January 27 marked the 45th anniversary of when Gourgen Yanikian assassinated Turkish diplomats Mehmet Baydar and Bahadir Demir in a room at the Biltmore Hotel in Santa Barbara as act of vengeance and retribution for the Armenian Genocide.
In an op-ed published by the Fresno Bee on Friday, David Minier, the prosecutor in Yanikian’s trial, laments that he objected to pleas by Yanikian’s lawyers to allow testimony by Genocide survivors and historians and allow the defendant what he called his “Armenian Nuremburg.” Minier also makes reference to the acquittal by a German court of Soghomon Tehlirian for the assassination of Talaat Pasha, the mastermind behind the Armenian Genocide.
“Yanikian’s purpose was to create an ‘Armenian Nuremberg’ – a show trial to call world attention to the genocide, as the Nuremberg trial had done with Nazi war crimes. And perhaps to be acquitted. Yanikian’s hope was not unreasonable,” Minier writes in the Fresno Bee.
“I faced a dilemma: to allow a parade of eye-witnesses to the genocide, risking an acquittal, or to block the evidence to obtain a conviction. I knew such evidence would likely lead to ‘jury nullification,’ where a jury disregards the law and acquits for a perceived greater justice, as the Tehlirian jury had done,” Minier adds.
“Looking back, I regret I hadn’t the courage to allow such evidence, and trust the jury to follow the law,” says Minier adding that one of Yanikian’s attorneys, Vaken Minasian’s words still haunt him: “… bring forth an indictment against genocide.”
“History’s darkest chapters – its genocides – should be fully exposed, so their horrors are less likely to be repeated,” asserts Minier in the Fresno Bee op-ed.
Minier is a former district attorney of both Madera and Santa Barbara counties, and a retired Superior Court judge.