yeghern were used by Armenians mostly before Raphael Lemkin coined the term genocide in 1943 to describe the organized mass killings of Armenians during the 1915-23 period. Before 1943, Armenians used various expressions to refer to those killings, such as ‘chart’ (massacre), Medz vojir (great crime), ‘aghed’ (disaster), ‘deghahanoutyoun’ (deportation), and ‘aksor’ (exile). However, none of these words have the legal connotation of tseghasbanoutyoun or genocide under international law.

Since 1943, Armenians have spent much time and effort to convince the world that they were the victims of genocide and are now seeking justice from Turkey under international law. This is fundamental reason why Armenians demand genocide recognition, not massacres, atrocities or deportations!

The only reason President Obama has used the term Medz Yeghern in his annual statements is to avoid the words Armenian Genocide, in acquiescence to Turkish pressures. If Medz Yeghern and genocide have the same meaning, why doesn’t President Obama use the term genocide instead of Medz Yeghern? After all, presidential candidate Obama did not promise Armenian-American voters that if elected he would recognize the Medz Yeghern; he pledged to recognize the Armenian Genocide.

Thus, all who allege that Medz Yeghern and genocide are synonymous are simply giving President Obama a free pass and allowing him not to keep his solemn pledge. They are also undermining several decades of extensive lobbying efforts for the recognition of the Armenian Genocide!

Those who claim equivalence between Medz Yeghern and genocide do it not out of ignorance in Armenian terminology. They know full well that the two words don’t have the same meaning. Their real reason is to declare victory by making people believe that the President of the United States did after all acknowledge the validity of the Armenian Genocide.

There are a couple of fallacies in this approach. First, regardless of what Medz Yeghern means to Armenians, it is a meaningless term to all those who do not speak Armenian. Second, equating Medz Yeghern and genocide in order to claim success on genocide recognition is a futile exercise. It is really unnecessary to twist the meaning of President Obama’s words. The United States recognized the Armenian Genocide as far back as 1951, when the US government submitted an official document to the International Court of Justice (World Court), acknowledging the Jewish Holocaust and the Armenian Genocide as examples of genocide. Another US President, Ronald Reagan, issued a Presidential Proclamation on April 22, 1981, where he mentioned the Armenian Genocide. Moreover, the House of Representatives acknowledged the Armenian Genocide by adopting two resolutions in 1975 and 1984.

Consequently, there is no longer a pressing need to pursue further acknowledgment of the Armenian Genocide by passing repeated congressional resolutions or demanding that President Obama utter the words Armenian Genocide. Nor is there a need to reinterpret President Obama’s statements, claiming that by using the term Medz Yeghern he has automatically acknowledged the Armenian Genocide. The only reason President Obama should recognize the Armenian Genocide is to be a man of his word!

It is imperative for Armenians and their supporters to concentrate their efforts on the eve of the Centennial of the Armenian Genocide not on gaining further recognition — an already accomplished fact — but on securing justice for the massive crimes committed against their ancestors a hundred years ago.

Rather than demanding that the United States or even Turkey acknowledge the Genocide, which would not result in any concrete benefit, Armenians should focus their energies on more meaningful steps such as filing lawsuits against the Turkish government in national and international courts.

Once Armenians regain their territories and properties from Turkey through legal action or as a result of unexpected geopolitical developments, the Turkish government can go on denying the Genocide as long as it wants!

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  1. Hovig said:

    Very well written Mr. Sassounian, you hit the nail on the head.

    The Republic of Armenia along with their brethren in the Diaspora can and must work together to regain our material and territorial assets from Turkey. This is non-negotiable.

  2. Rifat said:

    Why didn’t you guys take us to court then many, many decades ago, even well before the 1960s-1970s?

    • Alex Postallian said:

      esh: your countrys crooked court,jerky turkey,or Americas.The jerks are like the jews: everytime they want a favor,they come over here to kiss as_.

