BY ANNA ASTVATSATURIAN TURCOTTE
Earlier this spring I was honored to be invited to the Global Forum: Against the Crime of Genocide by Armenia’s President Serzh Sarkisian. This international conference was held in Yerevan on April 22 and 23rd, organized by the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and the National Assembly of the Republic of Armenia, hosting over 600 people from all over the world. It was one of the numerous awe-inspiring events held in Armenia that week, commemorating the 100th anniversary of the Armenian Genocide. Every person I met in Yerevan during these events, Armenian and non-Armenian, was moved by them in a deeply emotional way. But the Global Forum was different from the rest.
Somber, commemorative Armenian Genocide events took place across the world this April and May. The world responded and the feeling of unity amongst the descendants of the Genocide and the supporters of the recognition efforts was paramount. What was not as widely discussed, however, was the subtle, new development of our collective Armenian voice to move away from the legacy of victimhood and into the legacy of survivors who lead and embrace the preventative political measures toward a safer world. We are turning the page in our history and the Global Forum was one of the events indicative of that trend.
By sponsoring and holding a top notch international conference that brought together world human rights experts and government leaders on the prevention of the crime of genocide and other mass atrocities, Armenia not only dared to rise from the ashes of genocidal death inflicted upon our people a mere 100 years ago, but stands tall as a leader to call on the world experts and legislators to come together, affirm their commitment to truth and stop genocide before it happens again.
What is more powerful and more meaningful than a nation that suffered the first genocide of the 20th century, after which the word “genocide” was coined, to bring together the entire world in a practical and constructive way to eradicate genocide? Especially impressive were the attendance and presentations of world renowned international experts such as Luis Moreno Ocampo, Geoffrey Robertson, William Shabas, Frank Chalk, Israel W. Charny, Ragip Zarakolu, Roger W. Smith, Cengiz Aktar, Esther Mujawayo, and others. And these people know genocide in the very real sense of the word.
Genocide is a crime. It is not a mere “tragedy,” or an “incident,” or a news event in some distant land, but a crime defined in international law. And it is the world’s most heinous crime. Yet genocide is not as uncommon as one might expect. It is happening today, in front of our faces. With all of the advancements of international criminal law, it continues to plague our world, one mass crime after another. And it all boils down to two important things. The indifference to genocide is one. It is often treated as a far-off, horrific thing that would never occur in our lifetime or to us. And yet it does. Or when it does occur, it’s so large, it’s unavoidable. And there are numerous instances of genocide of which only the experts are aware and they never make the news or history books. And secondly, the lack of political will, justified through various “national interests” by the world governments to allow it to happen again. Through education and awareness campaigns we must bring the warnings of genocide to the everyday non-expert legislators or world leaders and deliver to them information that would enable them to understand the policy (or lack thereof) they are driving that could impact the world and the very nation they are meant to represent.
Genocidal process is gradual and often non-linear. The warning signs of genocide are evident years before it occurs and they usually manifest in war-time conditions, religious zeal or social turmoil. When genocide starts, and at each of its eight stages, preventive measures can stop it from taking place. Research conducted into the predictive indicators of genocidal behaviors shows that these indicators were known and often ignored in situations documented in the 20th century. But they are not enough. Having the research conducted, the technology of this century and the lessons we’ve learned from countless genocides of our past, surely we can shape the 21st century into the century of genocide prevention, the century of “Never Again. Really.”
Extensive research is abundant. Punitive bodies and mechanisms such as the International Criminal Court are in place (albeit not as far reaching as one would hope). But what about preventative measures? The structures and offices are already in place instructed to prevent genocide and assert the responsibility to protect. Are there any serious political commitments and practical steps taken by nations and legislators of the world? Aside from the flowery language during and the faux outrage after the fact, they continue to allow these atrocities to escalate into the full blown genocides of innocent victims, often children.
What does it take for world leaders to have the political will to stop genocide in its tracks? What must these nations do to respond in a timely and effective manner when informed by the media and human rights organizations that alert them to existing triggers and indicators that genocide is about to occur or is taking place? This is why the theme of the Global Forum struck me. It wasn’t just one of the thousands of conferences on the crime of genocide. It was aimed at recognizing past genocides and preventing future ones through political commitment on the world stage. It is an outstanding start to a long road toward prevention.
I believe the Republic of Armenia must take the success of this historic Global Forum and use the opportunity to lead further toward genocide prevention on the world stage. Don’t just stop there. The Forum should be held annually, bringing in world experts, legislators and victims, working with governmental and non-governmental organizations, establishing working groups, government response mechanisms and human rights awareness campaigns to produce actual political commitments and results. The world fails the victims of genocide over and over again. Now, 100 years later, we, the descendants of the Armenian Genocide, must stand tall and lead. The Global Forum is the first step toward this honorable and monumental goal.
By holding the Global Forum: Against the Crime of Genocide, Armenia called on the world to make genocide a “human interest,” that surpasses any “national interests” in question; a forum to call on world leaders to make a real political commitment to ending the crime of genocide. I look forward to Global Forum: Against the Crime of Genocide 2.0.