THE ARMENIAN GENOCIDE: CRIME AND PUNISHMENT
– AUGUST 6, 2013
A Commentary by Z. S. Andrew Demirdjian, Ph.D.
Last week I read an interesting article in the USA Armenian Life
Magazine in which Mr. Aghvan Hovsepyan, the Armenian Prosecutor
General, had stated at a conference of lawyers that the Republic of
Armenia should have its lost territories returned and the victims of
the Armenian Genocide should receive restitution.
Mr. Harut Sassounian, the publisher of The California Courier, had
his weekly column devoted to the same topic. The title of his column,
“In Major Policy Shift, Armenia Demands Lands from Turkey”, made
me think ruefully as to why we have lost so much valuable time to
“demand” now our “stolen” homeland and properties from Turkey.
Why have we waited so long after the crime of the century was
committed? We have wailed and waited almost a hundred painful years
to demand restitution for the crime perpetrated by the Ottoman Turks.
Mr. Appo Jabarian, the Executive Publisher and Managing Editor of
the USA Armenian Life Magazine, have on many occasions reminded our
young Armenians of our national loss by putting President Woodrow
Wilson’s picture on the cover of his magazine, pointing to a map of
Western Armenia and proclaiming “These lands belong to Armenia.” Our
self-appointed leaders, however, paid no heed to rally the Armenians
to officially, legally demand Western Armenia and Cilicia from Turkey.
Since the First World War, there has been a number of international
courts established with the purpose of adjudicating cases such as
the crime against the Armenians. We have miserably failed to take
advantage of those opportunities when the world media, including
that of the USA, were hypercritical of the Ottoman Turks’ crime and
destruction of the Armenian nation.
As you know, a crime is a forbidden act, punished by law because it
naturally harms a society or injures its members.
The type of act that constitutes a crime varies from culture to
culture, changing as societies and attitudes develop.
Sometimes, there is a cultural divergence in regards to crime. For
example, in some parts of the Middle East, it is a crime to drink
alcohol, but a man may have more than one wife. In the United States,
on the other hand, alcohol consumption is not illegal, but having
more than one wife is against the law.
Often there is also a cultural convergence when it comes to certain
acts of crime. For instance, in killing cats, the ancient Egyptians
honored cats as sacred animals, depicting them in paintings and
sculptures. As a result, killing a cat was considered a serious crime.
The punishment was usually instant execution.
In the Western World, however, killing a cat would not constitute
a serious crime, but it would be cruelty to animals, which would be
punishable with a prison term.
Of the types of crimes, some acts such as murder and theft, have been
crimes in all civilized societies around the world for thousands
of years and are known as “malum in se” (the Latin phrase for bad
Other crimes, such as driving a car without license plates, are
“malum prohibitum” (bad because the law says they are).
As you well know, crimes are not limited to killing a person. There is
also crime against property. Various laws exist to protect people’s
right to own property. It is a criminal act to take or damage the
property of another against the owner’s wishes. Examples of such
crimes include theft, usurpation, forgery, arson, and vandalism.
The Ottoman Turks have killed Armenians. It is a crime by international
code of ethics and law. The Ottoman Turks have usurped the properties
of many Armenians. This, too, is a criminal act. The Ottoman Turks
have “stolen”(a gentle euphemism for captured) Western Armenia and
Cilicia. This is by definition another act of crime.
Crime and punishment are the two sides of the same coin. One cannot
exist without the other.
Armenians have followed the either or strategy instead of
multidimensional approach to restitution. In hind sight, we should
have multi-tasked on both fronts: recognition and restitution.
Instead, the question of restitution have been put on a back burner
for so long despite the fact that we have so many highly educated,
highly trained attorneys to take Turkey to international courts for
restitution for our lost or captured lands and properties.
Armenians have been consumed with the pursuit of making their Genocide
recognized by the international community. It is understandable
since they have suffered death and destruction the likes of which
the civilized world had not seen. For almost a century of relentless
and arduous campaigning, we have now 21 states that have officially
recognized the events of 1915 as genocide. The Armenians should
feel proud of their Diaspora political parties for their great
accomplishments. We wish them Godspeed.
Our activists and especially our attorneys have focused their efforts
on proving that a crime had been committed to the magnitude of
genocide. To garner support, they had to appeal to the parliaments
of many nations for the recognition of the Genocide-to the neglect
of seeking “punishment” as well for the crime of the century.
Through the usual tactics of laying economic sanctions by threatening
to sever business and political ties, Turks have succeeded in
intimidating many governments not to recognize the crime as genocide.
A great example is the United States, while 42 States have recognized
the Genocide, the US Congress has repeatedly denied the recognition
of the crime as genocide.
Turks even have made countries like Bulgaria, Hungary, Serbia and
many others who had been once under the yoke of the Ottoman Turks
to abstain, to remain silent about the Armenian Genocide -despite
the fact that these countries once have experienced atrocities and
massacres at the hand of the Ottoman Turks.
Why have we not followed a multidimensional approach to the Armenian
Cause right after the emergence of international courts? Perhaps the
following opinions will attempt to explain some of the reasons behind
1. Eastern Armenia was in the sphere of influence of the Soviet
Union which chose to remain on good terms with Turkey. Therefore,
they stopped Soviet Armenia from claiming our lands and restitution
2. After the Genocide, survivors were dispersed in many foreign
counties, which forced them to work for a living under difficult
conditions such as dealing with different languages and customs. The
survivors’ descendants had also to work hard to pursue a career
3. Another reason could be apathy, anomie, or hopelessness that
Turkey has been a major force and Armenians don’t stand a ghost of
a chance to get an inch from the super nationalist Ankara. Anything
short of resorting to military force would be next to impossible. So,
let the bygones be bygones.
4. The Diaspora lacked a worldwide organization to mobilize the
Armenian activists and attorneys to demand our lands and properties
through the international courts. Concerted efforts spell synergy
and without political clout a crime goes unpunished.
Focusing almost exclusively on recognition of the Genocide has been
the gravest mistake of our self-appointed leaders who failed to have
the presence of mind to see power in numbers by getting organized
It is by no means water over the dam, though. It is better late than
never as the old adage goes. There is a light at the end of the tunnel
for when it comes to a crime against humanity it is not subject to
any statute of limitation. The passage of time of almost a century
should not discourage us from demanding our lands and properties.
We need to venture in order to regain at least part of what was
“stolen” from the Armenian nation. With unity, we can rise to the
challenge and sooner or later our new generation will prevail over