By Harut Sassounian
Publisher, The California Courier
Foreshadowing next year’s Centennial commemorative events, the Armenian Genocide issue was discussed for the first time at the UN Security Council on January 29.
Armenia’s Ambassador Garen Nazarian, addressing the main topic of the Security Council session, ‘War, its Lessons, and the Search for a Permanent Peace,’ began his remarks with a subtle hint to Turkey on UN’s peacemaking role: “to forge a deeper reconciliation among peoples, based on a shared narrative and memory of a troubled past. Often this process entails more than simply adopting declarations and resolutions, visiting and laying down flowers at victims’ memorials or signing agreements or protocols and shaking hands. To be lasting, reconciliation may require the settling of the past, recognition and acceptance of responsibility for committed crimes.”
Regarding lessons learned from the Armenian Genocide, Amb. Nazarian specifically mentioned that the “reconciliation process could be delayed for decades or even generations. This was the first modern genocide perpetrated under the cover of the First World War.” Armenia’s representative went on to insist that “ending impunity for heinous mass atrocity crimes is vital for restoring justice and normalcy.”
Amb. Nazarian also outlined the steps necessary for proper reconciliation between nations: “successfully reconciled societies and nations usually undergo an extensive process of restoring justice, including reparations to victims and their heirs in order to re-establish their national dignity and identity. It is also imperative to speak with one voice against the distortion of history, the denial of historical crimes, and negationism.”
In his response, Turkey’s UN representative Halit Cevik, not surprisingly, focused on the future rather than his country’s bloody past. Without realizing that he was condemning his own country, the Turkish delegate insisted that “those responsible for the most serious crimes, crimes against humanity, genocide, and war crimes, must be held accountable.” Amb. Cevik then went on to repeat his government’s worn-out denials, claiming that “allegations of genocide regarding the 1915 events have never been legally or historically substantiated. In this same vein, there is neither political nor legal consensus as to the nature of those events…. We believe that deriving animosity from history by trying to imprint on others an incriminating and one-sided view of the past, and calling for selective compassion, is not the proper way of respecting the memory of many Turks, Armenians, and others who lost their lives during the First World War. It is therefore important to face history in its entirety, and through impartial scientific examination of historical records and archives, so that the right lessons may be drawn from history and the common fair memory can be reached.”
Amb. Nazarian, in his right of reply, expressed deep regret to hear the Turkish representative’s “distorted explanations about the undeniable fact of the Armenian Genocide which took the lives of 1.5 million Armenian children, women and men living in the Ottoman Empire during the regime of Young Turks…. It began on April 24, 1915, and went on until 1923 — the systematic and planned slaughter of the entire nation.”
Describing in detail the deportations and massacres culminating in genocide, Amb. Nazarian asserted that “this crime has been recognized by a number of [UN] member states and international organizations, including the United Nations and its subsidiary body — the Sub-Commission on Prevention of Discrimination and Protection of Minorities.
In a second reply to Amb. Nazarian, Turkey’s representative became more subtle in his denialism: “We did not say that nothing happened in 1915. These events do not fit in the description of genocide which was defined in the [UN] Convention of 1948. Now, an Armenian delegation is raising that the 1915 events are genocide in the absence of any resolution or any decision of the International Court. So how do you expect us…,” before he could finish his statement, his cell phone rang, interrupting him in mid-sentence.
It is very likely that more such confrontations will take place with Turkey leading up to the Centennial of the Armenian Genocide. Turkish officials do not seem to realize that the more they deny and counter the Armenian activities, the more they help publicize the Genocide and the just demands of the Armenian people. Meanwhile, thanks to the Turkish delegation’s two responses to Amb. Nazarian statements, the Armenian Genocide was extensively discussed at the UN Security Council for the first time ever.