BY HARUT SASSOUNIAN
Armenians experienced unforgettable days last week during the Centennial commemorations of the Armenian Genocide. In many respects, Turkish denialists’ much-feared ‘Tsunami’ became a reality! While Armenians around the world were busy organizing commemorative events in recent years, their efforts were amplified by some unexpected developments, including Turkish President Erdogan’s irrational rhetoric and reaction.
The year began with Erdogan’s childish maneuver, switching the Gallipoli War Centennial to April 24, to derail the observances planned for the Armenian Genocide Centennial. The international media quickly exposed the Turkish President’s ploy, providing extensive publicity for the upcoming genocide anniversary.
In early April, the Kardashians’ visit to Armenia generated thousands of articles and TV reports, and millions of social media posts. A few days later, Pope Francis created his own ‘Tsunami’ by uttering his courageous words on the Armenian Genocide. Once again, Erdogan made matters worse for Turkey by insulting not only the Pope, but also one billion Catholics, and the nation of Argentina, the Pontiff’s birthplace. Shortly thereafter, the European Parliament adopted a resolution on the Armenian Genocide providing further media coverage of this issue.
Being in Armenia for the first time on April 24, and on the occasion of the Centennial, was a deeply moving experience. The Armenian government did monumental work inviting 1,000 dignitaries from 60 countries, including prominent scholars, legal experts, political leaders, parliamentarians from 30 countries, and survivors of other genocides. On April 22-23, the distinguished guests participated in a Global Forum “Against the Crime of Genocide,” where I delivered brief remarks castigating Pres. Obama’s failure to keep his promise on using the term Armenian Genocide. I explained that contrary to a widely-held misperception, the United States has repeatedly recognized the Armenian Genocide.
On April 23, all six political parties represented in the Austrian Parliament issued a joint declaration recognizing the Armenian Genocide. As expected, Turkey overreacted by withdrawing its Ambassador from Vienna. This is the second Turkish Ambassador to be recalled to Ankara this month. As an increasing number of countries recognize the Armenian Genocide, Turkey may soon have fewer envoys, isolating itself from much of the world!
Also on April 23, German President Joachim Gauck delivered a powerful speech at a memorial service in Berlin, acknowledging not only the Armenian Genocide, but also Germany’s complicity in the Ottoman Turkish genocidal campaign. Despite heavy pressures from Turkish leaders, the German Bundestag is expected shortly to adopt a similarly-worded resolution which would send shock waves throughout the 1,000 rooms of Pres. Erdogan’s newly-built palace, since Germany was Turkey’s ally in 1915, and continues its close relationship until today!
In the evening of April 23, the Catholicos of All Armenians Karekin II and the Catholicos of the Great House of Cilicia Aram I jointly presided over a historic rite of canonization in Etchmiadzin, declaring the Armenian Genocide victims to be Saints. Following this moving ritual, at the exact hour of 19:15 or 7:15 pm, churches throughout the world began ringing their bells 100 times. Later that night, the System of a Down band performed a free concert at Yerevan’s Republic Square. The thousands of young people in attendance were highly energized despite the heavy downpour. The concert was aired live, disseminating the band’s Genocide message to millions of people worldwide.
On April 24, a memorable observance took place on the grounds of Tsitsernagapert, the Armenian Genocide Monument in Yerevan, with the participation of hundreds of religious leaders, Ambassadors, officials, and presidents of Russia, France, Cyprus and Serbia. While the heads of two superpowers came to Yerevan on April 24, Turkey was unable to attract to Gallipoli the same caliber of leaders, despite its considerable efforts. It was perfectly fitting to this solemn occasion that the distinguished guests at the Yerevan Memorial spent several hours huddled in blankets like refugees, in freezing temperatures, sheltered under a large canvass from the rain.
One of the most stunning developments last week was Turkish Prime Minister Davutoglu’s declaration that the Armenian “deportations were a Crime Against Humanity” — which under international law is tantamount to recognizing the Armenian Genocide. No one should be surprised if Erdogan dismisses Davutoglu after the June Parliamentary elections.
Now that the Centennial is behind us, it is high time that Armenians turn the page on Armenian Genocide recognition and begin to systematically pursue their claims from Turkey through international, regional and local tribunals.