Expert’s Final Words on Turkey’s Legal Responsibility for Genocide

Harut Sassounian

BY HARUT SASSOUNIAN

With the approaching Centennial of the Armenian Genocide, there has been growing public interest in taking legal action against Turkey in international courts.

One of the leading experts in this field was Dr. Yuri Barseghov, Professor of International Law, who wrote scores of pioneering books and articles on Armenian claims. Shortly before his death in 2008, Prof. Barseghov of Moscow outlined the basis for legal action against Turkey in an article titled: “Ways and Means of Assigning Responsibility for the Armenian Genocide.”

Dr. Barseghov maintained that in 1920, “the Ottoman Empire admitted its responsibility for committing this crime” by signing the Treaty of Sevres, which unfortunately was not ratified due to the reluctance of the Allied Powers to pressure Turkey. Since then, despite the recognition of the Armenian Genocide by dozens of countries and international organizations, Prof. Barseghov believed that such acknowledgments “will not solve the problem of [Turkish] responsibility.”

Prof. Barseghov contended that “since Turkey stubbornly continues to refuse recognizing that it committed this crime, it is still necessary to solve the question of responsibility for the Armenian Genocide through competent international bodies by making such decisions mandatory for both parties [Armenia and Turkey].”

Dr. Barseghov did not believe that the United Nations is a practical vehicle for the resolution of the Armenian Genocide issue, since it is a highly politicized body. “Decisions of the General Assembly are not mandatory,” while the major powers, such as the United States and Great Britain, enjoy the privilege of veto power in the Security Council blocking any action against Turkey.

The problem of initiating litigation under the statute of the International Court of Justice (ICJ) is that both Armenia and Turkey have to agree in advance to abide by the decisions of the Court. Neither country has so far “recognized the obligatory jurisdiction of the International Court of Justice.” Since Turkey most probably would not agree to submit itself to such jurisdiction, Dr. Barseghov suggested that the Republic of Armenia as a sovereign state take advantage of “the unique opportunity” of filing a unilateral case against Turkey on its responsibility for the Armenian Genocide, “under Article IX of the Convention on the Prevention and Punishment of the Crime of Genocide.”

Dr. Barseghov expressed regret that no response was received from the Armenian government after the Armenian Institute of International Law and Political Science of the Union of Armenians of Russia – which he directed – several years ago submitted a study on this subject to Pres. Robert Kocharian and Foreign Minister Vartan Oskanian.

Dr. Barseghov explained that “in order to start a case by this judicial procedure [Article IX], the Government of Armenia has to formulate its position on the questions of interpretation, application or implementation of the Convention on this basis on the question of responsibility of the Turkish state for the committed crime.”

Prof. Barseghov warned Armenian officials that “there exists a provision in International Law which is confirmed by the International Court of Justice in other cases: if a state has the opportunity to submit a dispute but does not take such action, it would mean that the state accepts the existing situation.”

Dr. Barseghov allayed possible Armenian concerns that the ICJ may object to filing such a case due to questions regarding the retroactivity of the Genocide Convention. He expressed his firm belief that the Convention applies to the Armenian Genocide even though it preceded the Convention. He noted that the ICJ in its Advisory Opinion of 1951 stated: “the principles inherited by the Convention on Genocide, unlike the treaty obligations established in it, were already part of common international law by the time these awful crimes were committed.”

Prof. Barseghov pointed out that arguments supporting the Convention’s retroactivity were put forward by the ICJ which has “twice given competent, exhaustive explanations on the fundamental basic questions of the applicability of the Convention including also its retroactivity.” Based on these rulings, Prof. Barseghov concluded: “the Convention applies also to crimes committed in the past whose consequences have not been eliminated.”

As announced during a recent conference in Yerevan, the Armenian government has formed a task force to prepare the legal file for a case to be brought against Turkey in international courts. The expert advice of Prof. Barseghov and other specialists should ensure that the lawsuit is properly prepared and presented to obtain long overdue justice for Armenian Genocide victims.

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9 Comments

  1. An Armenian said:

    The present Armenian government refuses to null and void the signed Armenia-Turkey Protocols. However, they have formed a task force to prepare the legal file for a case against Turkey in International courts. Isn’t that contradictory?

  2. Zareh Sahakian said:

    Issue 1: who says (or guaranties) that ICJ would be an impartial body. If the UN is not an appropriate venue to address the Genocdie issue because of its “highly politicized” nature, the ICJ embodies members of the same “highly politicized” entities.

    Issue 2: The foreign policy of Armenia is highly susceptible to Russian influence. How much freedom does Armenia have to embark on such a confrontational act (surely Turkey would fight back) that would possibly be against Russian national interests, or risk harming it.

    The Customs Union is more than an economic grouping which Armenia wants to join, and Russia is always sensitive not to allow itself to be seen as supporting Armenia unconditionally. Alas, we have seen concrete examples of how Russia wants to keep its influence in the Caucasus…and beyond! An Armenian court action against Turkey would ultimately force Russia to choose a side. History has taught us that when it really counts Russia has always turned its back against Armenia, with devastating results.

