A prominent Armenian American scholar believes the time has come for raising demands for justice instead of seeking reaffirmations of what more than two dozen governments of the world and many historians have recognized as the genocide of Armenians in Ottoman Turkey at the beginning of last century.
Harout Sassounian, a writer, public activist and publisher of the United States-based English-language Armenian weekly, California Courier, late last week attended a Yerevan-hosted pan-Armenian forum of journalists that dealt with issues of the coming centennial of the 1915 Genocide in which some 1.5 million Armenians were massacred or deported from their native land.
In an interview with RFE/RL’s Armenian Service (Azatutyun.am) over the weekend Sassounian dwelt on some of the points of his speech that he made in front of nearly 90 colleagues from Armenian communities worldwide who attended the event initiated by Armenia’s Diaspora Ministry.
Sassounian, in particular, said that marking the 100th anniversary of the Armenian Genocide should stand out from all previous commemorations by a changed approach to seeking justice in view of the broad recognition of the Armenian Genocide that already exists in the world.
“I think that in general we already have the recognition of the Genocide. We’ve made a lot of progress in the past few decades and more than 20 countries recognize the Genocide today, as do many international organizations, the European Parliament, the United Nations, hundreds of Holocaust and Genocide specialists and historians, even the United States Government,” the scholar said.
Stressing that Turkey’s admission of guilt for the slaughter of Armenians should, therefore, be treated as only a “secondary matter”, Sassounian urged Armenians to start defending their rights in courts. “Regardless of whether the criminal pleads guilty or not, we should demand justice in court,” Sassounian stressed.
In his speech at the forum the 62-year-old descendant of Genocide survivors who was born in Aleppo, Syria, also addressed the current plight of ethnic Armenians in this war-torn Middle Eastern country.
During Armenian Prime Minister Tigran Sarkisian’s meeting with participants of the forum Sassounian raised the issue of rendering aid to Syrian Armenians in a more coordinated manner by dedicating this year’s fundraiser for a pan-Armenian charity to solving the problems of Syrian Armenians.
The head of the Armenian government said there was already such an instruction from the head of state and that it was now a matter of discussion with the All-Armenian Hayastan Fund’s Board of Trustees.
“My proposal was that we be helpful to both those who remain in Syria and those who leave their homes in Syria. We should not be arguing now over issues like whether they should stay or go or over what they should or shouldn’t be doing. It is clear that they are in dire straits and no one is dealing with this [situation],” said Sassounian, adding that whatever has been done by Diaspora-based organizations and the government of Armenia to help ethnic Armenians in Syria is nowhere near enough to meet the needs of the struggling community.
Syria is home to an estimated 80,000 ethnic Armenians mostly concentrated in Aleppo. Hundreds of them have taken refuge in Armenia since fighting between forces loyal to President Bashar al-Assad and the Syrian opposition reached the city last July. Meanwhile, concerns have been raised recently in Armenia and among the far-flung Armenian Diaspora that Syrian Armenians’ continued emigration could put at risk the further existence of their traditional Christian community in the predominantly Muslim country.