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January 2015 – Armenian Cause Foundation

Spain’s Burjassot city recognizes Armenian Genocide

( The municipal council of Burjassot city of Spain has approved a motion recognizing the Armenian Genocide.

The motion was presented by Compromis party, the press service of the Armenian Foreign Ministry reports.

The motion said that this year marks the centenary of the Armenian Genocide – the first genocide of the 20th century. “In 1915-1921 massacres and deportations of Armenians occurred in the territory of present-day Turkey, in particular under the rule of Young Turks, as a result of which 1.5 million Armenians died and about 2 million were forced to leave their homes, creating a large Armenian Diaspora”.

Tal y como señala la moción:

“este año se cumplen 100 años del genocidio armenio, considerado como el primer genocidio del siglo XX. Entre los años 1915 y 1921 tuvieron lugar un conjunto de masacres y deportaciones de la población armenia del actual territorio de Turquía, especialmente durante el régimen de los Jóvenes Turcos, en el que murieron un millón y medio de armenios y otros dos millones tuvieron que abandonar sus casas”,

ECHR Holds Hearing on Genocide Denial (Detailed Report)

( STRASBOURG (A.W.)—The European Court of Human Rights (ECHR) held a Grand Chamber hearing on Jan. 28, in the case of Dogu Perincek v. Switzerland. The case stems from a Swiss court verdict that in 2007 fined Perincek, a Turkish ultranationalist activist and chairman of Turkey’s Workers’ Party, over his 2005 statement calling the Armenian Genocide an “international lie.” In appealing to the ECHR, Perincek’s defense argued that the Swiss court violated Perincek’s right to freedom of expression; the court ruled in their favor in 2013. On March 7, 2014, Switzerland filed an appeal, which led to today’s hearing.

The Armenian legal team was comprised of Armenia’s Prosecutor General Gevorg Kostanyan, and attorneys Geoffrey Ronald Robertson and Amal Alamuddin Clooney.

In his statements, Robertson said that Perincek is “a genocide denial forum shopper,” and that “He seeks out countries in Europe where he can be convicted and by so doing promote himself and his perverse view of history.” Robertson also referred to Perincek as a “vexatious litigant” and a “pest.”

A mere ‘opinion’

Mehmet Cengiz, representing Dogu Perincek, presented before the court first, and argued that Perincek’s motives were not of a racist nature, but that his statements were in essence a legal assessment of the “1915 events.”

“Dr. Perincek made a legal assessment. He did not ignore the massacres and the deportations; he did not deny the actus reus of the 1915 events. The dispute between the parties concerns the legal definition of the tragic events that took place a hundred years ago in the Ottoman Empire. Mr. Perincek defends that these events cannot be defined as a crime of genocide. Perincek rejects the judicial qualifications of the events as genocide and bases his opinions on the 1948 UN genocide convention,” said Cengiz, who also claimed that there is no consensus on the genocide. “Mr. Perincek made similar statements in both Germany and France and did not face similar charges,” he said.

Cengiz argued that Perincek had no racial motives, having spent his life countering racism. “You can seek many motivations, many intents… but even if you sought for 1,000 years, you won’t find a racist intent because Dr. Perincek has spent his lifetime fighting against racism, this is why he has served 14 years in prison… Take a look at his files: in every case he fought against racism.”

Perincek, on the other hand, spoke about “Europe’s tradition and heritage of liberty.” “Freedom of expression means liberty for different, even deviating opinions, and freedom is needed for those who oppose the status quo. If circulating opinions and prejudices cannot be discussed then there is no freedom,” said Perincek, adding, “We need to make sure we rid ourselves from the negative effects of judgements, opinions, which dates back to the First World War. The consciousness, the thinking of the Europeans about the event of 1915 should not be surrounded and besieged by prohibitions. Let us secure the freedom to access the truth.”

Perincek also spoke about “90 kilos” of documents that his team submitted to the court as evidence in an attempt to prove why the Armenian Genocide should not be labeled as such.

Perincek spoke about “the pain” he “shares” with the Armenian people, while claiming that massacres and forced deportations were “mutual” in the Ottoman Empire.

“Let us protect peace and brotherhood in Europe, in Turkey. The accusation of the Armenian Genocide has turned into a taboo, it’s turned into a tool to discriminate against Turkish people, to humiliate Turks,” said Perincek, adding, “Today Turks and Muslims are the black people of Europe. Let also the oppressed ones defend themselves.”

Until two days before the hearing, Perincek was under a travel ban due to an ongoing Ergenekon related case against him. The Istanbul 4th High Criminal Court lifted the travel ban on Jan. 26. “Now, the [next step] is [for] the historical case in Strasbourg to finalize the lie of Armenian genocide,” read a statement released by the socialist Workers’ Party, which Perincek chairs, reported Turkish sources.

