A Detailed Account of the Armenian Genocide Reparations Conference

WESTWOOD, Calif–On Saturday, October 23, the International Human Rights Law Association (IHRLA) at the University of California, Los Angeles hosted a conference entitled, “Genocide and Then What? The Law, Ethics, and Politics of Making Amends” at Dodd Hall.

The event featured speakers from across the world to discuss a soon to be released report about the foundations for pursuing justice for the Armenian Genocide. The report was authored by Dr. Alfred de Zayas (Geneva School of Diplomacy and International Relations), Dr. Jermaine McCalpin (University of the West Indies), former Ambassador Ara Papian (treaty law specialist), and Dr. Henry Theriault (Worcester State University). below is a detailed account of the conference.

Panel 1 – The Armenian Genocide Reparations Study Group

  • Dr. Alfred De Zayas, Esq., Geneva School of Diplomacy International Relations
  • Ambassador Ara Papian
  • Dr. Henry Theriault, Worcester State University
  • Dr. Jermaine McCalpin, University of the West Indies

The first panel introduced the report and discussed it details. Dr. Alfred de Zayas opened the first panel outlining the legal foundation for restitutional justice for the Armenian Genocide. He noted that the rights to restitution for the Armenian Genocide are based on general international law in force at the time of the crime and recognized by treaty following the genocide.

His presentation quoted a litany of international laws and principles which form the foundation for a strong claim to restitution. Furthermore he drew on comparisons of United States, Australian, and German efforts to redress injustices against the people of Hawaii (over 100 years ago), the Aborigines, and targets of World War 2 aggression, respectively.

Acknowledging that the lack of execution of the law remains an obstacle to justice and reconciliation, De Zayas noted “Law, ladies and gentlemen, is not mathematics. And the norms—as good as they may look on paper—are certainly not equivalent to their enforcement. On the other hand, the non-enforcement of norms, even for a prolonged period of time, does not detract from their validity. And you should not be discouraged because of the reluctance of some journalists and politicians to endorse your claims. It is your right to continue pressing the claims until they are satisfied.”

Carrying the discussion into the realm of treaty law, former Ambassador Ara Papian discussed the different levels of reparations; individual, group/organizations, and the nation or state.

Focusing on the post-genocide arbitration by then U.S. President Woodrow Wilson, Papian pointed out that the arbitration was an act of state which was signed by the President in addition to the U.S. Secretary of State and sealed with the Great Seal of the United States. “Wilsonian Armenia,” as it was known, was legally a territory of Armenia for ten days.

“Even though Armenia never de-facto gained control of the territory, legally speaking, it was a part of it,” stated Papian who went on to note that the continued pursuit of the arbitration ended because Armenia ceased to be an independent state when it was absorbed into the emerging Soviet Union.

With de Zayas and Papian having established the legal and political foundation for restitutional justice for the Armenian Genocide, Dr. Henry Theriault focused on addressing why justice should be pursued and why does it matter today.

Theriault noted that instead of being a geographically larger country with a population over 20 million and regional engagement rivaling Syria, Iraq and other countries in the area, the end result of the genocide left Armenians today with a small, land-locked country in which the impact, both communally and individually, is felt to this day.

He noted that this is not only acknowledged within the Armenian community, but also the Turkish community as evidenced by a recent conference in Ankara which examined the economic fallout of the genocide. The Turkish economy of today is a result of and many affluent Turkish families can trace back their financial wealth to the Armenian Genocide.

“The Armenian Genocide was an attempt for a very successful process by which the emerging Young Turk movement expropriated a tremendous amount of wealth from Armenians,” noted Theriault.

Theriault continued by noting that the intense poverty in Armenia relates to the extraction of resources nearly a century ago. Not only property and wealth were lost, but people were lost who could have made tremendous contribution to sciences and culture. Therefore, Turkey has enriched itself based on the loss of the Armenians.

Theriault acknowledged that there were many naysayers who believe restitutional justice is not possible. Some argue that too long has passed, but Theriault pointed out that a “pipedream can become a reality overnight. Nobody thought an independent Armenia was possible.” “To get things to change, we have to change them even though before the change they seem impossible,” he added.

Rounding out the first panel was Dr. Jermaine McCalpin, a transitional justice specialist who has studied post-Apartheid reconciliation in South Africa, U.S. Slavery reparations, and the Armenian Genocide.

