BY AZNIV S. BRUNSUZIAN
On Sunday, April 6, following Divine Liturgy, the Educational Committee was honored to welcome the scholar and professor Michael Bazyler for a lecture at the Armenian Apostolic Church of Crescenta Valley, Western Prelacy’s Dikran and Zarouhi Der Ghazarian Hall. The distinguished lawyer has inspired great hope and belief towards the Armenian Genocide’s recognition. He has also fought for reparations, bringing the Armenian Genocide restitution lawsuits to American courts. These actions are especially significant now as we approach the centennial commemoration of the Armenian Genocide in 2015.
Dr. Michael Bazyler is a Professor of Law at Chapman University. He holds a Juris Doctor Degree from USC and a B.A. from U.C.L.A. Before joining the faculty of Chapman in 2008, he was a Prof. of Law and the “1939” Club Law Scholar of Holocaust and Human Rights Studies at Whittier Law School. Throughout his teaching career, he has been a visiting professor at various law schools in the USA, Australia, Russia, Belarus and Israel, teaching different aspects of comparative Law, Public International and Human Rights Law, International Business Litigation and Transactions, Criminal Law. In Spring 2007, he held the position of distinguished visiting Professor of Law at Pepperdine University. Professor Bazyler is a leading authority on the use of American and European courts to readdress genocide and other historical atrocities. He has authored several scholarly publications, including the book entitled “Holocaust Justice: The Battle for Restitution in America’s Courts,” which has been cited by the U.S. Supreme Court. He has testified in Congress before the House Reform Committee on Holocaust Restitution.
Professor Bazyler focused on the core of the lecture’s title and subject, examining the prospects of using American litigation as a means of obtaining justice for heirs of the Armenian Genocide, such as: International Law is based on rules agreed upon by various nations in treaties. International Laws are also based on customs that nations have agreed on, which are like contracts between nations. To sue a country that has broken such a contract, one would have to appeal to the International Court of Justice (ICJ), unofficially known as The World Court.
The need for a World Court first arose in the wake of World War I as the Armenian Genocide was just beginning. At this time, Germany, Turkey and several other nations formed The League of Nations with the aim of solving future international conflicts diplomatically by turning to the International Court of Justice, then referred to by the League of Nations as Permanent International Court of Justice (PCIJ). However, the PCIJ, the legal arm of The League of Nations, was clearly not successful in preventing international conflicts from erupting into violence since World War II began only decades after the first. When Nazi Germany and Japan were finally defeated, the international community decided to once again try to create a successful World Court, and thus The United Nations was born. The United Nations formed a body called The Security Council to enforce its rules and judgments. As a result, the strongest nations were able to use their power to prevent humanitarian disasters from taking place in any part of the world.
Now, lawsuits for the prevention of Genocide are possible and nations can even ask for reparations from other nations for past damages. Consequently, Professor Bazyler wondered: Could Turkey, the legal successors of the Ottoman Empire, be made to admit and recognize the Armenian Genocide so as to permit reparations to the Armenian people? Currently, both Armenia and Turkey are Republics and if such a lawsuit were to be filed it may take a very long time for a decision to be made by the World Court and for the ICJ to determine the outcome. Even if reparations are requested for the physical and emotional trauma that Armenians experienced, that still leaves the destruction of Armenian Churches, the destruction or theft of Armenian art, and other such invaluable losses. Thus, countless reparations can be claimed by Armenia against Turkey. Even other countries, such as Germany, have spoken up about how mutually beneficial an admission by Turkey about the Armenian Genocide can be. The German Chancellor recently suggested to Turkey that recognizing the Genocide could be healing for their nation. In the meantime, as Americans we can sue in the American Courts.
It is possible to create a template to go ahead. In the 1990’s when Professor Bazyler was working on behalf of the Jewish Holocaust Survivors, he was contacted by an Armenian attorney Vartkes Yeghyaian who had attended and enjoyed one of his lectures. Professor Bazyler wrote an article that was published in the New York Times “From ‘Lamentation and Liturgy to Litigation’: The Holocaust-Era Restitution Movement as a Model for Bringing Armenian Genocide-Era Restitution Suits in American Courts” and he gave the precedent for the Armenian people to take up the torch for litigation against Turkey in the American Courts for civil damages due to the Armenian Genocide. There are now civil cases in American Courts going on towards this purpose against Turkey and also against private entities. Professor Bazyler believes that these cases will be successful, commenting that Benjamin Frencz, 94 years old, the last surviving prosecutor of the Nuhrenburg Trials, always claimed, “Never give up and never leave…”!
Professor Bazyler also focused on cases of nations that had filed lawsuits against other nations and the Security Council issued resolutions that were agreed to abide by. These cases are Jewish Holocaust versus Germany (as a result, West Germany paid millions of dollars to the Survivors in Israel), Australia versus Japan, Bosnia versus Serbia, and Croatia versus Bosnia. Professor Bazyler has offered to the audience copies of his booklet of Marquette LAW Review Magazine, Volume 95, Fall 2011, Marquette University, Law School. Many thanks and gratitude to Prof. Bazyler for his interesting and unique presentation. This event was sponsored by Azniv Brunsuzian.