Christian Laurent Pech, also representing Perincek, said the trial was not about whether the proper characterization of what happened to the Armenians in 1915 is genocide. “In these troubled times, we find it important to recall that one of the main purposes of freedom of expression is to protect opinions that might not be popular whether in Switzerland, Turkey or elsewhere,” he said.

Stefan Talmon, representing the government of Turkey, argued that Perincek was merely sharing an opinion, which is not the same as targeting a certain group of people. “Calling something an ‘international lie’ is not the same as calling a certain group of persons ‘liars,’ as such, it has no racial connotation,” said Talmon.

A ‘well-reasoned’ judgment

Representing the government of Switzerland, Frank Schurmann laid out reasons why his government believes that the Swiss court handed down “well-reasoned judgments reaching a perfectly justifiable result.” He argued that the lower court in reaching its verdict ignored the context in which Perincek’s statements were uttered. He forcefully argued that victims of genocidal crimes, as well as their descendants, deserve to have their rights legally protected from statements that were an assault on their human dignity.

“It is not denial per se which warrants punishment, but the hate and discriminatory intent that must also be present,” argued Schurmann. “Let us also recall the applicant’s identification with Talaat Pasha, one of the instigators of the fact in issue, found guilty by the court martial of the Ottoman Empire,” he said, and cited the intervention offered to the court in favor of Armenia by Turkish human rights organizations, which helped further place Perincek’s statements into a larger context.

Professor Daniel Thurer also spoke on behalf of the Swiss government, providing further arguments and in support of the Swiss court’s position.

Genocide denial can have ‘double impact’

Armenia’s Prosecutor General Gevorg Kostanyan presented the history of the Armenian Genocide and introduced Geoffrey Robertson QC to address the Grand Chamber. Robertson, who is representing Armenia on behalf of Doughty Street Chambers along with human rights barrister, Amal Clooney, provided the court with an in-depth historical background of the Armenian Genocide and warned about the dangers of genocide denial.

“Genocide denial can have double impact. It can make genocide survivors and their children and grandchildren feel the worthlessness and contempt and inferiority that the initial perpetrators intended,” said Robertson, adding that denial can incite, “admirations for those perpetrators and a dangerous desire to emulate them.”

While there was much debate from Perincek’s counsel that the defendant did not have discriminatory intentions, Robertson reminded the Grand Chamber that the Swiss court had, in fact, decided that Perincek’s motives were racist, and that “his words in the Turkish language were designed to arouse his supporters in Turkey to hate Armenians and to applaud his hero Talaat Pasha, the Ottoman Hitler.” Robertson made it clear that Perincek traveled to Switzerland with the purpose of being convicted; something that he had tried doing in France, Germany, and most recently in Greece.

According to Robertson, the denial of the Armenian Genocide is inherently insulting to all Armenians. While he called the Holocaust an “appalling example of the worst of crimes against humanity,” he stated that it is wrong to excuse or to minimize other mass murders on the grounds of race and religion because they have fewer victims or different methods of killing. “What matters to Armenians, and Jews, and Bosnians, and Bengalis to Rwandan Tutsis and today, Yezidis, is not the manner of their death or whether an international court has convicted the perpetrators, but the fact that they were targeted as unfit to live because they were Jews or Armenians or Yezidis,” he explained.

Clooney offered further historical background on the Armenian genocide, citing that, “the most important error by the court below is that it cast doubt on the reality of the Armenian Genocide that the people suffered a hundred years ago.” She argued that this finding on the genocide was not necessary in the case, that it was reached without a proper forensic process, and most importantly, that it was wrong.

“This court is not the forum and Mr. Perincek is not the case in which to determine state responsibility for the crime of genocide. But if this chamber were minded to make such a judicial determination, then Armenia must have its day in court. We would, in that case, welcome the opportunity to submit evidence, which we consider to be overwhelming, that the massacres that killed over a million Armenians would today be labelled as genocide,” said Clooney.

Clooney went on to criticize Turkey’s track record on violations of freedom of expression, calling it “disgraceful.” Speaking to the Grand Chamber, she outlined how the European Court of Human Rights had found against the Turkish government in 224 separate cases on freedom of expression grounds. She then made a reference to Hrant Dink who was prosecuted by Turkey and assassinated by a Turkish nationalist in 2007: “although this case involves a Turkish citizen, Armenia has every interest in ensuring that its own citizens do not get caught in the net that criminalizes freedom of speach too broadly and the family of Mr. Hrant Dink know that all too well.”

Clooney concluded her remarks by pointing out that Perincek and his colleagues on the Talaat Pasha Committee, a committee named after the principal perpetrator of the Armenian Genocide and deemed to be xenophobic by the European Parliament, “celebrated the judgement in its current terms, and triumphantly complained that it has solved the Armenian question once and for all.” According to Clooney, the comments on the lower court judgement, “dishonor the memory of the Armenians who perished under the Ottoman Empire a century ago and assist those who will deny the genocide and incite racial hatred and violence,” expressing hope that the chamber would, “set the record straight.”

