Latest Chapter in Mt. Davidson Cross Saga

–Turks agree not to appeal Armenian genocide plaque decision

SAN FRANCISCO–Two Turkish-American organizations–and the Turkish Consul General–have withdrawn their lawsuit against the Council of Armenian American Organizations of Northern California rather than face the claim of the Council’s attorneys for fees.

The lawsuit attacked the plaque commemorating the Armenian genocide–which the Council had placed near the 103 foot cross on San Francisco’s Mt. Davidson. The Council had purchased the Cross and adjacent land in 1997 from the City of San Francisco–which sold it to settle a challenge to its ownership on church-state grounds.

In their lawsuit–the Turks claimed that the plaque violates the terms of the deed under which the Council acquired the Cross and land from the City. The Council’s attorneys denied any violation and also urged that the Turks lacked legal standing to challenge the plaque. The lawsuit–they said–was an impermissible attempt to suppress the Council’s free speech rights.

The court agreed and dismissed the case. This entitled the lawyers–who were representing the Council without charge–to recover their attorneys’ fees from the Turks. Faced with a claim for $100,000 in fees–the Turks agreed to abandon their appeal of the court’s ruling–and submitted to an injunction against any repetition of it. They also agreed to indemnify the Council if any such lawsuit is brought by any of their members. In return–the Council’s lawyers–at its request–dropped their claim for fees.

Speaking for the Council–a coalition of 35 Armenian American organizations in Northern California–its Chairman–Dr. Krikor Soghikian–stated that the Turkish challenge to the memorial plaque is part of a broad campaign to oppose any public acknowledgment of the Armenian Genocide–which is officially denied by the Turkish government. The 1915 event is considered by historians as the first genocide of the 20th century–and the most significant human rights crisis of World War I. The leaders of the Ottoman empire systematically carried out the extermination of 1.5 million Armenia’s–more than half of the Armenian population living in its historic homeland. The overwhelming majority of Armenia’s living in San Francisco and the United States are descendants of Armenian Genocide survivors.

Armenian Americans wished to purchase the Mt. Davidson Cross to avoid the destruction of a San Francisco landmark. As the first nation to have accepted Christianity in 301 AD–they believed that the Cross site would be an ideal gathering place to remember their forefathers. Turkish groups actively opposed the purchase–conducting a protest campaign urging city officials–neighborhood and political groups–to vote against the enabling proposition–but 68% of San Francisco voters cast their ballots in favor of the proposition.

The plaque was unveiled in 1988 by Mayor Willie Brown–in the presence of several Genocide survivors. It reads:

"The Mt. Davidson Cross was designed and built by George Kelham and inaugurated by President Franklin D. Roosevelt in 1934. In 1997–the citizens of San Francisco voted to approve the sale of the monument to the Council of Armenian American Organizations of Northern California.–to preserve it as a historic landmark. This revered site is cared for in memory of the 1,500,000 victims of the Armenian Genocide perpetrated by the Turkish government from 1915 to 1918. Over half the Armenian population on its ancient homeland was killed–and no Armenian community remained in historical Western Armenia. By honoring those lost–we honor all victims of injustice and cruelty. In their name–we dedicate ourselves to the protection of human rights and the dignity of all peoples.

If evil of this magnitude can be ignored,
If our children forget,
Then we deserve oblivion,
And earn the world’s scorn.

Avedis Aharonian
(writer and educator–1866-1948)

Armenian Genocide Commemoration Day
April 24–1998."

The Council was represented in the lawsuit by David Balabanian–Geoffrey Holtz–and Matthew Gray of Bingham McCutchen–an 850 lawyer firm with offices in 12 cities.

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