McCalpin noted that most countries that democratize use truth commissions as part of the process. However, these he noted that given past examples of successful reconciliation processes, justice is a necessary component, saying that “in order for groups to reconcile, there has to be basis for justice, both material and moral.”

Touching on the subject of ethics and intergenerational responsibility, McCalpin stated that “just as wealth can be transferred across generations, responsibilities and obligations are also transferable.”

The first panel of the conference concluded with members of the audience asking questions of the presenters and setting the stage for the remaining panels of the day. These panels further explored the legal, ethical, political, and real numbers with regard to the Armenian Genocide and efforts to secure a meaningful resolution to the issue.

Panel 2 – International Law and Reparations

  • Ambassador Ara Papian
  • Michael Bazyler, Esq., Chapman University School of Law

The second panel of the conference took a comparative look at Holocaust-related justice measures as well as some possible mechanisms for pursuing justice for the Armenian Genocide.

Michael Bazyler, a Professor of Law at Chapman University School of Law, noted that much of the restitution claims made as a result of the Holocaust in the 1990s were successful for a number of reasons. He pointed to Germany’s admission of culpability for the Holocaust and that this actually empowered Germany and its relationship with the current State of Israel. “By recognizing the atrocities as atrocities, by recognizing the genocide as a genocide, to go ahead and bring the truth to the people becomes an important founder and something that Germany is a great example of,” said Bazyler.

“Litigation itself cannot succeed. You need to have the support of politicians, the support of the media, and also recognition on the part of the defendants that they are willing to talk, they are willing to have some kind of recognition,” he added.

Ara Papian followed up his presentation during the first panel of the conference by discussing the interpretation of treaties and treaty law as a basis for pursuing restitutional justice for the Armenian Genocide.

He reiterated that the Treaty of Sevres was accepted by the parties involved, including Turkey and that the subsequent Treaty of Lausanne does not mention Armenia or the Armenian-Turkish border. Papian returned to the topic of the U.S. President Woodrow Wilson’s post-genocide arbitration.

“Is the Woodrow Wilson arbitration valid or not? If it is valid, then we have to take the decision which is binding all members of the UN and Turkey,” he noted. Papian noted that treaty law left Turkey with many obligations in the post-genocide era that have yet to be fulfilled. However, it is up to the community to call for the enforcement of the law and the fulfillment of these obligations.

Panel 3 – The Conceptual and Political Challenges of Reparations

  • Dr. Armen Marsoobian, Southern Connecticut State University
  • Ayda Erbal, Doctoral Candidate, Department of Politics at New York University
  • Khatchig Mouradian, Doctoral candidate, Genocide and Holocaust Studies at Clark University

The afternoon panels featured ethicist Dr. Armen Marsoobian who discussed the issues of trans-generational response to the Armenian Genocide as well as the important implications between accepting responsibility versus taking responsibility for this crime against humanity. Khatchig Mouradian and Ayda Erbal discussed Turkish efforts, from the government to civil society, to address the Armenian Genocide and engage the Armenian community within its own borders, in the Republic of Armenia, and the diaspora.

Armen Marsoobian discussed the issues of trans-generational response to the Armenian Genocide as well as the important implications between accepting responsibility versus taking responsibility for this crime against humanity. “Citizens of the nation-state of Turkey have a moral obligation to take responsibility for historic injustice committed by their ancestors.”

Marsoobian continued by noting how some Turkish citizens accept responsibility, without taking responsibility. He argued that accepting responsibility by issuing a government statement acknowledging the genocide is not the moral equivalent to the more difficult act of taking responsibility for the wrongdoings. “The difference between accepting responsibility and taking responsibility may only sound like a verbal difference, but the passive and active connotations of these words highlight a significant moral difference.”

Speaking to the issue of collective accountability and denial of collective guilt, he stated that ethnic communities are collectives that transcend national identities. The moral obligation derives from a person’s membership and identity to a group in the present. “The political, social, cultural, religious, and educational institutions that mark all large communities or collectivities provide a degree of moral reliability that is necessary for individuals to carry on their legitimate interests.”

Khatchig Mouradian spoke about Turkish stereotypes of Armenians as being “The good, the bad, and the destitute.” Turks consider the Good Armenians as their “brothers” who reside in Turkey. The Bad Armenians are the “Hawks” in the Diaspora who talk about the Armenian Genocide and the “Destitute Armenians” are those in current day Armenia who are being oppressed by the Bad Armenians.