Comments, protests

Bedo Demirdjian, Communications and PR officer for the European Armenian Federation for Justice and Democracy (EAFJD), said that “denial of Genocide, inciting hate and making racist comments in Europe are not a right, but are crimes that should be punished accordingly.” EAFJD was involved in a supporting role to one of the third parties that intervened on behalf of Armenia.

Demirdjian, who followed the court hearings in Strasbourg, said that “Perincek’s defense tried to confuse the court by saying that he doesn’t refute the massacres of Armenians; acknowledges the pain suffered; and [argues] that Turks have also been killed, [which is why] we cannot give the Genocide [that] characterization. This is unacceptable to us: equating the victim and perpetrator. This is the official line of the Turkish state to whitewash their crime.”

Speaking to Yerkir Media a day before the trial, ARF Bureau member Mourad Papazian said, “We don’t think that the ECHR will side with Perincek and Turkey because truth is on our side.”

According to police, hundreds of Turkish protestors gathered outside the courthouse, carrying Turkish and Azeri flags, portraits of Ataturk, and banners. Some began cheering as Perincek emerged from the court.

“The protestors were primarily Turkish nationalists, Kemalists, and Perincek-sympathisers, who had come to the court in busses. In reality, their protest does not present any real value to the case, since their voices were not heard inside the court,” said Papazian, who is also the chairman of the Co-ordination Council of Armenian organizations of France (CCAF), and had attended the trial.

Armenian organizational representatives from across Europe as well as dozens of Armenians also gathered in front of the Human Rights Court building, calling for an end to genocide denial.

To watch the full video of the hearing, click here.

Photo: EAFJD

Israel President implicitly recognizes Armenian Genocide during General Assembly Holocaust memorial

Haaretz – Israel President Reuven Rivlin told the UN General Assembly on Wednesday that “cynical” accusations against Israel of genocide and war crimes harm the world body’s ability to fight the real thing. Speaking at the assembly’s ceremony marking International Holocaust Remembrance Day, Rivlin mentioned the 1915 Armenian Genocide – the killing of more than one million Armenian nationals by Turkey – which is not recognized as genocide by Israel.

Israel President Reuven Rivlin addressing UN General Assembly
Israel President Reuven Rivlin addressing UN General Assembly

Rivlin called on the United Nations to set red lines beyond which it would intervene to stop acts of genocide. He then said:”At the same time we must remember that the setting of red lines requires us to stop diluting and cynically exploiting them in the name of pseudo objectivity, as is done in the rhetoric of human rights with the use of terms such as ‘genocide’ for political purposes.”

Citing the “disgraceful” UN resolution, later struck down, that equated Zionism with “its greatest enemy” racism, Rivlin continued:

“Nonetheless, absurd comparisons such as this one, which we as Israelis are exposed to constantly… not only confuse the ally with the enemy, but they undermine this house’s ability to effectively fight the phenomenon of genocide.”

In his introduction, delivered in English, Rivlin called attention to the current clashes in the north, saying they represented Israel’s fight against the global challenge of “terrorism.”

“I stand before you at a time of great tension in our region. My heart and my thoughts are with my people in Israel. Terrorism does not distinguish between blood. In this war, all of us, all the nations united, countries of the free world, must form a united front,” Rivlin said.

He delivered the body of his speech in Hebrew – “the same language in which my fellow Jews cried ‘Shma Yisrael’ as they were marched to the gas chambers. The language of my brothers and sisters, whose memory we honor today.”

Genocide Education Project Establishes Course at University of Rhode Island

( KINGSTON, I.R.—The University of Rhode Island is offering “The Armenian Experience: History and Culture,” a course on Armenian history, at its Kingston campus for the spring 2015 semester, beginning Jan. 26.

As part of its “GenEd-HigherEd” initiative, The Genocide Education Project Rhode Island branch co-chairs, Pauline Getzoyan and Esther Kalajian, developed and proposed the honors seminar course, which went through a rigorous approval process by the university during the fall semester. Getzoyan and Kalajian will teach the course, which will focus on diasporan studies as they relate to the Armenian experience. Topics will include an understanding of genocide and the implications of genocide on culture, identity, and religion.