    • Setrak Melkonian said:

      Dear Zareh,
      I cannot disagree with you, the way that you have approached to this matter is right I liked your analysis regarding this matter. This is the way I exactly think, and I am supporting you for 100%. Thank you.

  3. Nixos said:

    May I remind our Armenian friends that there are better ways to earn money than the genocide. A lot of time is being wasted by the Armenians on the this issue the outcome of which is uncertain. Furthermore, the Armenians outside of Armenia, appear to be more interested in this than the Government of Armenia. If they truly desire to help their country why do they continue on leaving and making their economic contributions overseas instead in Armenia? Genocide issue is too important to be treated just as a potential source of income.

    • Setrak Melkonian said:

      My Dear Greek Friend Armenian Genocide is not for sale, you should not confuse war indemnity with business. The whole world knows what it means recognition of Armenian Genocide by Turkish government and what would be the result of that. Saying sorry of course is not enough they have to take full responsibility for the committed crimes against humanity, which would follow paying the price of what Ottoman Empire stole from my ancestors; their life and their land where they were living for thousands of years. Let me remind you that Armenian Genocide cannot be politicized and definitely it is not a matter of debate it is a fact and I am expecting you to be more supportive my dear Greek friend. Armenia’s now days political and economic situation has absolutely nothing to do with Armenian Genocide they are very different matters shouldn’t be mixed up. Armenian Diaspora always supportive to Armenia, but when it comes to developing the economy of the country unfortunately politic plays big roll, when there is no external political interference from countries that they think only about their own benefits being nothing but bunch of hypocrites, then you see how we build our country.
      Please be wiser and careful enough when you do your judgment about matter that is very sensitive to us especially when it comes to Armenian Genocide, respect yourself to be respected. Evgharisto poli.

    • mihran said:

      Dear
      One hundred years has gone by we are still continuing our efforts….. Even if Turkey accepts the crime it has committed we need to go to other venues to make our CLAIMS…
      I wrote an article the Asbarez modifier didn’t agree it considering too blunt or inappropriate for publication
      My perception is superpowers(USA/RUSSIA AND OTHERS) do not agree that Armenia RIGHTFULLY has a land claim issue from Turkey ( I AM NOT SUGGESTING THAT WE DON’T) the superpowers always consider Turkey’s interests first modifying their position on Armenia’s expense and yet Armenians patiently continue on the same path something in our peacefull activity should be changed…your point the return to home idea is a must do issue

  4. GeorgeMardig said:

    Unless the Int’l community the US and Russia agree on the bases of an international imperative values that all countries abide, and that will not override under NO sicumstances, not even for Geoplotical interests, any issue, doesn’t matter the kind of the issue will meet East and West discripancies and will go to NO where, even if they come to an agreement it will not survive the test of time.

  5. Samvel said:

    Dr. Barseghov was and is, as of today, right in his diagnosis of where to go and what to apply for, but the question is still open – How about Treaties of Moscow and Kars, which override the Treaty of Sevres?
    Or he did not see the problem in this controversy or he was thinking of Russian influence, which is , in reality – a pressure on Armenian government to not to nullify this “treaty” (of Kars) and not to demand from Russia to denounce their signature under the Treaty of Moscow.The first and most important, from my point of view, question is denunciation of the Treaty of Moscow (between Russia and Turkey, which is signed between unrecognized by world at the time of signing by the World, governments of Lenin and Ataturk).
    This demand, made by Armenian government, would provide them and all Armenian people in Diaspora, with so-o-o needed tool of minimisation of the dirty influence of Russians on Armenian politics and economy (as a tool for blackmailing and manipulating day-to-day and long term priorities of the Armenian people).
    We have to concentrate our attention on legal issues, pointing out those most important with keeping very close attention on the reaction of Turkey, Russia and all of the others who profited from Treaties of Moscow and Kars, by dividing Armenia and keeping close ties with all of the signatories of the Treaty of Sevres.
    Russians are playing the major role, along side with Turks and Armenians are allowing someone to stay behind their back, who is not sincere and truthful ally – this is dangerous for Armenia and Armenian people, the mechanisms of neutralization and control MUST be created if not yet in place…

  6. Mihran said:

    What is left to be discussed in order to start a process demanding the rights of Armenians rather do we have any rights at all.
    Is it the desire created in our minds only that we have a homeland that should be ours yet it is not ?….are we one day to be told by the superpowers stop YOU DREAMS if we haven’t been told yet …since all what SUPERPOWERS understand is how to better adjust their national interests with the one that better serves Turkey’s national interests none of the superpowers seems to consider the Armenian issue… John Kerry used to be the staunchest supporter of the Armenian cause… What?…did he say after getting the secretary’s job shame on who us Armenians or John Kerry…

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