While Turks consider the Diasporan Armenians “Bad Armenians” there is currently a plan to engage some in the Diaspora since the failure of the Protocols. Since Armenians and Turks eat similar foods, this second track effort is known as “Dolma Diplomacy”.

Looking at the attitudes in Turkey and the possibility for meaningful change to arise from within the country, Mouradian posits that it is impossible for a handful of people in Turkey to create a movement that would force the Turkish government to deal with 1915 in any meaningful way. Even progressive scholars are not veering too far from Turkish denialists. “No Turkish government, and obviously the people there realize this. No Turkish government will survive the next day as government if [it] in any way makes any kinds of clear concessions on this matter.”

Mouradian provided an example of Armenians being allowed to pray in Akhtamar for one day, which was countered with an MHP, an extreme radical party, organized Muslim prayer in a former Armenian church in Ani to balance the Armenian prayer.

Ayda Erbal discussed the literature dealing with violations of human rights. She argued that in Turkey it is easier to talk about the Armenian Genocide, because they can just deny it, but it is not easy to talk about the last 30 years in regards to the Kurds.

Speaking about the recent “apology” campaign initiated by a group of intellectuals she pointed out that apologies will change national identities and signal better citizenship. However, in the case of the Turkish “apology” the signers were not apologizing for not the event itself, but for the denial of the event. Discussing the text of the document, she noted that everything is in the passive tone, except the “I apologize”. The “apology” does not even mention who suffered what.

Further, the organizers of the “Apology Campaign” did not consult the Armenians. It was written by four people. She noted that this pulls the discussions away from politics and pulls the discussion into the backyard of psychology, which does not necessarily solve the problem.

Panel 4 – Populations and Property: A Practical Determination of Losses

  • George Aghjayan, Fellow – Society of Actuaries
  • Rev. Dr. George Leylegian

George Aghjayan presented his research into the demographic overview of the Ottoman Empire prior to and following the Armenian Genocide while Rev. Dr. George Leylegian, a specialist on church properties and cultural heritage, discussed the losses in this regard.

George Aghjayan discussed the two primary sources for the number of Armenians in the Ottoman Empire: the Ottoman registration system and the Armenian Patriarchate data.

The Ottoman registration system initially included males only (no women and children) and served as a system for taxation purposes, not necessarily a census. “It is only after 1906 that you start to see Armenians accounted in any greater precision.”

The Armenian Patriarchate documents of 1907 were a more detailed summary of Armenians living in Istanbul. In the Armenian Patriarchate data, the system included some Muslims, although it undercounted some children. In 1913/14 some children were not listed, but in the 1915 data they were listed for the first time even though they were born before 1913/14.

“The great disparity between the Ottoman registration number and the Armenians Patriarchate number are centered on three different districts in the general province [Apaget Province], and that was Chermik, Palu, and Sevre.” Large Armenian towns show less than a thousand Armenians in the Turkish registration, while the Armenian Patriarchate shows a larger number.

Aghjayan pointed out that these population figures and dates can be used as a timeline to understand what happened to the Armenian population in the Ottoman Empire.

George Leylegian provided an overview of the distribution of clergy to population centers, using the Paluk region of the Diyabekir Province as a case example. One priest served 20 households and 8 villages were administered by a local ministry (vank). At the turn of 19th century there were 6 monasteries in the Western district and 6 monasteries in the Eastern district, each serving about 60 villages.

Starting 19th century, accelerated attempts by the Kurds to convert the Armenians into Shiites. Priests were killed, Armenian women were sold, and monasteries were destroyed. Nothing remains of their archives. In Paluk, the county out of 240 villages in 1800, it is believed that nearly ½ were inhabited by Armenians, the other by various tribes of Kurds. “The villages were distinct and segregated based on religion. While there was some interaction, boundaries were respected,” he noted. By mid 19th century only 6 villages in Paluk were listed as being Armenian. Roughly 90% of Armenians were converted to Islam.

Today, there are only 30 churches for more than one million people in Armenia. The Armenian Church today has one priest every 1200 household instead of 20 households. “The aftershocks of forced conversion, genocide, and anti-Christian oppression are reverberating to this day throughout the Armenian community. The human suffering is unfathomable.”

There remains a suppressive impact on the generations of survivors, but Armenians continue to build new churches and maintain their Christian faith.