By Harut Sassounian
The California Courier
I just returned home from two hectic weeks of travel. First, I participated in the Armenia-Diaspora Conference in Yerevan, where I co-chaired a panel on the Centennial of the Armenian Genocide, and spoke in two other panels proposing the formation of a democratically elected Diaspora-wide structure to represent the seven million Armenians residing outside of Armenia and Artsakh.
I then flew to Bucharest, Romania, to join scholars, activists, journalists and clergy from a dozen countries in the first-ever international Armenian Genocide conference.
The always vigilant Turkish Ambassador to Romania went to great lengths to undermine not only the Armenian Genocide conference, organized by the Diocese of the Armenian Church of Romania, but also the inauguration of a Khachkar or Cross Stone dedicated to the Centennial of the Armenian Genocide.
Turkish Ambassador’s efforts failed miserably as the Khachkar was inaugurated as scheduled on Sept. 26, and both the Vice Mayor of Pitesht and Governor of Arjesh attended the ceremony along with other Romanian dignitaries and Genocide conference participants. In fact, when the Ambassador objected to the inauguration of the Khachkar, the Mayor of Pitesht sharply rebuked him by telling him that he has no right to interfere in the internal decisions of a Romanian city!
The Turkish Ambassador next tried to block the international Armenian Genocide conference. Turkey has a major influence over Romania due to a large amount of trade between the two countries. The Ambassador must have been particularly upset by the fact that the Romanian government was funding the Genocide conference. Fortunately, the Ambassador could not disrupt the conference which was held as planned. It was attended by specialists from Armenia, Belgium, Bulgaria, Canada, the Czech Republic, Germany, Greece, Iran, Lebanon, Romania, Syria, and the United States.
The only surprise was the location where the conference participants were staying. As I walked into the Tempo Hotel lobby, I noticed that there were several Turkish newspapers, including Zaman (in Romanian!), on a rack next to the front door. Upon further inspection, I discovered a brochure that described the hotel as being owned by Muslim Turkish Cleric Fethullah Gulen! Even though the hotel was conveniently located just one block from the Armenian Church headquarters in Bucharest, where the conference was being held, some of the Armenian participants felt uncomfortable staying in a Turkish hotel. We wondered how the Turkish hotel owners felt, after discovering that they housed scores of Armenian genocide specialists from around the world!
Curious as to what was being discussed at the conference, the Turkish Embassy had sent two of its employees to take notes which the Turkish Ambassador must have dutifully forwarded to Ankara. Fortunately, there were no unpleasant incidents. The two Turkish diplomats kept a low profile and did not attempt to disrupt the conference. Likewise, none of the Armenian participants attempted to interfere in the work of the Turkish Embassy officials.
In addition to the lecture I delivered at the conference on the subject of “Genocide Recognition or Quest for Justice,” I had the pleasant task of introducing two of my books on the Armenian Genocide in Romanian translation, which were just published by the Diocese of the Armenian Church of Romania. The first book is a collection of one hundred of my columns published in recent years in The California Courier and other newspapers. The 400-page book is titled, “One hundred columns on the occasion of the 100th anniversary of the Armenian Genocide.” My second book, “The Armenian Genocide, Documents and Declarations, the World Speaks Out, 1915-2015,” was also published by the Armenian Diocese in Romanian translation.
Both the Diocese and the Armenian community leaders have an active publication program, having translated into Romanian many important books on the Armenian Genocide, despite the dwindling of the Armenian community due to waves of exodus to Western Europe and North America.
There are two prominent Varujans in the local Armenian community. The first is Senator Varujan Vosganian, President of the Armenian Union of Romania, and Vice President of the Writers Union of Romania. He is a former Minister of Economy and Trade and author of a widely read autobiographical novel on the Armenian Genocide. The second is Varujan Pambuccian, Parliament member and President of National Minorities represented in the Romanian Parliament.
Many of the scholars were in Romania for the first time. They pledged to support the local community’s efforts, particularly on the Centennial of the Armenian Genocide.