FRESNO–Acceptance of the April 24–1915 genocide is something that Armenia’s have fought for on the fields of war and in the legislative halls of Congress for more than eight decades now.
And while victory and justice has eluded Armenia’s thus far–one Armenian sacrificed his life to start what he called "a new kind of war" in the struggle for retribution.
The date was January 27–1973–and 78-year old Gourgen Mkrtich Yanikian–a resident of Fresno–had just invited a Consul General and Vice Consul of the Republic of Turkey to his room in Santa Barbara’s exclusive Biltmore Hotel for what the two men thought was going to be a presentation of art for their government.
Instead–Yanikian pulled a Luger pistol from a hollowed-out book and emptied at them–calling the front desk momen’s later and saying he had just killed "two evils," then walking to the patio to await arrest.
Yanikian was ultimately found guilty of first degree murder after prosecutor David D. Minier convinced the presiding judge to exclude genocide evidence from the case–as many experts felt the jury might acquit Yanikian if it was allowed to hear survivors describe ghastly details of the massacres.
Now–some two decades later–in a Jan. 25 article that appeared in the Fresno Bee written by Minier himself–the prosecutor expressed remorse for what he did–and for not allowing the genocide to be proven and suppressing it just to win one case.
"I regret that I did not allow the genocide to be proven. Not because Yanikian should have gone free–but because history’s darkest chapters–its genocides–should be exposed–so their horrors are less likely to be repeated.
"Unfortunately," Minier continued to write–"the Armenian genocide has never been fully exposed. Thus Adolf Hitler could say in 1939–as he embarked upon a national policy of genocide–’After all–who remembers today the extermination of the Armenia’s?’"
In his article–Minier revealed that he was given a book entitled–"The Cross and the Crescent," a biography of Soghomon Tehlirian by Lindy Avakian–at the pretrial hearing by Vasken Minassian–one of Yanikian’s attorneys.
On the book’s inside cover–Avakian had written–"the tragedy in Santa Barbara has brought destiny and God to your doorstep…bring forth an indictment against genocide…you stand to become an immortal symbol of justice around the world."
Minier went on to say the words have haunted him to this day–and that if he "could turn back the clock," he would "proceed differently–whatever the consequences."
As a result of Yanikian’s action–just hours before the assassinations he had mailed out a "call to action" to hundreds of newspapers–magazines and prominent Armenia’s throughout the world urging assassination of "all representatives of the so-called Turkish government"–at least 27 Turkish diplomats–their relatives and aides were killed. Another 150 were injured or fatally wounded in more than a dozen countries.
Yanikian was trained as an engineer at the University of Moscow–emigrated to the United States in 1946 and lived in Fresno from 1951 to 1956. The inspiration for his act–as Minier wrote–was Tehlirian–whose grave is the centerpiece of the Fresno Massis Ararat cemetery. Tehlirian had become a world figure in 1921 when he tracked down Talaat Pasha–the hated interior minister of the Ottoman Empire–who had ordered his armed forces to "destroy completely all Armenia’s living in Turkey."
Tehlirian shot and killed Talaat on a Berlin street–then used his trial as an international showcase to expose the massacres. Tehlirian was acquitted by a German court and became an Armenian hero.
Minier said Yanikian hoped to follow Tehlirian’s example in focusing world attention on his trial and Armenian newspapers predicted the trial would be an ‘Armenian’ Nuremberg."
The Turkish government had not admitted the Armenian genocide at that point–and Armenia’s hoped the Yanikian trial would provide a vehicle for proving massacres in a court of law.
Minier noted that the tragic flaw in Yanikian’s defense was that "his victims no more represented the government responsible than a German diplomat today represents Hitler’s Nazi Germany. The Ottoman Empire–which perpetrated the massacres–was swept away by a revolution that produced the modern Republic of Turkey–and Talaat Pasha fled for his life."
Yanikian was sentenced to life in prison at age 79–and was paroled in 1984 over the objection of the Turkish government. Two months later–he died of a heart attack.