The course will include a robust offering of guest speakers, including author Chris Bohjalian and filmmaker Talin Avakian, who will speak about “Literature and Film: An Author’s and Filmmaker’s Responsibility to Truth – Exploring history, fiction, and non-fiction;” Tom Zorabedian, Assistant Dean of the URI College of Arts and Sciences and the Harrington School of Communication and Media; Dr. Catherine Sama, professor of Italian at URI, who will speak about Armenians in the diaspora with a focus on Italy and about the subject of genocide in Italian literature and film; George Aghjayan and author/professor Marian MacCurdy, who will be part of a panel discussing “The Aftermath of Genocide: the Issue of Denial and Justice Specific to the Armenian Genocide;” Berge Zobian, owner of Gallery/Studio Z in Providence, RI, who will introduce the students to Armenian art and architecture, pre- and post-Genocide; and Charles Kalajian, who will introduce the students to Armenian musical instruments and the aural tradition of learning music, with assistance from Ken Kalajian and Leon Janikian.

“This course, which coincides with the 100th anniversary of the Armenian Genocide, is the realization of a ten-year-long dream for us, as genocide education advocates in the state of Rhode Island,” said Pauline Getzoyan. “Through this course, we intend to convey to students the many layers of history and social experience surrounding the Armenian Genocide and its aftermath. In doing so, we not only honor the memory of the victims, but we seek to help students make more informed choices as they become global citizens confronted with related issues.”

Funding for the course’s guest speakers is being generously provided by the National Association for Armenian Studies and Research (NAASR), Varnum Paul Fund. Additional financial support is generously provided by The Ararat Association of Rhode Island. URI Music Department chair, Joseph Parillo, is credited with promoting the development of the course within the university.

The Genocide Education Project is a nonprofit, tax-exempt 501(c)(3) organization that assists educators in teaching about human rights and genocide, particularly the Armenian Genocide, by developing and distributing instructional materials, providing access to teaching resources and organizing educational workshops.

ACO Releases Statement on Armenian Genocide

The Action Chrétienne en Orient (ACO) Fellowship released the following statement calling on its member churches to devote one Sunday in 2015 to the commemoration of the Armenian Genocide.

The Action Chrétienne en Orient was originally created to provide assistance to the victims of the genocide that struck the Armenian people at the beginning of the 20th century. Pastor Paul Berron, from Alsace, was a direct witness to the terrible sufferings, and he began his assistance in Aleppo in 1922. Since that moment, this work of solidarity between Eastern and Western Christians has continued and expanded.*

In 1995 in Kessab, Syria, those who continued and expanded Pastor Berron’s work gathered in a Fellowship, developing a community in which Lebanese, Syrian, Iranian, Swiss, Dutch, and French partners met on an equal basis.

Twenty years after the creation of this Fellowship, our community wishes to remember the Armenian Genocide and the Chaldean-Assyrian Massacre, which began on April 24, 1915, just one century ago. The Turkish government still denies the existence of this genocide.

We do not wish for vengeance or revenge and we welcome the work of Turkish citizens, be they journalists, philosophers, historians, who no longer want to obscure these dark pages of the history of their country.

When a group, a government, a society, wants to eliminate another human group only because of its religious, cultural, or ethnic identity, it is genocide. And this is the worst crime against humanity. For, when one part of humanity decides that another part is not allowed to exist in this world, all of humanity is attacked, and its anthropological unity is denied. Our Christian faith gives us the conviction that every human being is created by God; that Christ gave his life and rose for him/her and so s/he is called to live the fullness of life, to receive forgiveness and to be loved. It is not up to one human being to decide whether life is worth living or not.

The 20th century has known other genocides. And until now, religious minorities in the Middle East have to suffer because of awful violence against them. ACO-Fellowship finds that this Centenary should not be a mere commemoration of tragic events of the past but a call for vigilance against any speech that aims at excluding from the human community one of its components. Such speech must be fought and firmly rejected.

With people of goodwill, from all origins, in the name of the victims’ inalienable dignity, the ACO Fellowship wants to be a witness to what happened then, which broke so many human lives. It also wants to be a witness to Christ, who calls the whole of humanity to a reconciled life.

The ACO-Fellowship invites all its member churches, as well as other churches and local communities in the Middle East and in the western countries, to devote one Sunday to the Commemoration of this event in 2015, either around April 24 or on the traditional Day of the Golden Rule (the 2nd Advent), or at any other moment according to each community’s own wish and pace.

On behalf of the Executive Committee of the ACO Fellowship,
Rev. Thomas Wild, General Secretary
Evangelical Synod of Iran
Union of Armenian Evangelical Churches in the Near East
Action Chrétienne en Orient, France
National Evangelical Synod of Syria and Lebanon
DM-échange et mission, Switzerland
GZB, Netherland

*In 1995, ACO-France worked in the Middle East with the National Evangelical Synod of Syria and Lebanon (NESSL), the Union of Armenian Evangelical Churches in the Near East (UAECNE), and the Evangelical Synod of Iran; in Europe, with the Dutch churches through the missionary body called GZB, and with the French-speaking Swiss churches through their missionary department, called DM-échange et mission.