    • Alex Postallian said:

      I said,without censor the truth,I answered the turk rifats,your crooked courts,everytime the jews or jerky turkey want a favor from the U.S.,they come over to kiss as_

    • Raffi Bairamian said:

      Don’t worry, we’ll take you to court and regain our territories and properties from the genocidal turkish regime, it is just a matter of time.Patience is a virtue.

  3. Berge Jololian said:

    Most Armenians debate aimlessly and endlessly either for the need of a Turkish apology, or an acknowledgment, or a vague undefined-justice, and some Armenians don’t want anything. Lately, most Armenians have turned linguists, translators and interpreters.

    I think Mr. Sassounian did not quite hit the point by using the vague word “Justice”. Yeah, people want justice. Demanding “Justice” does not relay much. It still keeps people clueless as to what is the definition of Justice. According to Turks, “Justice” could be renovating an old-Armenian Church and maybe open the border with Armenia as a form of compensation.

    The word “Genocide” was coined by the Jurist Raphael Lemkin in 1943 to describe the 1915 genocide of the Armenians.

    When Dr. Lemkin was asked how he became interested in the Armenian genocide, he explained: “I became interested in genocide because it happened to the Armenians”. – (Source: CBS News Interview, 1948 on the occasion of the United Nations adopting the Convention on the Prevention and Punishment of the Crime of Genocide – which cites the Armenian Genocide as an example).

    Why then others attempt to call the Armenian Genocide by a different word?
    – > To remove the genocidal criminal element of “Intent”, a key compnenet that constitues genocide.

    The International Association of Genocide Scholars (IAGS) refers to the events as the Armenian Genocide

    Why then refer to it by different label?
    –> To free genocidal-Turkey from Accountability: land, reparation and restitution.

    What matters is the *accountability* and specifically Armenian owned lands, assets, wealth of Armenians confiscated, not to mention the lives of 2 million people brutally murdered, reparation and restitution.

    Turkey remains genocidal and a lethal threat to Armenia and Armenians. No amount of apology or acknowledgment will ever be sincere or enough – it is Genocide Acknowledgment with *Accountability* that matters.

    Genocide Acknowledgment without Accountability is hollow and meaningless.

    Acknowledgment must be accompanied with accountability; otherwise, the acknowledgment is worse than the denial.

    Accountability means land, reparation and restitution. A good example of land recovery is Artzakh.

    Beware of a solution (acknowledgment without accountability) that is worse than the problem (denial).

    Prior to the use of the word “genocide”, British Prime Minister Winston Churchill and other world leaders described the events as the “Armenian holocaust.”

  4. Hrant K. said:

    “Stolen Churches bill ” is a start and “Patriocide Bill” and “Lingocide Bill” come second
    and third respectively!!!…

  5. Raz Man said:

    The reason the President uses the term Medz Yeghern is because no one but Armenians know what it means. So for everyone else its giberish.

  6. Assimilated Armenian said:

    Mr. Sassounian is one of the few who make any sense. Asking for Genocide recognition that has already been acknowledged numerous times by the US government is beating a dead horse. My great-grandfather owned large parts of Diyarbakir vilayet and Mardin. Huge bank accounts held by him and my grandfather at the Ottoman Imperial Bank were confiscated. Our family can never bring back these two who were murdered or the other members killed or drowned in the Tigris, but the records we hold are evidence that can be used in a court of law. All these assets were transferred to the Kurdish Chieftain Pirinccizade family by the Turkish government.

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  8. Diran said:

    Mr. Sassounian has deftly, almost imperceptibly, changed his tune about the meaning of yeghern. After years of systematically insisting that the word only meant calamity–a morally neutral word–he suddenly informs us that it now means atrocity–a word that definitely implies evil intent. Quite a change. But we should just shut our eyes and follow. Maybe some day, under favorable conditions, Mr. Sassounian will just as deftly make the leap from “atrocity” to the proper translation of the word, “crime”. He may then be prepared to give whoever is President at the time the right advice on the meaning of Medz Yeghern so that he does not use it to avoid saying genocide.