20th Anniversary of Their Unfettered Commitment Twenty years ago–on July 27–the words of German philosopher Kant suddenly provided insight to the news that Armenia’s had seized the Turkish Ambassador’s residence in Lisbon.
The siege began at around 10:30AM–followed by three explosions that rocked the residence at 11:00AM–11:30AM and 1:30PM; shortly thereafter–we would soon discover that five young Armenian men–Sarkis Aprahamian–Setrag Ajemian–Vache Daghlian–Simon Yeghneian and Ara Karjelian–were on a mission. One had already lost his life in a shootout with police earlier as they arrived at the complex. And at 2:00PM–the charred bodies of the other four men were discovered in the building.
We later learned–through their communiqus–that having abandoned all hope for Turkey to resolve the issue of the Armenian genocide through dialogue and peaceful means–the five had decided to "force Turkey into accepting to negotiate with the Armenian people to solve the Armenian problem."
They apologized to Portuguese authorities for violating the law and disrupting the order of the country. "We had no other choice," they said.
Can we understand today their level of frustration and their drive for justice? A July 29–1983 editorial in the Christian Science Monitor perhaps clarifies the source of their frustration.
"One key aspect of the question is that there is no documented historical account of the period in which the mass killing took place. . . So this period is largely a blank for historians–who have had to rely on accounts of those Armenia’s who survived and fled. It would be as if the history of World War II were written without German materials," it wrote–ignoring the myriad of documen’s recorded by foreign diplomats and missionaries who witnessed the Genocide.
The five would come to be known as "The Lisbon 5." Some appreciated and embraced their call for the "full application and preservation of human rights for all." Perhaps the times dictated their actions. Others–Armenia’s and non-Armenia’s abhorred the act characterizing it as a maniacal deed.
"Hard as it might be to follow their reasoning–we must try to understand them. They probably want to represent a national symbol with dual significance: first–a challenge to Armenian communities–saying "Look how we disdain all the things which paralyze you on the road of a just struggle–life’s pleasures and even life itself;" and to Western governmen’s–saying ‘Don’t think you can easily be saved from a situation which has given birth to the likes of us who can do anything,’" wrote the July 27–1983 edition of France’s "Liberation."
Though times have changed and our methods of campaigning for Genocide recognition have surely changed–one thing remains the same. Recall less than two years ago the declaration of then Turkish Armenian Reconciliation Commission (TARC) member Ozdem Sanberk during the 22nd annual Assembly of Turkish American Association (ATAA) convention in Washington–DC: "Turkey will never ever recognize the [Armenian] Genocide for the simple reason that it didn’t happen."
It is impossible to now experience the haplessness of the Lisbon 5. We have come a long way since then. Our country has gained independence–and the "Tebi Yergir" phenomenon no longer incites the same passions as it once did. Furthermore–Armenia’s foreign policy now includes the international recognition of the Armenian Genocide. We stood up for what is ours in the Mountainous Karabagh Republic (MKR); Shushi was been liberated; MKR will surely soon be recognized by the international community.
At the same time–we cannot afford to abandon the spirit that the five men embodied and their utter dedication to seek what is just. And even though we are now empowered with tools with which to pressure the international community–their passion for and commitment to the recognition of the Armenian Genocide nevertheless remained unparalleled.
Kant’s words were–"When justice has disappeared–human life is worth nothing." Sarkis–Setrag–Vache–Simon and Ara understood; after all–they wrote: "We have lost almost everything–even our identity."
We must make it our duty to continue the battle that the five started. A lot can change in twenty years–especially in the twenty to come. – MH